Amid the sheer pandemonium of Marco Pappa’s late, late winner against LA Galaxy last weekend, you might have missed the moment that casts something of a shadow over Colorado Rapids’ trip to D.C. United on Sunday.
Overcome with emotion, the substituted Shkëlzen Gashi raced on to the playing area to celebrate with his friend and team-mates. The infringement brings a mandatory suspension and, despite lobbying from the Front Office, the Albanian will miss the nationally televised game at RFK this weekend (ESPN2, 3:00 p.m MT).
It is a blow, because Gashi is getting more influential with every MLS minute. He had backed up his exalted reputation in Europe with an incessant and inventive game against the Galaxy.
However, this weekend, his role as chief creator could be taken by the man he was so eager to congratulate. Pappa has put in two eye-catching cameos this season and, on Sunday, he just might be ready to start.
Even without the Guatemalan’s goal, Rapids could have still taken much from the performance against the Galaxy. Major names like Gyasi Zardes, Steven Gerrard, and Robbie Keane were stifled and, despite Bruce Arena’s dismissive comments, Pablo Mastroeni’s men played some decent soccer.
In addition, they have only conceded one goal in 180 minutes this season and that was a momentary lapse in concentration at the start of the second half in San Jose.
The Rapids results have been a couple of 1-0 contests but their play has been much more expansive than that.
Gashi’s suspension is the major news. But after this weekend, Jermaine Jones will be halfway through his six-match suspension. Mastroeni has a decision to make if Eric Miller and/or Marlon Hairston are fit as, on his MLS debut, Mekeil Williams impressively shut down Zardes last weekend.
D.C. have had an indifferent start. They led at the Galaxy before being humbled 4-1 on the opening Sunday. Last weekend they recovered a little with a goalless draw at New England Revolution. This is their home opener.
Head coach Ben Olsen had a busy offseason bringing in MLS veterans Lamar Neagle, Patrick Nyarko and Marcelo Sarvas. The last of those saw a MLS Superdraft pick and Targeted Allocation Money go to the Rapids. The Brazilian arrived at Dick's Sporting Goods Park a year earlier having forged a fine reputation at LA Galaxy.
Perhaps Sarvas did not perform at the level of previous years in Commerce City but then it was a tough year for everyone in burgundy. This week, Mastroeni suggested he was reluctant to move the 34-year-old but his value within the salary cap allowed him the flexibility to refashion his side.
Either way, Sarvas is still a quality operator in MLS.
The same applies to Neagle who, like Pappa, so often supplied the ammunition for the Martins-Dempsey partnership at Seattle.
An injury to keeper Andrew Dykstra, who himself was covering for Bill Hamid, pushed Olsen into acquiring Charlie Horton from New England. However, youngster Travis Worra performed admirably last weekend.
D.C. are often cited as a model for the Rapids. Olsen took them from bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2013 to top in 2014. In the last two seasons they have perished at the semi-final stage of the Playoffs.
Olsen’s side do not possess too many stars but, generally, they are hard-working and tough to beat. Mastroeni has modeled his own side the same way. That’s why this meeting will be so informative for both sides.
Referee: Chris Penso
DC: Korb (knee), Hamid (knee), Dykstra (back), Halsti (knee).
Rapids: Gashi (suspended), Jones (suspended).
TV: ESPN 2
Radio: Mile High Sports