The last Amigo set to return to Tucson
Colorado's Mastroeni comes back in more ways than one
Pablo Mastroeni has had an impressive soccer career:he was an all-conference player at North Carolina State, won the Supporters Shield with the Miami Fusion, earned 65 caps with the U.S. national team and has been a standout player for the Colorado Rapids for over a decade.
But there is one thing that often gets left off his resume: he played a single season for the Tucson Amigos back in 1997.
"Playing with the Amigos was my first real taste of playing pro," said the Argentina-born and Phoenix-raised Mastroeni.
The Tucson Amigos were Tucson's previous entry into the American soccer world. They lasted from 1989 until 1999.
Like current PDL team FC Tucson, the Amigos' semi-pro status meant that players like Mastroeni could play for the team without giving up their college eligibility. Other MLS players that wore the black and red of the Amigos included former Chicago Fire midfielder Evan Whitfield and journeyman 'keeper Dusty Huddock. The 36 year old Mastroeni is the only remaining Amigo still playing.
Mastroeni will have a chance to revisit where he got that "first taste" back in 1997 when his team comes to Tucson to play three preseason matches. He's looking forward to playing in Tucson.
"Tucson is a really great soccer community," he said.
The Amigos played at high school fields during Mastroeni's time in Tucson. Now, there are "soccer specific" facilities in Tucson and his native Phoenix will be hosting its own professional team, Phoenix FC, for the first time in years.
"It's an exciting time for Arizona soccer," he said. "At first, it was unusual to hear of a player from Arizona, now there is a glut."
"Glut" might be an overstatement, but Mastroeni's Rapids includes one other Arizonan, Tony Cascio.
Mastroeni would like to see the game develop further in his home state.
"There is a desire to have an MLS team in Phoenix," he said. "FC Tucson and the USL team in Phoenix are a pilot program."
"We have everything we need in Arizona to get this thing going," he said.
Back to the game
Mastroeni's appearance at Kino Field #5 will not only mark his return to Tucson, but his return to the soccer pitch.
Mastroeni suffered a concussion in a match against Real Salt Lake on October 14, 2011, the penultimate game of the season. As the 2012 season started, he was pulled from games early and eventually stopped practicing with the team. Observers worried that the concussion may have ended Mastroeni's career, much like it did with former Rapid Ross Paule.
Mastroeni announced, to the surprise of fans, late last year that he will play another season, and he's already training.
"I've been working since the latter part of postseason," he said. "We've got ten days of camp before we go to Tucson."
The team he rejoins will look very different than the one he left. They won MLS Cup in 2010, but they have had a hard time repeating the magic. Several players who were pivotal to that squad have been dealt away in the offseason, including Jeff Larentowicz and striker Conor Casey. The team is rebuilding with some new faces.
"We're in a period of adjustment," he said. "It's going to take us time to get on the same page."
"We are going to reinvent ourselves and get into the playoffs," he said. "But change is never easy."