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SANDY — In the final four months of the 2021 season, Real Salt Lake belonged to Pablo Mastroeni, the assistant coach thrust into the role of interim head coach following a sudden departure in the middle of a season of upheaval and uncertainty.
Utah's top professional soccer club will start the 2022 season in the same manner.
Mastroeni had the interim tag removed from his title Monday, when Real Salt Lake named him the sixth full-time manager in the history of the 2005 expansion club. The 45-year-old manager replaces Freddy Juarez, who left in August to accept a position on Brian Schmetzer's staff with Seattle Sounders FC.
"I am excited to be joining Real Salt Lake on a permanent basis," said Mastroeni, a 2001 MLS Best XI honoree who played 15 seasons in Major League Soccer with the now-defunct Miami Fusion, Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy. "I love the direction this Club is moving in and I'm looking forward to working with all the resources and opportunities we have in front of us.
"We will implement an electric end-to-end style of play that brings our fans into the action and further solidifies the fortress that we call home. And we will continue to be a formidable foe on the road, just as we were during the end of our 2021 season."
Mastroeni led the club to an 8-8-1 record following the sudden departure of Juarez, including a 5-2 mark at Rio Tinto Stadium and a magical run to the Western Conference finals — just one win away from the club's first MLS Cup final since 2013. RSL will be his second head coaching job since retiring from Major League Soccer following the 2013 season, when he immediately led the Colorado Rapids for four seasons.
A player's coach by reputation, Mastroeni accumulated a 43-58-35 record in 136 matches in Colorado. His most successful season was in 2016, when the Rapids finished with the best regular-season record in club history, suffered a franchise-low six losses, and allowed a league-low 32 goals en route to Mastroeni's second-place finish in the MLS Coach of the Year voting.
"He does do an incredible job of motivating and even just giving confidence to his players," RSL defender Justen Glad told KSL.com after the season. "I felt that, from the minute he came in, even as assistant coach, there was a belief in the team and myself personally.
"When you have that confidence behind and you know the coach has faith with you, it makes it easier to play well."
Following his departure from the club where he made 225 appearances over 11 years, Mastroeni took an assistant job with the Houston Dynamo in 2019 before joining Juarez's staff as an assistant in 2021.
Mastroeni agreed in principle to his full-time managerial contract over the weekend, ESPN's Taylor Twellman reported Saturday morning. The network also reported that Mastroeni received interest from FC Cincinnati and the Houston Dynamo, which are both in the middle of their own coaching search.
He's the third consecutive interim manager to be promoted to the full-time position, joining Juarez and previous coach Mike Petke in that honor. Mastroeni beat out a slew of candidates that reportedly included club legend Jason Kreis, former U.S. men's national team star Landon Donovan, current national team assistant Luchi Gonzalez and longtime MLS coaching star Dominic Kinnear, among others.
"We are thrilled to have Pablo on board long-term," RSL general manager Elliot Fall said. "We expect success for years to come under his leadership. Pablo's ability to build a culture and instill belief within the club has resulted in the most tight-knit locker room seen in years. We are excited for him to instill that throughout our entire organization."
With the head coach hired, the club moves on to other offseason affairs, including Tuesday's MLS expansion draft for the league's 29th team Charlotte FC. Free agency opens Wednesday, and the MLS SuperDraft is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Then there's the matter of the club's owner, which commissioner Don Garber said during his annual State of the League address is "hopeful" will be resolved by the end of the year — and certainly in the first months of 2022. The club is currently league-run under the guidance of interim team president John Kimball, with Fall running the soccer side of the organization.
Fall and other officials are also currently negotiating new contracts for team captain Albert Rusnak, winger Justin Meram, midfielder Everton Luiz and winger Anderson Julio, whose loan agreement with Liga MX side Atletico San Luis is expiring soon.