[MLS] One player dropped from the U.S. national team pool last year was Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, who played in three straight qualifiers – against Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica and Honduras – but was passed over for the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup, and hasn’t been called up since. In the absence of national team duty, and with a total of 65 caps and the 2002 and 2006 World Cups on his resume, he's dedicating himself to his club team.
SOCCER AMERICA: Did you and Coach Bob Bradley discuss why you were no longer being called up to the national team?
PABLO MASTROENI: There wasn't like an event that happened. Bob has his idea of what he wants in those positions, and obviously the young player is what he wants. Our dialogue was completely cut off after a qualifier at home [against Honduras in Chicago] last year. I haven't talked to him since. I was having some issues in my personal life as well, and it all kind of happened.
SA: How did it affect your personal life?
MASTROENI: Now looking back at the whole thing it was, for me, a blessing in disguise, because I was able to sort things out with my family and get through some tough times that I was experiencing. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I'd participated in the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup.
With the success of the team in those tournaments it validated that he didn't necessarily need me to be part of the team any longer. But in terms of dialogue there wasn't any. That's the way life goes. Sometimes you want answers and you just get more questions. I have this season in front of me and it's important for me and my club that we get into the playoffs.
SA: You missed the playoffs by a point last year and Coach Gary Smith has made a few changes. A few years ago the team was good enough to get past the first round. With teams being added every year, how much harder is it to get to the postseason?
MASTROENI: When you make the playoffs every year it seems like an easy thing to achieve. When you don’t make it a couple of years in a row, you think, ‘Jeez.’ We made it to a couple of conference finals and we had a chance to go to MLS Cup. You have to have a lot of things go right at the right time in the season and hopefully this year we can all have a better understanding of what we can do.
SA: How has Smith, who came here from England, adjusted to coaching in MLS?
MASTROENI: I think it helps Gary knowing about the league; how different it is from England and Europe, the amount of traveling we do. All that goes into it.
SA: You’ve been a pro for more than a decade, since coming to MLS as a rookie with Miami in 1999. We know the game and the league are evolving, but how have aspects like training and preparation changed?
MASTROENI: We seem to be becoming more athletes than we are soccer players these days. I guess that's to be expected. Everyone's got the fitness codes and the heart-rate monitors and that whole nine [yards], trying to always get an edge on the next guy or the next team, for that matter.
SA: America produces a lot of great athletes. Are more of them becoming soccer players than when you turned pro, or are other countries getting bigger and stronger?
MASTROENI: Brazil used to be five-foot-nothing and super-skillful. You start thinking about all the players and even Kaka isn’t a small guy. Their attacking players are big guys as well so it's changing. Diego is kind of a small guy, but their guys in the back are trees and they have big central midfielders. It's crazy. Where do they find these guys? That’s the problem here; those guys wouldn't be playing soccer if they grew up in America.
Even in Germany. I remember playing Germany and their two center backs were 6-6, 6-7 or something. There’s no way in hell if those guys are in the United States they're even close to a soccer field.
SA: So what needs to be done?
MASTROENI: What we have to do is make soccer cool in high school. That's the tipping point at which a kid in America says, "I’m going to go this route." There’s not one kid that hasn’t played youth soccer somewhere during his life, it’s just that when they get to junior high or high school, they think baseball is cooler or "I can make more money if I'm better at it."
There's definitely going to have to be a cultural change. At the professional level or the national team level it has to become something people think they can achieve and make money and be successful and famous. I think it will be a little while before we see that.
SA: You’re getting near the end of your career. Instead of a World Cup, what will be your focus?
MASTROENI: Now I can dedicate this season to my club. There's expectations on us this year to make the playoffs, and not only make the playoffs but be a contender for MLS Cup. My time won't be divided between this team and the national team and personal stuff. Everything's been sorted out and I can concentrate on the task at hand.
SA: Won't it be hard to watch the games and follow the World Cup, since you were teammates with a lot of the players?
MASTROENI: If you ask me if I miss that aspect of it, I do. We have a good team and I hope they do well in South Africa.