Pickens optimistic he'll be ready for Saturday's opener

Goalkeeper working back from slight muscle injury, hopes to play against Dallas Saturday

(Feb. 27, 2013: After training GK Matt Pickens practices directing goal kicks and punts at a target 60 yards away at the Sports Dome in Centennial, Colo.)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Matt Pickens gingerly walked off the turf fields at the South Suburban Sports Dome on Tuesday afternoon with a bulky ice pack surrounding his right shin.

Pickens has been testing a swollen muscle between his right knee and ankle that’s kept the 30-year-old from fully practicing the last two weeks, and it remains to be seen if it will also keep him out of the Rapids’ season opener against FC Dallas on Saturday (6:30 p.m. MT, live on Altitude TV), although the team remains optimistic that he will be able to play this weekend.

“With Matt, the progression has been very good,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said on Tuedsay. “We have a very good chance. With Matt, he’s very close [to returning].”

Scouting Report: The '13 Colorado Rapids

Pickens developed the injury during the preseason and it slowly grew worse – he called the muscle injury as being “very painful” at one point – before letting it heal for the majority of this month. After the lengthy rest from training, it’s been so far, so good for the veteran.

“It was kind of getting worse and worse every day and it kind of got to the point to where it was really hard to walk on, so I just kind of had to shut it down for a little bit,” Pickens told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday.

One thing working against Pickens and the Rapids is Mother Nature. With nearly a foot of snow and sub-freezing temperatures making the grass fields outside Dick’s Sporting Goods Park unusable, the team trained at an indoor turf stadium here in the southern Denver suburbs on Tuesday and will do the same on Wednesday as well. The turf – which Pickens said could be part of the reason he developed the injury in the first place – could limit him from practicing fully until the team heads down to Dallas on Thursday.

“We’re still on [turf], and we’re not getting down on grass until Thursday,” Pickens said. “So I’m just being a little bit cautious, taking it one day at a time.”

Steward Ceus, who started the final two games of 2012 while Pickens was dealing with a groin injury, would start if Pickens is unable to go. Ceus kept two clean sheets in those games, the first two MLS starts of his career. But even with Ceus ready in the wings, Pickens is hopeful about being out there on Saturday.

“I’ve been testing it the last couple days,” Pickens said. “I haven’t had any reactions, so I’m optimistic for the weekend.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.