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From Pablo's Head to the Players' Hearts: Can He Bridge the Gap?

Pablo needs to get out of Pablo's head and learn to convey his vision to his individual parts for the sake of the team cohesion he desires.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

So Colorado Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni was featured in 5280 magazine in an article by Natasha Gardner, entitled, "Head Games."  Aside from some historical inaccuracies (Mastroeni came to the Rapids in 2002 in a reallocation draft when the Miami Fusion folded; along with the fact that the Rapids were suffering from a 13-game winless streak going into the final regular season game with FC Dallas--but I digress), the article was clearly intended to help us know Coach on a personal level rather than a tactical one.

The article helped to a degree in bringing to light why Mastroeni is, well, Mastroeni.  For all the floridity of Gardner's article (why bring up the kids dragging the pregame circular flag?), one thing that we takeaway from this article and one thing that most attentive fans have understood is this:

Pablo needs to get out of Pablo's head and learn to convey to his individual parts for the sake of the team cohesion he desires.

The article tells of when Mastroeni went from midfielder to defender.  Here's an extended excerpt from the article to paint the picture:

Early on he was more of an offense-minded midfielder than a defender. He was a decent enough player, but attackers are expected to be the superstars who rack up goals and glory. Mastroeni had a niggling tendency to get overexcited and miss the net with his shots. Something wasn’t right, and he wasn’t surprised. Years earlier, a camp coach had told him that he was a more natural defender. The same coach also complimented Mastroeni’s technique and ferocity. Most importantly, Mastroeni had a natural ability to communicate. If he honed that skill, it could be more important than footwork or possessing a wicked shot. The proverbial "coach on the field," Mastroeni would have the ability to direct traffic and slot people where they needed to be.

In his second year in MLS, Mastroeni put his ego aside and switched his focus to defense. It gave him a vantage point to assess, strategize, and defend. Even before a ball was thrown in, he was calculating how to turn it to his team’s advantage. Then, he’d use his fierce Mastroeni-ness to control it. He could finally do what he liked best: settle into a team mentality. "I became a communicator on the field," he says. "It changed my life." And his career. Mastroeni quickly became one of the best midfield defenders in American soccer.

It was here that a light clicked on and I began to understand more of what Mastroeni is after.  He put his ego aside for the sake of the team.  Even when he once noted that he didn't care if the team won or lost (and, to his credit, he apologized), we understand more.  It's not about the parts, but it's about the team that matters.

But the parts do matter!  Pablo needs to change the narrative, but I at least understand why he has that mentality (moving from midfielder to defender for the sake of the team, and he then flourished). Maybe (maybe!) he thinks that if others think team, they will flourish. I don't necessarily buy it with this crew, for someone needs to step up--a veteran, a youngster, a guy on the bench--someone needs to step up and communicate to each of the players in a way they understand.  Mastroeni seems, at times, to be so in his own mind, so philosophical (at least to fans and media), so meticulous in trying to craft the right words and the right plan that he risks failing to actually communicate.

Granted, I say this having not been in the locker room and having not played or coached in MLS.  He's had every accolade as a player--and deserved every one of those accolades.  His system works for him.  But as for me, I've had to lead people from different mindsets, agendas, and personalities.  There's no carbon copy way of communicating and casting vision.  You have one vision, yes, but you also have to bring that one vision to bear on lots of players.

Hopefully, with Pablo having an offseason to prepare rather than one week/month, he'll get some traction. I want him to succeed--not just for my personal desire as a Rapid fan, but for himself!  Can he bridge the gap from his own head to his players' hearts?  I hope he will.