Commerce City, Colo. – As a youth soccer player growing up in Arizona, Pablo Mastroeni picked up a piece of advice that still impacts him to this day.
“My coach once told me that when Pele was asked if he knew something about soccer, he said that he knew very little,” Mastroeni told ColoradoRapids.com this week. “And it was humbling, because you’re a young kid and you admire Pele, and he said something like, ‘I don’t really know anything about the game.’
“That kind of stuck with me, because I think the day you realize you know everything about the game, you become a coach.”
It wasn’t a slight to coaches, but more of an indication that the 34-year Rapids captain still feels he is learning and progressing as a player.
In his 13th year as a professional, Mastroeni led his team to their first-ever MLS Cup title, and in doing so, was named the club’s Most Valuable Player.
“I’m honored and privileged to accept this award on behalf of the team,” said Mastroeni of the team MVP honor. “This award recognizes one player, but the truth is that I was only as productive, as enthusiastic, and as motivated as the great players playing around me. This is just a microcosm of the amount of success we had this year, and that’s attributed to the roster of players that we had."
“Winning the title, and Pablo having performed in the fashion that he has, I think, comes hand in glove,” said head coach Gary Smith. “This individual is quite special, not only does he inspire others, and he’s capable of wonderful football himself, but has now gone to another level and found the resolve and the desire – at 34, having played in two World Cups – to say, ‘I can achieve more than I have done in the last ten years.”
Mastroeni has won two previous team MVP honors, in 2007 and 2008. However, in both years, the team failed to make the playoffs, so the recognition was somewhat tapered.
In 2010, not only did Colorado win the title, but Mastroeni reached personal marks that he had not achieved in 10 years.
He played 2493 minutes in 29 regular season games – both his most since 2000, when he played for Miami. He also scored twice in the regular season, matching his career high set in 2001, and contributed three assists. And, he scored his first career playoff goal, which gave the Rapids a 1-0 home win over Columbus in the first-leg of the Conference Semifinals.
“Regardless of what position you play, you want to find your way on the scoresheet,” said Mastroeni, long-known for his defensive skills as a holding midfielder. “It kind of validates all the hard work you put in the game that never gets recognized.
“I think this year more than others I was able to express myself more going forward. When you have a team that works so hard for each other defensively, you can afford to get forward a little bit more."
Smith credits Mastroeni for being the catalyst for the team's inspired play.
“It takes an awful lot,” said Smith. “We’re not talking about a young player finding his way. We’re talking about a senior pro who’s been and done an awful lot, and yet still has the passion to want to lift the Cup, to want to drive players on, to inspire his teammates. And not just on match days, which of course we all see, but daily.”
Mastroeni and the Rapids had not qualified for the playoffs since 2006. The past three years saw the team eliminated after late-season slides.
During the middle third of 2010, the Rapids won only once in ten games, and there were many that doubted if the club could turn things around. However, Mastroeni knew there was something different about this Rapids team.
“From early on in the season we developed this mentality that we are good enough to win,” said the veteran. “That belief comes from a multitude of things: You have to have a coach and a staff that you can believe in, an organization that provides you with what you need to succeed, the players that can get the job done, and then everyone pulling in the same direction. Once you have those components and you have everyone pulling in the same direction, your chances of winning are much greater.”
Mastroeni played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups for the U.S. Men’s National team.
He has been selected to nine MLS All-Star teams.
Both achievements could have been good reasons to think there was not much he needed to accomplish to feel his career was complete. But he was, and still is, driven.
“As far as being a player, it’s the pursuit to continuously develop,” he said of his successful season. “At 34, I’m learning things that even if it was presented to me at a younger age, I wouldn’t be able to grasp.
“But my desire to continuously get better and come in everyday and work as hard as I can to do that, I think has helped me stay focused and really improve as a player. This year, I felt like a more complete player than I have in years past.”
“I’ve always had trust and belief in what he is about as a person and what he could achieve on the field,” said Smith. “I would think there are few people that have been able to offer what he has on and off the field, and endure what he has on and off the field. That, in itself, is a testament to what he’s about as a person.”
Mastroeni set new club records during the 2010 season, surpassing Chris Henderson for most games and minutes played in a Colorado Rapids uniform. He is not yet ready to consider the end, so one can expect those numbers to keep climbing.
“There’s always more,” he said. “Watching soccer on TV, and some of the guys that play my position at a higher level, you see that if I’m two steps ahead of the ball, these guys are 5-6 steps ahead of the ball. For me, I may or may not ever achieve what these guys that I watch on TV achieve on a yearly basis, but it’s that belief in myself that I can definitely try and in the process have a great time doing it.
“The crazy thing about soccer is that you learn a lot about yourself along the way that you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to do, because you’re always critiquing yourself and your game, and things that you can do better. These things help you not only grow as a player, but also as a person.
“So as long as I’m physically able and I have that same drive and that same passion, I see myself playing for a few more years.”