COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Pablo Mastroeni’s game-winning wonder-strike against New England last weekend has tended, rightfully, to be the main talking point of the Colorado Rapids’ victory.
It certainly was a belter from way outside the penalty area, and even more of a discussion point since the club captain tends to score so infrequently.
But the goal set the seal on a fine team performance. That was largely kicked off by another moment of individual skill when Mehdi Ballouchy -- another player who doesn’t hit the score sheet all that often -- ran deep into the New England half and let fly from distance into the corner of Preston Burpo’s goal after just 13 minutes.
Ballouchy was playing in a new midfield formation which saw him play slightly in front of Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the field. Omar Cummings was pushed out wider to help feed Conor Casey. In previous games this season, Ballouchy had played a more conventional wide right midfield position.
The Moroccan said his influence in any game has more to do with the way the team is playing than any explicit formation.
“When I was playing wide, I was going to tuck in anyways,” he said at training this week. “ It almost kind of ends up me being in the midfield. The only difference is whether we pass the ball or we play long. That is the key for me. If we are playing direct soccer, then I don’t have the ball so much. I don’t care about the formation as much as the style of play.”
There is no doubting Ballouchy’s skill or his work rate, but he still seems to suffer from a poor perception from Colorado fans, many of whom cannot forgive the trade which saw him move to Colorado from Salt Lake in exchange for fan favorite Kyle Beckerman.
“To be honest, maybe it’s the TV broadcasters trying to get me,” Ballouchy said. “I have no idea of what it is. I think if you know about soccer, you should see it. If you don’t, there is nothing I can do and everybody is entitled to their opinions.”
Gary Smith, who said after last weekend’s game that Ballouchy had answered his critics with his sterling performance, has persevered with Ballouchy despite the criticism. The head coach knows his midfielder is hugely talented. He would just like to see him step up with a little more consistency in his creativity and scoring. If he can do that, those criticisms would eventually have to die off.