The Colorado Rapids have a manageable task on Sunday against the Seattle Sounders, needing just a 1-0 victory, or any multi-goal win, to advance to the 2016 MLS Cup final. For a team that hasn't lost a match at home all year, that is a very achievable goal.
As if the pressure of reaching the final weren't enough heading into Sunday, there is also a subplot looming regarding Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, who is coming to the end of his contract with Colorado. A loss to the Sounders could not only put an end to the Rapids improbable season, but it could signal the end of Mastroeni's time as head coach.
That seems an unfathomable scenario given the fact Mastroeni has become so synonymous with the club, first as an MLS Cup-winning captain and now a third-year head coach who has really blossomed as a leader in year three. As unlikely as it might be to some, there is a very real possibility Mastroeni leaves the club this winter if he and the Rapids can't come to an agreement on a new contract. Sources tell Goal that a return to Colorado in 2017 is far from a sure thing for Mastroeni.
However, Mastroeni says he would love to stay with the Rapids for the long haul.
"I would love to stay in Colorado for the remainder of my tenure as a coach, if that was a possibility," Mastroeni told Goal. "I feel like it’s a place where I was afforded time when things weren’t going well. Every year we’ve gotten better as far as points are concerned.
"I would love to be here, and be a part of this long-term project, but I also know that it’s a business. There are things that I have no control over."
Though a new contract hasn't been agreed to, Mastroeni and the Rapids have been in negotiations, a source told Goal. Rapids leadership has maintained a confident stance about a new deal being worked out.
"We’re on the same page," Rapids president Tim Hinchey told Goal. "Pablo’s been around our company long enough. He knows how we work. He’s seen the loyalty that Kroenke Sports & Entertainment has provided to all their employees and to all their coaches. We’re on the same page. Everybody’s feeling good and we definitely anticipate having him back."
The subject of losing a head coach is a touchy one for the Rapids, who went through a memorably painful ordeal three years ago when Oscar Pareja left the club to take charge of FC Dallas. That messy divorce eventually led the Rapids to turn to Mastroeni despite the fact that he had no experience as a head coach.
The thinking at that time was to groom Mastroeni into someone who could run the Rapids for a long time. Despite poor results in the first two seasons, the Rapids stuck by Mastroeni, who has seen his efforts to improve as a coach bear fruit in 2016, with the Rapids posting the second-best record in MLS.
"It’s the entire reason we gave Pablo a chance," Hinchey said. "We’re very proud, Paul (Bravo) and myself, that the last two coaches we’ve hired were one and two in the league this season. We have confidence in identifying people we think can be successful in this league, but what we don’t want to do is be in a position where we’re starting over every two years because it’s painful."
Whether or not the Rapids reach the MLS Cup final, Mastroeni will head into the offseason in an enviable position. Though he has been in negotiations with the Rapids on a new deal, there is a good chance he will be a free agent this winter, at a time when there are currently two job openings in Los Angeles, one with the Galaxy and one with expansion side LA FC. If he succeeds in leading the Rapids to their second MLS Cup title, Mastroeni could become a leading candidate for one of those two positions, as well as any other jobs that become available in 2017.
Mastroeni isn't thinking about life after the Rapids though. He is focused on trying to win a title, and insists he would prefer staying in Colorado for years.
"You cannot control the things you have no control over, therefore you must continue to place all of your life energy in the things you have control over," Mastroeni told Goal. "I have control over the way I come into work every day, the way I operate, the way the staff operates, the way the guys approach every training session, the way we get on the field and apply ourselves. Those things I have control over.
"What I don’t have control over is whether or not I’ll be (in Colorado) for the long run."