Real Salt Lake players and fans alike were left stunned on Friday morning when it was announced that head coach Freddy Juarez is leaving the team. While dissatisfaction had grown over Juarez's perceived weaknesses, no one expected him to leave mid-season with the club in playoff position. Additionally, the lack of an owner complicates the team's ability to fire a coach and hire a replacement. Interestingly, Juarez quit instead of being fired, taking a job as an assistant with the Seattle Sounders. Pablo Mastroeni, Juarez's lead assistant, has been promoted to interim manager, where he will likely remain until the team has a new owner and is not in the middle of a playoff race.
As RSL heads to Vancouver (who also has an interim manager) for a Sunday night match, fans may want to know more about the man now leading the Claret and Cobalt. Here are three things to know about the (for now) temporary coach.
No Retirement Period
Mastroeni has been involved with Major League Soccer, and mainly the Colorado Rapids, for over twenty years. He ended his playing career at the end of the 2013 season and was subsequently hired as the Rapids head coach before the 2014 campaign. His immediate switch to coaching is interesting, as most managers typically gain experience by working their way up through the ranks as an assistant. Mastroeni's path is similar to former RSL manager and club legend Jason Kreis, who also took up coaching right after his playing career. RSL fans can only hope that Mastroeni is as successful as Kreis.
One additional benefit to Mastroeni's quick transition to coaching is that he is intimately familiar with MLS and how the league works. MLS is a unique league that requires special attention to roster building and management. Using a coach who knows the ins and outs of the league might help RSL succeed where others failed. At the very least. Mastroeni's knowledge will provide stability for the club at a much needed time.
A Mixed Bag of Success
Getting a read on Mastroeni's accomplishments as a coach is difficult. The roster a manager in MLS is given often plays a big role in team success, and Mastroeni did not have too many great pieces in Colorado. While an assistant last season with the Houston Dynamo, the team finished last in the Western Conference, although one can only speculate how much of that falls on Mastroeni.
Mastroeni's crowning achievement as a coach came in 2016 when the club finished second in the West at the end of the regular season and made it to the Western Conference Finals. RSL would love to finish that well, so the team is hoping they get 2016 Mastroeni, as opposed to the 2014 and 2015 versions that both lost fifteen games and finished near the bottom of the table.
A Defensive Mindset?
During that 2016 season, Colorado was unique in their success. The club only scored 39 goals, which was second worst in the league, but only gave up 32, the best mark in the league by far. It is apparent that Mastroeni wants his teams to play scrappy, defensive soccer that often results in low scorelines. This approach can work, but it takes a special kind of team constructed in a specific way. Mastroeni did not have any input on the players he has now, so his approach may fail, or he will need to try something different.
It is clear that Mastroeni can be a successful coach when he has the time and resources to build his type of team and implement his style of play, a process that took three years in Colorado and a luxury he does not now have. That being said, he was subsequently fired during the 2017 season after the team wilted in the face of lofty expectations. Coaches are usually fired for good reason, which raises concern about Mastroeni's long term capabilities.
Regardless of what happens next with RSL, the future could not be more unclear. No owner means Mastroeni could be an interim for a while. Additionally, this piece went back and forth over how good of a coach Mastroeni actually is. This means his results with the team could go in any number of directions. Only time will tell the future of Mastroeni and RSL as a whole.