COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - It’s been an up-and-down seven months since Colorado Rapids attacker Shkëlzen Gashi scored his most important goal for the club, a long-range stunner which helped eliminate the LA Galaxy in last year’s playoffs.
Since then, the Swiss-Albanian international had been working his way back to fitness while nursing a nagging Achilles injury which caused him to miss most of the Rapids preseason.
“I think it was obviously a very difficult start for him coming into the preseason,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. "He missed about 75-percent of it and at the beginning of the season was chasing games. We were putting him through a bunch of exercises and extra work on the side, and it’s been difficult not having him on the field.”
A long recovery and conditioning period seemed well behind him last week when Gashi finally notched his first 90-minute performance of 2017 in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a performance which Mastroeni praised as Gashi’s “best game as a member of the Colorado Rapids ... on both sides of the ball.”
But in Colorado’s 3-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, the Rapids midfielder did even better, scoring a brace while tallying his first goals of 2017.
“It was really good and so important,” Gashi said. “For me, I’m proud of every goal. But for the team today it was important, because we have the three points. When I can score them in situations like that, I’m also very proud.”
For Colorado, which has stumbled out of the gates with just seven points in the table through nine games played, having their attacking centerpiece back at full strength will be critical in the club’s hopes to turn their season around.
“To see a guy that we count on week in and week out, not only to be fit, but to be hungry and to be on the field scoring, producing goals and setting players up, speaks to what he is capable of doing,” Mastroeni said. “The trend is great. It’s really important to have him on the field and I think [against San Jose] he showed up.”
The two goals were certainly a good indicator that Gashi has returned to the form he showed at the end of Colorado’s successful 2016 season. But he acknowledges there’s still work left to be done, starting with the two-game road trip which lies ahead for the Rapids.
“I think I’m in a good way, but it’s not finished. I have to work harder, stay positive and enjoy the time with the guys,” Gashi said. “A moment like this, it helps you a lot. Sometimes you need to go home and relax. But then the focus will be on Chicago. You have to stay focused and keep working.”