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November 23, 2016

Pablo Mastroeni

Shkelzen Gashi

New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: We're now going to transition to the Colorado Rapids. We'd like to welcome head coach Pablo Mastroeni and midfielder, Shkëlzen Gashi to the call.

Pablo, your thoughts about last night's game, and what you're looking to focus on the next game in leg two?

PABLO MASTROENI: I thought it was a good performance. Obviously we knew going into Seattle was going to be a tough game with momentum riding, and obviously playing at CenturyLink Field, but I think overall the guys put forth a very good effort. Our goal going into that game was to make sure we made the second leg relevant, and I think that away goal definitely did that. So now it's business as usual coming back home and doing what we've done a pretty good job of all year, which is finding a way to keep teams off the score sheet and secure that goal that we're looking for at home.

Q. Shkëlzen, your initial thoughts about last night's game and also looking ahead to leg two?
SHKËLZEN GASHI: Yes. Last night was a very good game for both teams. I think Seattle, they have good players, but we were very good at defense because of the 90 minutes I saw maybe just three good chances for Seattle and not more. So, yeah, I'm very positive now for the home game because we know what we can do and how good we are in the home games. And, yeah, we are ready.

Q. Coach, you'll be without Sam Cronin on Sunday. How do you expect -- what are you missing without him, and how do you expect to replace him?
PABLO MASTROENI: Well, obviously, Sam's been a stalwart for us in the middle of the field all year. He's played pretty much every game, I think, minus one. So, obviously, an important piece to the group. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about the situation. Left it all on the field yesterday for the group. In doing so, he took a yellow, so he's going to be out. Now it's about the next man up.

You know, Azira came into the game last night and I thought did a good job getting on the ball, and facilitating the ball in order to get on top of the game a little bit and really gained a little bit of a foothold. I think Azira will be a natural replacement for Sam.

So like I said often this year, we've had a lot of guys missing, and we've operated like a team, and the next man that steps into whoever's role, goes in and does a fantastic job.

Q. Pablo, you mentioned Cronin being out. Do you expect to utilize Jones and Powers, and how do you expect to swap those guys in?
PABLO MASTROENI: Yeah, we're definitely looking at a couple of different options. Obviously, don't want to show our hand too early here and give up all the tactical operations that we're trying to employ. But we definitely have some options in there. We've played with a different look in those three central positions all year. So obviously we're going to have to make one change in how we utilize the other guys will be left to decide here in the next coming days.

Q. Pablo, everybody else around the country talks about altitude when they go to play in Denver. Do you think it's that much of a home-field advantage?
PABLO MASTROENI: Well, having played here pretty much my whole career and then going to L.A. at the tail end of my career, and coming to play in Colorado, it is real. I think it's like everything else. When you're the home team and you're winning, it validates the altitude. When you're not winning, it makes it kind of a moot point.

But I think this year what we've been able to do is really get after the game, put teams under pressure early on in the game, make them run towards their goal, make them run everywhere. In the 60 or 65th minute, you start to see a visible sign of fatigue. And I think in the L.A. games as well. You go back and look at the overtime period, and you saw the L.A. group that were getting massages, laying down, catching their breath, trying to wriggle out their legs and the fatigue. And our group was standing, no one took a seat.

So when you look at it from that perspective, I think it has duel implications. One, there's definitely a physical impact. But, two, it only becomes validated when the psychology is there, and what I mean by that, by imposing yourself on the opponents for long periods of time, and really bringing that into play. So, again, like I said, we've gone 14 games this year with a 1-0 score sheet, and we're looking to replicate that at the weekend.

Q. What do you make of the away goals rule? I know certainly right now it has the potential to play in your favor. But, overall, what do you think of it?
PABLO MASTROENI: It is what it is. I think there are pros and cons to it. I think being that these other rules and this is the way it's set up, you've got to find the best way to make it bearable to your team. I think going to Seattle, it forces you to try to score and open up the game a little bit. And I think we did a pretty good job of doing that.

I think we created two other opportunities that I thought we could have been better on to get that second goal. But at the end of the day, like you said, we put ourselves in very good position here at home to close out the series.

Q. Pablo, obviously no one was picking you guys to be in this spot at the beginning of the season. Thinking back to that time, how optimistic were you, and what were your reasons for thinking that you would be in this position eight months down the line?
PABLO MASTROENI: Well, I mean, other than belief in self and belief in a group of guys, there's really no reason to think that we'd be in this situation. I think everything starts with hope and belief, and more importantly, bringing a bunch of guys together. I think guys like Gashi, guys like Jermaine, guys like Marco, Michael Azira, and really sitting down with these guys and talking through some stuff because as far as where do we want to go as a group? What are you willing to give of yourself for the greater good of the team? And really coming together and being strong and knowing that we don't have all the same amenities as everyone else and no one looks at us like we're going to be world beaters, but as long as we have belief about ourselves individually and collectively as a group that we can overcome and achieve some great things, I think this is a great story of that.

And, again, as I've said in the past, you have to have results to validate your philosophy, whatever that may be. And we got the results. In doing that it empowered the mindset, and it empowered the mentality of the group, so it is no shock that we are where we are because of all the different things that we put in place starting in preseason, and the commitment from the players to want to be great and want to achieve some things this year.

It hasn't always been easy. There have been some difficult spells, but I think those moments were very important for our growth as a team. Now we find ourselves in the situation where the most important thing is that we control our own destiny, and I think it speaks volumes to the type of work this whole group did over the course of the year.

Q. What do you remember about the first time you saw Axel Sjöberg in action? What qualities jumped out at you to make you think that he would be a really good defender in MLS?
PABLO MASTROENI: I think when you go to the combines and the drafts and you do a little bit of scouting, you go to these combines and you look for tendencies. You look for things that can be replicated. And Axel immediately, had very good body shape to the ball, he had good communication, his positioning was really good, and his ability to kind of play with the attacking player as far as checking his arm. When the forward would put his arm up on his chest, he'd knock it down. All these little minute details of his defending were really interesting to me.

I thought, obviously, it's going to take some time to adjust to the game, but the skillset that he had, if anyone else was watching, it was probably you don't look for those things. The but as far as the type of defending that we wanted to have this year, which was really outthinking your opponent, outboxing your opponent. I think Axel had those coming into the league.

So after a year's worth of experience, and look, he's still got a long ways to go. But his improvement from year over year has been tremendous. I think the sky's the limit for him, if he continues to play in this fashion.

Q. Pablo, after the first leg, I know obviously you don't want to tip your hand too much here. But what are some things you think your defense is going to have to do at home to limit the effectiveness of Seattle's attack on the second leg?
PABLO MASTROENI: Well, there's a few things. But I'd start the answer with the fact that, and I've said this in L.A., the home team has a great advantage in the playoffs. And if you were at the game last night, you felt the energy of the crowd, it was palpable. Now, regular season, you have home field, yeah, the home crowd is important, but it's not the same. And I don't know if it's the heightened pressure, the heightened publicity of each game, but the home team is definitely in the driver's seat in the playoffs.

So last night you saw a group that was inspired by their 12th man, and there's moments in the game where it transitioned from defense to attack for Seattle, and you heard the crowd kind of starting their attack so to speak and that was really important.

I think when we come back to Colorado, I think it's going to be a different game. Yep, they're going to have their very good attacking players. But I think now guys like Gashi, guys like Doyle, guys like Azira, guys like Jermaine are going to be able to influence the game from a different perspective than what you saw last night.

So it's not so much about how we're going to stop them, but more importantly, how are we going to ignite our attack to put them on their heels.

Q. One of the most exciting news this week about the U.S. National Team. Pablo, the L.A. Galaxy with Bruce Arena to come to this stage of the MLS, and he knows actually Bruce Arena from both sides, as a player and as a coach. What do you think that Bruce Arena will bring to the U.S. National Team now in the new era with Bruce Arena as a coach?
PABLO MASTROENI: Yeah, well, I think Bruce is one of the greatest coaches in the history of American soccer. I think he's proven it at the international level. He's proven it with L.A.

From a playing perspective, when I was playing under Bruce, he was a man that inspired me to be better every day. And I think -- I say this all the time about Bruce -- he put me on the bench more than any other coach I had in my career, yet he's the coach that I'd run through a brick wall for of all of them. And I think that says a lot about reaching the person.

I think at this juncture with the National Team, we're talking about having to fight through difficult circumstances to get back to the top of the hex. And I think what he will do is challenge each individual to become greater and collectively as a group, he'll challenge them to play for the United States of America. And he makes it very clear that you've got to bleed the red, white, and blue to be able to step out on that field for him, and I think he's the right guy.

I think he's going to inspire his group, and there is no doubt in my mind that he'll get these guys in a position to be competing for the 2018 World Cup.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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