Coach knows it’s must-win time
COMMERCE CITY» With hopes of rising from the Western Conference cellar into playoff contention dimming by the week, Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni concedes every remaining match becomes a “must-win” proposition, even though eight of the final 13 are on the road.
“The mentality has to be steely,” Mastroeni said. “Every game becomes the most important game of the season.”
Since their last win July 1, the Rapids have lost two matches and tied two, leaving their record at 612-3. After Saturday’s game at Dallas, they have a home game the following week against DC United, then four more on the road.
They got talented winger Shkelzen Gashi back from injury last week, which helps, and newly signed German winger Stefan Aigner is expected to begin training with the team next week. Aigner will be counted on to break down defenses by attacking the wings and crossing balls into the box, but Mastroeni also is hoping his experience will make the Rapids better at closing out games.
Mastroeni has no complaints with his team’s effort, but he is exasperated with poor game management, especially late in games. He wants his players to continue pressuring the opposition, even when they have the lead. Instead, the Rapids have shown a tendency to become conservative, retreating to maintain possession rather than attacking. That emboldens opponents and squeezes the game in the Rapids’ end where mistakes can be costly.
The Rapids came from behind with two goals to take a 2-1 lead last week against Vancouver, but the Whitecaps were the more assertive team in the second half and equalized on a goal by Fredy Montero in the 73rd minute. It was yet another example of failing to “kill the game” by playing with hesitancy.
“When you score the second goal at home, keep threatening their back line,” Mastroeni said. “Keep making them go back (on defense) so their attacking players have to drop, and if they don’t drop, you’ll get possession in the good areas of the field. The more questions and problems the (other team’s) center backs have to solve late in games, the more likely they are not going to be able to answer them quickly because they are tired.
“You’re not only winning the game from a tactical perspective but from a psychological perspective — attacking teams as opposed to releasing pressure.”
The Rapids were better at killing games last year when they had veteran U.S. national team midfielder Jermaine Jones, who missed a chunk of the season with injuries but was exceptional at settling the midfield and taking command when he was healthy. Colorado chose not to bring him back this season because he was looking for a major salary bump, and as it turned out, the 35-yearold Jones has missed much of this season in Los Angeles because of injuries much like he did here.
Mastroeni is hoping Aigner, a Bundesliga veteran who is 29 and can orchestrate the way Jones did, will help improve the team’s game management in critical situations.
“It’s about understanding those moments,” Mastroeni said. “That’s why experience is worth its weight in gold.”
Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni says every remaining game is a must-win.