First of all, thank you.
Second of all, hang in there.
For starters, the thank you. Thank you for jumping in to coach the team after Oscar Pareja left us in the lurch a few months before the 2014 season began. Fans probably remember, but to take us back, you were named as ‘Special Assistant to the Technical Director’ on January 10, 2014. That’s a month after you retired as a player. But after Oscar ran out on us, you were named head coach on March 10. No training. No coaching experience. Just thrown in the deep end to see if you can swim. How can someone be expected to create their grand vision for soccer, to begin formulating their methodology at practice, with zero time to ramp up? With zero time to apprentice? It’s like building the second story of a house while you similtaneously pour the foundation. To some degree, it’s a miracle you had the degree of success you did with as little preparation as you were given.
Thank you for believing. Even when a game went south, you believed in your players, and never threw them under the bus. Some football coaches will call out a player in the media for a bonehead play or for blowing the game in order to make an example, or to save their own skin. In 3 years of covering the team, I never saw you do that. Sure, the fans wanted you to be a little more forthright, a little more honest, and say what we all knew was happening: ‘Joe Nasco really killed us tonight.’ ‘Juan Ramirez needs to finish for what we pay him.’ ‘The strikers are a real disappointment.’ You never did that. You knew that to hold the guys in the locker room together, in good times or bad, they had to know that you had their back, 100%. I respect that, even as I and other fans would sometimes tear our hair out when you gave a guy a second chance that we didn’t think he deserved. You believed in your players - knowing that, in return, they would believe in you.
And thank you for being Colorado to your core. You hold club records for most games played (225), games started (217) and minutes played (18,669), and you served as the Rapids captain from late 2004 until you were traded to the LA Galaxy during the 2013 season. Then you went on to coach a team that has a history of chronically under-spending, and also of being behind the curve in terms of youth development. We are one of MLS’ perennial underdogs and also-rans, and you knew that, and you took the job anyways. It wasn’t money that got you onto the sidelines. It was pride. The fans knew you believed in the badge. Hell, you basically are the badge, along with those other names up on the Gallery of Honor: Marcelo Balboa, Paul Bravo, Chris Henderson, John Spencer, and Conor Casey.
You were the same guy as a coach that you were as a player. Gritty. Determined. Fierce. Passionate. Unrelenting. A little wild. Thanks for being consistently you. It does not go un-appreciated.
Lastly, thank you for showing me, personally, one small measure of kindness, on one small occasion. Earlier this year, writers were interviewing you in advance of an April game, and a couple of the regular reporters were firing off all their questions. As a blogger, I deferred to those pros, and hung at the back, waiting my turn to ask a question. The Rapids media wrangler closed the Q-and-A session and said ‘thanks guys’, and the video team started to pack up, and that was it. The writers tucked away their notebooks and started to head to the parking lot. And you looked at me and said ‘Hang on. Did you want to ask something?’ And I did. And so I got my question. It was a small measure of kindness, but it was appreciated.
In the times I saw you get interviewed, I had a constant sense that you never took the sport for granted, never took yourself too seriously, and never tried to present the club in a bad light. You knew that you had a really cool job, but you didn’t let it go to your head. You still treated people like they were people. And I respect the hell out of that.
And so on to the ‘hang in there’. We’re alike in some ways, and we’re not. We’re not, because I have basically no physical gifts to speak of, while you have strength and speed and agility and fearlessness in buckets. In contrast, I am the product of generations of Jews that hunched over arcane texts, debating and arguing for sport. And you actually played a sport, and at the highest levels. And I follow soccer for fun, and although I love it, covering the sport for me is just a hobby. For you, it’s your whole life, and always has been.
But we are alike in a few big ways. We’re both 40. We’re both married with two kids, a boy and a girl. And, more importantly, we both got fired this year.
Back in January, my contract didn’t get renewed at my school where I was rabbi and assistant principal. It was a somewhat high-profile leadership position, and the departure was very public, and pretty painful. This is a job that I moved my whole family to Colorado for. And because of the vagaries of where Jews live in America and where the jobs are for rabbis, odds are pretty good that we’ll have to move again in order for me to get another job. All that should sound, unfortunately, quite familiar to a top-level soccer coach like you, who will also likely have to pick up and move if you want another shot.* And moving sucks.
We also both got fired doing what we love to do. Somebody above us told us ‘you aren’t the right guy for the job, sorry.’ And that hurts like hell. You give your all for the company, day in, day out, and some combination of the things you did, the things you didn’t do, the decisions that somebody else made, or the advice you gave went unheeded - in the end, you get canned. My advice is to grieve a little. I don’t care how much the #PabloOut crowd was frustrated with your subs or your tactics or your lineups or whatever. Know as you walk away from the job that you were done wrong. The wrong preparation to be coach, the wrong players, a midseason tactical shift, an undervaluing of your personal touch and your man-management, whatever. There were things you did as well as any other coach in the world, and it wasn’t enough. You were not valued for all the things you bring to the table.**
And all that means there is a certain inevitable amount of life reassessment that takes place right now. You can go out and find the next coaching job, and I can go find another school job, and just keep plowing ahead, hoping the next gig lines up more neatly with who we are. Or we can stop and say ‘Is this really what I want to do for the next 30 years?’ ‘Is there something I’m better equipped to do?’ Is this my proper place in the universe?’ All the options lie in front of you. Some might dive right into the next thing. Others will hit the pause button and spend some time to try and figure it out.
I hope you take the right amount of time for you - to grieve and meditate and find peace and humility, and also rediscover your pride. You were a great player. You will be great at something else again.
So hey, thanks for all the great memories and all the great soccer, from me and all Rapids fans. And hang in there.
First one to get a new job has to buy a sixer for the other guy.
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* I don’t really want to highlight this, but there is one big difference: you got paid a heck of a lot, and you probably got a kick-ass severance package. Me, notsomuch. But still, no matter who you are, getting fired sucks.
** Am I projecting to a certain degree? You bet your Aunt Petunia. There were things that Pablo was really good at, that I mentioned. Same with me: I’m really good at some parts of being a rabbi/school administrator, and other things that I was constantly trying to work on. To get the axe despite all your positive qualities is absolutely brutal, no two ways about it.