Rapids head coach feels offense is the best defense

Offensive-minded substitutions one of Pablo Mastroeni’s early trademarks

COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- Pablo Mastroeni came into MLS as a center back and played primarily as an aggressive, defensive-minded midfielder during his 15 years in the league and with the U.S. national team.

But as a coach, Mastroeni is managing with far more of an offensive mind. Even with his defensive roots, the new head coach of the Colorado Rapids is making it clear that he wants to push for goal, regardless of the score or situation. Just take a look at the Rapids’ substitutions in their two games so far this season.

The Rapids took a 2-0 lead on two quick penalty kicks in the second half of Saturday’s win over the Portland Timbers. So, bring on an extra defender? Perhaps a defensive-minded midfielder?

Not with Mastroeni.

The 37-year-old, who was only named the club’s permanent head coach on March 8th, brought on three attackers in the next 10 minutes – Marvin Chavez, Gabriel Torres and Kamani Hill –sending a clear signal that he intended on pushing for goal whenever, wherever.

“Every game is different, every situation is different. But for me, nine times out of 10, I’m making offensive substitutions, because I want to win the game,” Mastroeni said after Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Timbers. “I don’t want to lose. And when you make a defensive sub, teams feel that, your team feels that, you start dropping off, they start coming on. Before you know it, you’re in the penalty box, somebody touches somebody, [and] it’s a penalty kick. That’s how a negative substitution always ends up happening.

“Mentality is everything. It was as a player. I want to win; I don’t want to tie. At the end of the game if you tie, then you take a point and move in. But we prepare to win whether we’re home, whether we’re away. “

In Mastroeni’s eyes, the logic of attack-minded substitutions goes far deeper than simple tactics. It comes back to the perception that the Rapids are viewed as, and subsequently and perhaps ultimately, view themselves as a small-market team with smaller expectations. Those thoughts don’t sit comfortably with Mastroeni, who captained Colorado’s 2010 MLS Cup-winning side.

“It might be my naivety as a coach but from my philosophy as a human being, everything’s going forward,” said Mastroeni, who has brought in an attacker in five of his six substitutions so far, with the lone exception coming on defender Chris Klute’s hamstring injury in the season opener against the Red Bulls. “We want to win. We want to be champs. I don’t want to be a small market team. And we definitely don’t have a small market mentality.”

So don’t expect to see any defensive substitutions, regardless of the situation, because in Mastroeni’s eyes, defensive substitutions are the equivalent of waving a white flag.

“I want to win every game. Is it going to happen? Absolutely not,” Mastroeni said. “Is it futile? Maybe. But I want to lean forward. I want to fall forward. I want to run forward. I want to kick the ball forward. I don’t want to go back.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com