I sat down with a rejuvenated Pablo Mastroeni in the locker room at DSG Park the other day to talk about the upcoming season. You'll also find some of this material in one of the Rapids' game day programs this season. Pablo has a lot to say about life as well as soccer. Top player, top human being.
Pablo Mastroeni, club captain at the Colorado Rapids, is happy to be exhausted. Talking to him in between the twice daily preseason training sessions, he told me he is going home beat every night but that is the result of highly focused sessions that are improving fitness and making the guys ready for the season. "It's very tough but there seems to be a sense of purpose behind everything we do," he said. "As a player, you can have a million questions but these are limited right now to just a few and that is really positive." Much of that is down to new coach Gary Smith, an appointment that Mastroeni said had a lot to do with his decision not to go to Europe and instead commit himself to the franchise here in Colorado. “Once I knew that Gary was going to be the coach, I committed the rest of my career here,” he said. “I am challenged and tested every day by Gary and the staff and by my peers to become a better player at the young age of 32.”
Mastroeni welcomes the faith Smith has placed in him as a leader and mentor to some of the younger players, players that are keeping him on his toes with the intensity of practice ahead of the gruelling ten month season. “You cannot be complacent in this business otherwise you will get overtaken,” Pablo said. “My job is to lead by example, to work hard and help with the younger guys as well as do what you have to do to separate yourself from the rest and keep in tip-top shape.”
There is clearly huge hunger in Mastroeni. Always a combative player who gives one hundred percent in every session and every game (believe me, I have been to several training sessions), the US national team veteran is relishing the challenges ahead. I asked him if his perspective was also looking ahead to next year's World Cup in South Africa. After all, this would be his last chance to play in the ultimate soccer championship and it's not as if the US is overloaded with experienced defensive midfielders. Pablo is sanguine about it all. "I've had multiple discussions with Bob (Bradley) and he knows that, if he ever needs my services, I would be available," he said. The US team is in transition and Bradley is looking not only at this World Cup but the next one too, Pablo said. "It would be the icing on the cake but it's not the main course," Pablo said, if he is included in any squad that makes it to 2010. "For now, I am trying to make a statement for my club, that is my main priority." Would that statement include an MLS Championship? Mastroeni believes that the elements in the club are better placed for a good run in the playoffs than they have been for some time. It is a lot about self-belief and teamwork because there are so many MLS teams that could win the championship. He pointed to the example of last year’s winners, Columbus Crew, as proof that any team can win. “Look at them last year,” he said. “There was a really positive turnaround there, the city got behind them and they started to realize that there is something bigger than yourself. We also have people that believe that we can get the work done here. We keep building, we keep getting better and we just need to get a good start.”
For now, Pablo will continue to train like crazy to be in the best shape possible but listening closely to the demands on his body, go home exhausted to his family at night and enjoy stocking up his new saltwater aquarium, a 65 gallon monster. "It will be a while before I can put the fish in as it has to have the proper bacteria and everything but I've promised my son to put all the Nemo characters in there," he said. Let's hope for Colorado's sake that Pablo can remain fit and healthy because he is a much-needed leader both on and off the field.