Sam Cronin isn’t the flashiest player on the Colorado Rapids, or the most acclaimed. As defensive midfielder, he’s unlikely to lead the team in goals or win MLS MVP. He’s pretty far behind Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard in US Mens National Team caps - Cronin has two, both coming back in 2009.
And yet, he is the team’s captain since the middle of 2015. His fierce attitude on the pitch, his tireless work rate, and his skillful yet workman-like approach to the game is a huge reason for the tremendous success for the Colorado Rapids to this point in 2016.
It’s a big reason why, of all the Rapids players I could interview, he was really the only one I was certain I wanted to talk to.
(Note: if I was, like, a real journalist, I could hit up the mixed zone after every game and join a scrum of reporters asking questions that almost invariably start with ‘how did it feel to blah blah blah...’, or go out to DSGP every week and tape a different 5 minute interview each week. I’m not a real journalist. I’m a fan who writes about the Rapids out of love - I’m just like you, the reader, only maybe slightly more obsessed and likely more bald. I drove out to Dicks to interview Sam, then raced to a work meeting before putting in a regular 9am to 5pm workday on Thursday. Next week, I start back to work regularly at 8am, so no more interviews for a while. Boo.)
I was slightly anxious for the interview for one reason that is obvious to Rapids fans: Sam seems super intense. On the soccer field, he does nothing halfway. Cronin goes into 50-50 balls like a kamikaze pilot . A Sam Cronin tackle is meant to be remembered. And pity the poor referee or linesman with whom Sam has a disagreement: Cronin can scream a blue streak at the zebras like a demonic banshee. Needless to say, I assumed the man went through life with constant intensity and a permanent scowl ; Jose Mourinho with a buzzcut. The intensity also made me picture him as, well, bigger.
So when Cronin came out of the Rapids locker room to meet me, I was surprised. I’m 5’10”, 165 pounds. Sam is 5’10”, 165 pounds. Rather than scowl, Mr. Cronin greeted me with a big, kind, inviting smile, and shook my hand warmly. He was really, really nice. I hope some of the referees from whom he’s picked up a yellow card (Cronin has 33 yellow cards since his 2009 rookie year in MLS) find that out at some point. In the things that he said, he was incredibly warm and positive, and spoke often in terms of ‘we’, not ‘I’.
In other words, if the star of the Rapids is ‘the team’, then Sam might be the perfect captain.
Here are Sam Cronin’s thoughts on the topics I posed.
On leadership and the role of captain in the locker room...
On any good team, you have a lot of big personalities and guys that take ownership of themselves and the ways they have to prepare, and guys that are willing and able to lend a hand to other players. So we have good leadership; a good core group of guys, and obviously we’ve added pieces this season that have been really helpful in that regard, and obviously quality players too, which helps. But it’s felt good. We have a good relationship with the coaching staff - the players are happy to play for them. I do my best to bridge that gap a little bit, and keep everybody motivated.
On the changing role of captain with the addition of Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard
(The balance in the locker room) has been really good, I’d say mainly because they are guys that take care of business every day, and can be looked at and respected with the way they prepare themselves. And they’re just competitors and winners so, naturally, people look to them in tough moments. So we’re all pulling in the same direction, we all want the same thing. It’s pretty easy and seamless to be on the same page, and help lead the group; as a group.
On his successful partnership in the defensive midfield with Micheal Azira, and how that comes about
We obviously work on it everyday of the week, and have since preseason, which is important. But I think sometimes you just find players, for whatever reason, that you play with that you have a really good understanding with. And I think, since Micheal got here, for whatever reason, him and I view the game similarly, I think our game is pretty similar. So we have a good, almost like, unspoken relationship on the field, just kind of positioning. I think we feed off each other really well. It’s been a joy to play next to him for sure, because I think he’s a really good player.
On coming off a tough loss against NYCFC and rebounding in Saturday’s game against Vancouver
I think the pep talk right there is: it’s a massive game. If we win here at home, we’re flying again. It was a bad hiccup, and we all need to look in the mirror and do better. But it was total team failure. There’s no pointing fingers, because everyone was terrible, to be honest, so...
So we’re excited for the opportunity Saturday. We did well, getting a tie up there a few weeks back, but we know it’ll be a big, fast game here. So we’ve got to make sure we’re up for it, and make sure that one poor game doesn’t lead to another, and that we correct this thing really quick.
On what the team is getting in newly acquired attacker Sebastian Le Toux, based on Sam’s experience playing against him in MLS for the past eight years
I think he’s a great player, a very willing runner. I mean this literally: he runs, like, all game. His motor’s pretty incredible, so that’s one piece of it. But obviously his record of goals and assists proves that he’s got quality in front of the net, too. I think you’ll see a guy that will fit in really well with the style of play and the high energy that we want to play with, especially here at home. He’ll be exciting for the fans, I think, just with his pace and with his energy. And then, it’s a guy that gets goals, consistently, so obviously fans always want to see that - (laughs) - as do his teammates. I know him personally, and he’s a fantastic guy. I think he’ll get comfortable here really quickly, and it’d be great to see him feature this weekend. But we’ll see what the coaches think.
On haircare rituals before games, and whether his super-short buzzcut requires sunscreen to keep from burning his scalp
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tended to like it shorter. I do it myself; I used to buzz it every couple weeks, but for whatever reason, like, I can’t... I need it short all the time, so I buzz it more frequently. And I haven’t been doing sunscreen on the head, but I think I need to, because I think I’m getting a little sunburned when I keep it shorter, so maybe I should start.
Thanks to Sam Cronin for taking the time to talk to Burgundy Wave, and to Rapids Media Relations Coordinator Diego Garcia and Director of Communications Richard Clarke for facilitating the interview.