Experience will be key as the Rapids approach new season
It's often claimed that there is no substitute for experience, which should fill fans of the Colorado Rapids with great heart as they eagerly await the start of the 2014 MLS season.
With the players now back from their preseason trip to Tucson, attention is now beginning to turn to the opening fixture, at New York Red Bulls on March 15 (live on Altitude TV).
The Rapids concluded their Arizona action on Saturday with a 2-2 draw against New England Revolution. Goals came from two of the team's veteran players, Edson Buddle (pictured above) and Vicente Sánchez, and - as much as youthful energy and enthusiasm is to be embraced - one must not overlook the importance of the 'old heads' on the roster.
"Being an experienced guy in the locker room comes with a lot of responsibility as I know myself," said Pablo Mastroeni, who is leading first-team duties. "I think those guys (Drew Moor, Edson Buddle) have done a really good job, including Vicente (Sánchez), Marvell Wynne – the list goes on and on.
"These two weeks (in Tucson) are long. There are so many days that you want to turn it in but there was not one day when they (veterans) did not come out with a great attitude and really took the session on or the game on. That’s what I’m proudest about and so, moving forward, we plan on using a lot of those guys in that locker room during the season, if not all of them, so they all need to be ready."
Buddle has a full preseason under his belt, something he was not afforded on arriving from LA Galaxy ahead of the 2013 campaign, due to injury. As a striker, like all leading the line, the former USA international insists his priority this year is to bag as many goals as possible, but follows up this with the acknowledgment that - to achieve this aim - he must remain healthy.
Netting the opening goal against the Revolution was his first of preseason, a preseason in which he has looked sharp and ready to scrap for his place in a congested area of the field. The 32-year-old has played at the highest level, having featured at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He is set to start his 13th season in MLS, and is just two shy of a century of regular season goals, and - though quietly spoken - is aware of his role on the roster.
"From what I see with the league, there’s a lot of turnover," Buddle said. "A lot of young guys are coming in and stepping right into games, into leadership roles.
"But I'm happy to be a part of that. With my experience, I'm sure guys look up to see what I'm doing, and I embrace that. I prepare myself as an older player and it just comes with the territory. It may be looked at me trying to be a leader but being an older player you just have to prepare more to play the game."
Albert Einstein once famously said: "The only source of knowledge is experience."
Buddle, Moor, Sánchez, Wynne and Nick LaBrocca have bags of experience and, therefore, plenty of know-how, and so they are all acutely aware that things do not get any easier with age in the world of sport. On the contrary, with young guns pushing, competition for places only gets tougher. All, though, have recognized this and stepped up in preseason.
For many, preseason often poses more questions than answers. What is the best eleven? Which players will start on opening day? What is our best formation? Do we throw in the rookies, or rely on the tried and tested? Questions, questions, questions.
Who could have foreseen Dillon Serna making strides in the manner he has preseason? Superdraft picks Grant Van De Casteele and Jared Watts seem to have settled in swiftly. Charles Eloundou looks a little pocket rocket, while the Rapids appear to have decent depth in most positions.
Age is no barrier if you can combine attitude with ability. The youthful exuberance, coupled with the dedicated veterans, creates an ideal blend and has given the Rapids' coaching staff much food for thought.