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Pablo Mastroeni named permanent Real Salt Lake manager

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NYCFC beats Portland Timbers on penalties to win first title (1:53)

NYCFC is crowned MLS Cup champion for the first time after a 4-2 win on penalties vs. the Portland Timbers. (1:53)

Pablo Mastroeni had the "interim" tag officially removed from his job title on Monday, with Real Salt Lake announcing that the former United States international is the permanent manager of the team.

ESPN television analyst Taylor Twellman reported on Saturday that Mastroeni and RSL had an agreement "in principle." A source confirmed to ESPN that RSL fended off interest from FC Cincinnati and the Houston Dynamo for Mastroeni's services.

Mastroeni was named interim manager on Aug. 27 under a unique set of circumstances. Then-manager Freddy Juarez left the club to become an assistant coach with the Seattle Sounders. Mastroeni seemed a longshot for the full-time job, but after going 7-7-0 to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, and then engineering upsets of the Sounders and Sporting Kansas City, the 45-year-old was tabbed to manage the club on a full-time basis.

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In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Mastroeni said from the moment he took over, his focus was on getting RSL into the playoffs, not his own future with the team. That approach paid off.

"What we were able to achieve as a group, I think, really validates not only the way I thought about that moment, but also each player, everyone at the club believing, [working] as a collective, being able to achieve what we did," he said.

"I think it feels so much better to have done it that way."

Mastroeni had previously been manager of the Colorado Rapids, where from 2014-17 he had a record of 43-58-35. He was appointed to that job shortly after retiring as a player, and he admits that the opportunity came too soon given his lack of coaching experience. Time, as well as stints as an assistant with the Dynamo and RSL have given Mastroeni a deeper level of knowledge in terms of the game. He also feels he manages in-game situations with a more composed approach.

"Before I was like a player on the sidelines, I was very emotional," he said. "Now I can make adjustments unemotionally, to kind of subvert the passion part and allow the reason and more logical thoughts to come through. I think that's been a big part of my growth."

As an organization, RSL remains in a state of flux. MLS has forced owner Dell Loy Hansen to sell the team after he was found to have made racist comments and oversaw a toxic workplace culture, but a deal to bring new owners on board hasn't been finalized. Mastroeni admitted that the team may not be that active in bringing in new players during the upcoming winter transfer window. But if that's the case, he'll double down on instilling a team culture that is "player driven and coach guided."

"Giving them ownership into the project, into the plan, having them be accountable for it, without having to say it, I think is a really powerful thing," he said. "I think that's my ideal culture, where were the guys just take it, they meet it. Obviously, I'm here to make sure that we have a great game plan, that there is structure within the group, that we hold ourselves up to the type of character, and the type of mentality and the type of effort that's expected every day in training. I think those are the checks and balances that that are important for my role."

Mastroeni's approach to coaching, while including the tactical part of the game, has long had a spiritual component to it. He doesn't expect that to change.

"I don't look at it like a profession. For me, it's a way of life," he said. "And it's also my sanctuary. It's also my religion. It's everything. And so when we talk as a group, when I talked to the guys, we speak about how fortunate we are to be with each other in this wonderful journey, that soccer brought us to this moment together. We wouldn't know each other for any other reason. So I speak from a place of brotherhood, team. That's what soccer has always meant to me personally."