"We did everything we wanted to do."
That was a line from Pablo Mastroeni's press conference following the Colorado Rapids' 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday, where he was talking about how they had done their best to defend the prolific Columbus attack. In fact, that subject was the most covered in that press conference: Columbus' fantastic attack and how the Rapids' plans essentially revolved completely around stopping them from scoring. As for scoring goals of their own, it was a simple explanation of, "we weren't clinical in front of goal", as per usual.
The fact that press conferences continue to go in this direction is the final clue that, yes, the 'Rapids Way' is dead, probably forever.
Do you remember 'The Rapids Way'? It was what we were promised after the bitter disappointment of losing Oscar Pareja after the 2013 season. Pareja had implemented a style of attack that provided possibly the most entertaining season of Rapids soccer we had ever seen in 2013, and after he so rudely bolted away we were told that the team would be pushing to keep that the case. After all, one of the reasons that Gary Smith and the Rapids front office had to be split up was because Gary wanted full control of his club, which meant full control over a team playing the boring, draw-laden hoofball that the team desperately wanted to get away from.
Gary was dropped like a sack of wet rags because of that fact, and Pareja was brought in to usher in a new era. And by golly, they almost did it but for Pareja's sickening homesickness that forced him out. It forced a panic move by the Front Office, but they remained optimistic. "The Rapids Way" was still intact. I spoke with Brian Crookham at the draft the year Pablo was instilled as head coach -- you'll recall that Pablo was the 'acting' head coach for them at the draft -- and he waxed lyrical about the system that the Rapids were putting together at all levels of the club.
We all know how the first year went, but mistakes were made. The Rapids tried desperately to keep Pareja at the helm for far too long, giving them almost no time for an actual coaching search by the time he finally said adios. The coaching staff they built around Pablo was filled with other young coaches and precious few veterans to help guide Pablo along the way. The team, while good under Pareja's teachings, was still undeniably flawed and very few attempts were made to fix the issues. So while Pablo and the FO talked a good game of playing possession-oriented and attacking soccer, it kept falling flat on their faces. And, more notably, they really weren't playing that type of soccer. A blog once described our team in a preview as 'playing like one giant defensive midfielder'. Sure, they tried to keep possession sometimes, but it was very rarely in the attacking third, and anyone who ever listened to the Thugcast should know how I feel about teams that get 55% possession every game with almost all of it in their own half.
Even then, though, we could tell that Pablo was trying to figure it out. He was trying to institute something that worked. Unfortunately, nothing that worked seemed to fall into that "Rapids Way" category. Instead, Pablo Mastroeni, ever the leader on the field, was taking the role of leader in the locker room as well, and leaving 'The Rapids Way' behind him as he continued to throw shit at a wall and see what stuck. But hey, he was making some effort. Remember when every sub he made was an attacking sub for the first 10 matches or so he was in charge? Effort!
Most reasonable fans gave the Rapids a pass on that one. He had never coached before, after all. Nobody steps from field to sideline comfortably, even the coaches that turned out to be great with time like Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen. It was his second year that would be the one to judge him on. Many were optimistic as the Rapids once again began vomiting the same old story. Talking about working on possession in training, talking about exciting attacking signings they were looking into. Talking about 'The Rapids Way' finally making its comeback after a very, very down year on the first go. They were even playing a 4-2-3-1 during the preseason again, just like Pareja used to!
It took only a few games before it came crashing down again, even worse this time. A few matches in, the 4-2-3-1 was gone for good. Pablo Mastroeni has his style now. He's done throwing the shit at a wall; now he's just sticking with the same shit and assuming it's going to stick. You've seen the 4-3-3 with three defensive guys in the middle, defensive, 10 men back strategy every match this year. Gone are the attacking substitutions, the attacking midfielders flooding the roster, and even the few goals we had seen before. The eyeball test is rarely accurate, but it's hard to fault it here.
And now, we essentially have it straight from the horse's mouth. The goal is to defend. Goals may come for the home team (so long as they're clinical, of course) but the real purpose is to key in on the opposition's attack, tackle them well, and keep them from scoring. And since the season has started, the FO hasn't had a single word to say about it. There has been no talk of 'The Rapids Way'. No talk of goals or possession. They just authorized a transfer window where all they did was sell a center back and replace him with two other center backs.
'The Rapids Way' was a wonderful idea, dismantled and destroyed -- and I'm betting the FO hopes is forgotten as well -- because of a front office that let the ego of its young and naive coach get in the way and are now... I don't know, too embarrassed to speak up about it? It's the radio silence that is making it so much more infuriating. It's as though this is the way they wanted it to be, when we all know that it never was, or at least they never made it sound like it was. This is far worse than Gary Smith's soccer; this is what other MLS fans always liked to pretend that Gary Smith's style was -- foul-ridden, ugly, 10-man-back hoofball with no tactical purpose to it. The only difference is that Gary didn't have so much tantalizing offensive talent wasting away on his roster when he tried to play it.
Why, when we were told the reason for installing such a young, green coach into the role of manager was because he would have the cushion of having the same system behind him, should we continue to believe in said manager when the entire team falls apart after the manager spends two full years doing the exact opposite and leading the team into ruin?
It's a real fucking shame that this is everything they wanted to do.