Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids

Commentary: Pablo Mastroeni put the Colorado Rapids on the map

With all due respect to everyone else that has represented the colors, one person is responsible for putting the Colorado Rapids on the international soccer map as we know it today: Pablo Mastroeni.

And he did so in a manner that will forever endear him to the Colorado faithful who witnessed his career from the Rocky Mountains - proudly displaying his passion though gritty performances that made him one of the best American defensive midfielders of his era, all the while giving Rapids fans a reason to brag about the club.

As a charter member of Major League Soccer, the Rapids have been around since 1996. Yes, the team reached the 1997 MLS Cup, played in the 1998 version of the CONCACAF Champions League, and advanced to the 1999 U.S. Open Cup. But an easy argument can be made that the League - and soccer in the U.S.  in general - has grown leaps and bounds since those days and early successes. And Mastroeni has been at the heart of that progress in Colorado for the better part of the past 13 years.

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By the age of 25, he had already played four seasons in MLS with the Miami Fusion, had been named to two MLS All-Star teams, an MLS Best XI side, and earned two caps with the U.S. National Team. He was a budding star when the Rapids selected him with the first pick in the January 2002 Allocation Draft.

And from the moment he landed in Colorado, the dread-locked athlete / musician made the rest of the country - and world - notice soccer in Colorado.

He went from not having played in a single World Cup Qualifying match to making the 2002 U.S. World Cup team, the words "Colorado Rapids" listed alongside his name in nearly every publication.

For team staff and fans, we bragged to anyone that would listen on that June 5 morning that it was 'our' Pablo Mastroeni who started for the U.S. as they shocked Portugual to open the World Cup, setting the stage for a quarterfinal run that catapulted the sport in this country where it is today.

He went on to represent Colorado on seven MLS All-Star teams and again at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In all he earned 63 of his 65 caps with the U.S. team as a Rapids player.

Mastroeni on making USMNT World Cup team

He alone carried the Rapids name across the country and world with matches against other superstars, including games versus powerhouses like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Mexico, among others.

Back home, time and again he showed Colorado fans that he 'got' what it meant to play for the Rapids. Like the fans, he stood by the club through an ownership change, four head coaches, four general managers, three stadiums, three different color schemes, hundreds of teammates, and numerous disappointing seasons - more than once turning down opportunities to head overseas.

In 2006, after being heckled in Utah by fans of club's biggest rival, he literally showed Real Salt Lake that he had them in his pocket, taking his shirt off and tucking it his shorts in a post-game a scene that also included a face-to-face confrontation with then-RSL owner Dave Checketts - all of which ignited the Rocky Mountain Cup series. (WATCH: Pablo talks RMC)

And in 2010, he once again made the soccer world look at Colorado when he captained the Rapids to the club's first MLS Cup Championship.

Wearing a newly gifted black stocking hat and a fully-grown beard, Mastroeni smiled in the middle of his team’s locker room at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario on that freezing cold night in late November.

Mastroeni's MLS Cup toast

As his teammates raised champagne bottles and celebrated the club’s first trophy, Mastroeni took a second to take it all in before momentarily interrupting the mood.

“I got a cheers, I got the cheers,” he interjected.

In a matter of seconds, his teammates once again showed their respect for the long-time captain, quickly forming a huddle with arms around each other's shoulders awaiting their leader's words.

Whether it was a quickly derived poem or old lyrics from the accomplished musician, the cadenced chant was directed to his then teammates, but in reality he was speaking to everyone that ever played or supported the Colorado Rapids.

“This championship goes out to all us friends,” Mastroeni began. “For whom the stories never end. The good times, bad times, we have shared. For you’re the few, I ever cared. Let’s celebrate!!!”

And with that more corks popped and the party continued, reminding everyone how special it was to win it for the Rapids.