Rapids still thin up top, but hope remains for home stretch

Conor Casey returned for the Colorado Rapids last weekend after spending more than a month sidelined through injury. The team is hoping some of the other forwards' injuries will also clear up to coincide with a string of home games over the next few weeks.

Casey came on in the second half at D.C. United on Saturday after hamstring problems had kept him out since the April 3 home game against DC. With Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan also sidelined, the return of the experienced striker was much needed.

Rapids head coach Gary Smith said he's hopeful he can use some of his bigger names at some point over the next three weekends as the Rapids have three home games.

"All in all, I have had four first-choice forwards out, four players [Cummings, Casey, Folan, Macoumba Kandji] who would get into any first team," Smith said. "It is always helpful to add forwards during a game because they can add different types of challenges for the defense.”

Though Smith is delighted with the form of youngsters Andre Akpan and Quincy Amarikwa, he knows there is no substitute for the skill and experience of the likes of Casey and Cummings, who have only played for an hour together so far this season.

“For me, Conor and Omar are the two best forwards in the league in terms of goals scored together,” he said. “They are not Thierry [Henry], they are not Landon [Donovan], they just don’t attract the media attention these guys do."

Smith remains hopeful that Cummings, who sprained his ankle against Houston on May 4, could return to the lineup for at least part of the upcoming home game series.

The head coach told MLSsoccer.com on Monday that Cummings was an outside shot for a bench spot for the game against Sporting Kansas City on May 28, with the game the following weekend against Philadelphia (on June 4) a very realistic target.

Because of his current injury, Cummings is unlikely to be called into the Jamaican squad for the group stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Smith said. Jamaica play three games between June 6-13.

“The reality is he’ll stay with us to regain his fitness,” he said.

Folan is also an outside shot for a bench spot on May 28. The striker had been called into a provisional Republic of Ireland squad for a series of games in Europe starting May 24, which includes a Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia on June 4.

Realistically, Smith said, Folan would need to play games next week against Northern Ireland and Scotland to have a shot at playing against Macedonia, and he will not be fit for those. He should, therefore, be available for Colorado for the Sporting KC and Philadelphia games.

Smith did rule out both Cummings and Folan for this weekend’s home game against Toronto (May 22), meaning Casey will likely partner with either Akpan or Amarikwa.

The three home-game series, which surrounds a May 25 visit to the New York Red Bulls, comes at a good time for the road-weary Rapids, who managed to pick up five points from the three games away at Houston, New England and DC. The team is now unbeaten in its last four games.

“I really hope the next four games are going to be pretty fruitful for us,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com after the DC game last weekend.