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Asking Balboa about Pablo

It’s ‘business as usual’ at the Rapids, while Chicago Fire starts to make the sort of changes the club’s fans have been calling for.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend the Colorado Rapids returned to the scene of their greatest ever triumph hoping for the more modest result of simply equaling last year’s win. Sadly a certain Italian by the name of Sebastian Giovinco had other ideas and, along with a few other designated players who actually make the starting XI, Toronto ran out 3-1 winners. You can find plenty more information on that particular disaster on this site & other soccer press.

Anyway, one of the more amusing way to pass the time while watching the team ship goals was provided when Altitude TV flashed up a message inviting viewers to tweet questions to the booth under the ‘#AskBalboa’ hashtag. Well, the fans needed no encouragement and within a few a minutes the tweets started to flood in. This sounds great until I tell you that the problem was that about 95% were on the same theme of Pablo Mastroeni, or more specifically, why he still has a job.

Now clearly, replying to that deluge & providing live commentary for a Rapids game at the same time is a bit much to ask of Marcelo Balboa. That said, several hours after the broadcast only one fan (congratulations @drewhutchison!) had got a reply which was to deny that there was a set list of topics for discussion, presumably screened by Altitude. So on Saturday we all went to bed vowing never to bother with #AskBalboa again as it was just another example of KSE avoiding us etc. etc.

To his credit Balboa did acknowledge & answer some of the tweets, but on his ‘From the Pitch’ Sunday afternoon show on Mile High Sports Radio! The cynic in me applauds the smart move to use the KSE media outlet that everyone is tuned into to drum up some content for your show on the non-KSE outlet, where you can let the studio discussion be, let’s just say, a little more ‘free’.

Moving on to the segment itself, Balboa started by explaining that Pablo’s contract is nearing the end of the initial 2 years & keeping him on for 2016 would mean that a one year option is picked up by the Rapids. Most fans are of the opinion this is going to happen after Woody Paige, who weirdly has absolutely zero history of covering the Rapids, claimed that sources high up in the Front Office told him that Pablo was going to stay & they were looking to bring in an ‘offensive-minded assistant coach’ to help out. It should be remembered that nothing is final until we get official communication from the club confirming whether Pablo is coming back next year, most likely after the season is over. If it turns out that he is staying, I’m hoping Facebook will have rolled out their ‘dislike’ button by then as this one is sure to be a record breaker!

Anyway, according to Balboa (who accepts that if this was anywhere but the good old US of A, Pablo would have been fired by now) the reason he still the coach is that MLS doesn’t have relegation so you can afford to have a season or three in the conference basement. You even get rewarded for failure in the form of a nice high draft pick and the usual unspecified amount of allocation money. It’s a pretty depressing state of affairs but sadly that’s the way MLS works, even after 20 years of existence.

All of this seemed like a wrap for the weekend until the news came out from Chicago that the Fire had fired their entire coaching staff & appointed a general manger to a newly created position to oversee the playing side of things. It has to be said that the situation with Chicago is very similar with a club that is rooted to the bottom of their conference, there is widespread fan dissent towards owner Andrew Hauptman in the form of a #HauptmanOut movement & there is the huge problem of a stadium located out of town which everyone knows is hurting the attendance but nobody seems to know what to realistically do about it. There’s also a front office that believes everything is fine off the field while the fans talk of empty seats, sales tricks being pulled to inflate the attendances and much of the season ticket holder base debating on whether to renew or not. Sound familiar?

So the Fire have fired their Pablo & let their Claudio Lopez & Steve Cooke go for good measure as well. While not mathematically eliminated from the play-offs, only the most optimistic character would back them to make up the 9 points between last & 6th place in the East which is presumably the main reason for the changes. Technical Director Brian Bliss will take on the coaching duties in the interim & with outgoing coach Frank Yallop formerly holding a Director of Soccer position as well, you could consider that they’ve half fired their Paul Bravo equivalent as well.

More intriguingly is the guy Chicago Fire have brought in as the new (soccer) GM. He is Nelson Rodriguez, who is not an ex-player or a coach but a former long time MLS executive who was in charge of all on-field competition and is a good bet to take over when league commissioner Don Garber decides to call it a day. Rodriguez was also sent to Chivas USA after the league took ownership of it, to lead the shuttering of that particular franchise. While one Chicago press outlet claims league sources have denied it, a popular theory amongst fans is that, while no one expects the Fire to be disbanded or moved, MLS has started to sit up and take notice of the clubs that are failing on its watch and has played some part in this hire.

Going back to Mile High Sports Radio, the reason for all this fun in Chicago is that ‘mediocrity is not OK’. Sadly this was then followed by a reminder that the Rapids, like all other professional sports teams, are a business and are possibly (read ‘definitely’ as we all know what KSE are like!) run with different objectives as Balboa remembered who his other employer is. So the Rapids fan frustrations continue with maybe a glint of hope that we’re the next club that MLS (maybe) turns its attention to, particularly if nothing really changes next year. We can all hope…