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Loyalty in Sports: Why Keeping Pablo is the Right Move (for now)

Contracts don't mean squat in sports when players can demand to leave early and clubs can waive them. In a breath of fresh air, the Rapids are doing something that is rare in sports: Showing loyalty.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Loyalty in sports is a funny thing.  I say it is funny because it really does not mean anything.  In the National Football League a player can sign a five year contract in good faith and then be waived after two years for a number of reasons.  It is funny because the team can waive that player but the player can also 'hold out' for more money as well.

Even though the contract has been signed and you agreed to play for a specific wage for a specific period of time.

Players can choose to not report because they are pissed about the current contract they have but feel they should be paid more.  I hate to say it, you signed the deal, honor it.  (Looking at you Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers)

Certainly there are times when players or coaches decide that they do not want to play or coach for a team and the team no longer wants that player/coach so an "mutual parting of ways" occurs and a clean separation happens.  (Thinking of Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks)

But it seems more and more these days that players decide when they are done playing for a team (regardless of contract) and teams decide that they are going to waive a player if they no longer fit into their team (or financial) plans.

Loyalty does not apply.  After all, it is a business.

I was thinking about this concept after the Colorado Rapids defeat to Portland Timbers over the weekend.  I, like many supporters, was less than pleased after it.  (as I imagine the players, coaches and front office as well).  Let's be honest, the long climb back to the playoffs got even more difficult.  Is it out of the question: no.  But is it going to be tough, hell yes.  I look at the Western Conference and there are just so many teams that have quality that erasing that deficit will take a Herculean effort.  Impossible?  Nope.  Difficult?  Yep.

And through this has come the expected "off with his head" commentary when it comes to Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni.

I could add a litany of tweets, articles or opinions from fans and soccer 'experts' that give their reasons why Pablo should be sacked.  There is no point to it as they all focus around the idea that Mastroeni can take his mustache and get bent.

I keep hearing "this team is too talented to be this bad" or "we were a playoff team in 2013 and we should be now." And I do think those are honest concerns to have, and at 10-22-15, it is not as if the record of Mastroeni is making people completely happy.  And in a league where 12 out of 20 teams make the playoffs, it is not that much of a stretch to want to make that happen each year.

But is firing him the answer?  Are the Rapids suddenly a playoff team if they get rid of him?  Could they close that gap suddenly?

For me, it is not as simple as looking at is record and say yes or no.  Based on his record, Mastroeni is showing that he is completely out of his depth as a manager.  10 wins out of 47 is piss poor and I imagine Mastroeni would be the first one to say that.  And in this age of "what have you done for me lately" people tend to want quick changes when problems occur.  As if suddenly changing things will make all of the difference in the world.

And when I think about this Rapids team, how much blame should fall on the players versus the coaching staff?  Does the coaching staff make a save, or take a free kick, or complete a pass, or put a shot on goal?  No, no, no and no.

Does the coaching staff set tactics and lineups?  Yes and Yes.  And this is one area that I completely agree that Mastroeni is struggling, if not getting it completely wrong.  To wit:

1)  Vicente Sanchez is no longer a starter. I like Sanchez and I like what he brings.  But he is a 20 minute player at the end of the match to bring a change of pace or when you need a goal.  He is 35 years old and is looking it.  This is OK, but he is no longer a starter and Mastroeni should know this.  Starting Sanchez on Saturday is on Mastroeni and he should take grief for it.

2)  Dillon Powers is your playmaker and a must start. Perhaps Powers was carrying a slight knock going into the Timbers match.  I don't know, but he has to start every game.  The club is better with him on the pitch and as the central attacking playmaker. This leads to my next point:

3)  The 4-2-3-1 is NOT working with the personnel you have. It is time to scrap this formation as it is not working.  The Rapids are generating less than a goal a match and if you plan on having Powers on the pitch you need to move to something that ensures that he plays and you get your two new strikers (Luis Solignac and Kevin Doyle) out there together.  There has been some terrific twitter banter out there this week on whether a 4-1-3-2 is better or a 4-3-1-2 or perhaps a 4-2-1-3 or some other iteration.  Regardless, Mastroeni has to be flexible enough to try something different.  Imagine if you had this lineup (assuming a completely healthy team):

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4)  A lack of preparedness: The one thing that bothers me more than anything else is the slow start.  The Rapids go down in almost every match and they are seem to be chasing the game.  Mastroeni has to find a way to get his players prepared to play from the opening whistle.

It sure does look like I have offered a hell of a lot of reasons to let Pablo go, but I really think that it is not the right move.....yet (more on that in a bit).

The one overriding factor for me when it comes to Pablo and if he should be sacked is loyalty.  The Rapids have gone through a number of coaches over the years and they have come and gone for a number of reasons.  But it seems like the Rapids are showing Mastroeni the kind of loyalty that is missing in sports.  Yes, he has struggled.  Yes, his record stinks and yet the Rapids have not let him go.  Could they be justified?  Probably if you simply look at the win-loss record.

I think a lot of the reasons for keeping Mastroeni on is they truly believe in him and they are willing to let him learn on the job.  Here is a person who wants to be in Colorado.  Denver does not have the glitz of a lot of other cities and getting someone in position who wants to be here is critical.  Oscar Pareja did not want to be here as he was showing loyalty to a place, FC Dallas, where he cut his teeth as a professional.  Dallas was home to Pareja, much like Denver is home to Mastroeni.

And I would much rather have a guy, like a Mastroeni, who wants to be here and grow something rather than someone who truly does not want to be in Rapids Burgundy.  So I am going to be patient.  I am going to see how this all turns out for him.  Do I get pissed when the Rapids lose?  Yes.  Do I get elated when they win?  Yes.  But as I look back at Pablo and his career, he has earned the benefit of my doubt and I want to see if he can turn this around.

All of this being said, the team has to start playing better.  The last two matches were tough and results should have been different for the club.  And if this team continues to struggle and finishes dead last in the West, then things need to be re-examined.  If this club finishes with less points than last year, then some difficult conversations should be had.  This is his first head coaching job and one that has has had for 15 months.  And this team is better than last year.   But I need to evaluate this season in its entirety before saying he should stay or go.  The Western Conference playoffs were always going to be a tough ask, and missing them is not necessarily an indication of his coaching skills or acumen.  But I do need to see growth from him and this team to say definitively he deserves a third year.

I see the frustration from fans and the players and I get it.  Everyone wants this team to be better and make the playoffs or win another Cup.  But I am willing to be patient as Pablo learns his way and this team begins to play better.  Am I crazy?  Maybe.  Am I overly loyal?  Perhaps.  But I remember what Pablo meant to this team as a player and I want to give him the chance to succeed as a coach.  This organization is showing its loyalty to Pablo as a coach, and I need to see how that shakes out.

My mum always said that patience is a virtue and right now that is being tested big time for supporters of the Rapids and Pablo.  Now it is time for Pablo to show what he is made of and repay the loyalty that is being showed to him.