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Kandji ready to contribute to Colorado's playoff hunt

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When the Colorado Rapids collide against Real Salt Lake in their huge Friday matchup, Macoumba Kandji could, according to ESPN2's preview of the game, have another opportunity “to reach hero status amongst the Colorado faithful.”

But the lanky forward, for his part, is a little more modest about his potential contribution.

“I have a good feeling I will play a big role in this game,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “My role will be to be available if the coaches need me.”

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In November of last season, Kandji came up big for the Rapids in MLS Cup, knocking a shot off FC Dallas defender George John for the goal that would give the Rapids their first MLS Cup trophy. On that very same play, he tore a cruciate ligament in his left knee.

After a difficult rehab stint that lasted deep into the 2011 season, Kandji is back and ready to contribute once again in the postseason and defend the title that his heroics won for Colorado.

The title defense could begin as soon as Friday. If D.C. United lose to Vancouver on Wednesday night and the Rapids beat their bitter rivals, the reigning champions will have won a spot in the playoffs. But beyond a postseason berth, the Rocky Mountain Cup is on the line, and RSL lead the Rapids in the series after their 1-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 13.

“All I know is this game is very big,” Kandji said. “First, we want to win so we can all relax and go into the playoffs. Secondly, it’s a rivalry that is important for the fans. We definitely want to win the Rocky Mountain Cup and get into the playoffs, so we are looking at a 2-0 win or higher, hopefully.”

Kandji says he and others are seeing improvements in his own form as he adjusts to being back in the lineup after such a long time away. There have been ups and downs: two goals in his full return to the team in an August 17 CONCACAF Champions League match at Isidro Metapán the highlight, while being substituted in the first half against the LA Galaxy on Sept. 9 perhaps the lowlight.

But it’s all part of the process. In addition to the CCL match against Metapán, Kandji traveled to Honduras for a tilt with Real España, even as coaches sought to soften his landing back in the lineup.

“There were reasons why the coaches didn’t play me much, but it was great to be part of the team,” he said. “It’s great for your confidence just being part of the 18. I’ve been very impressed with the coaches. They have shown they care about me and want me to be part of this team.”

The Senegal-born attacker said the atmosphere in Central America reminded him of Africa; a Rocky Mountain Cup fixture certainly shouldn’t be lacking in crowd energy, and Kandji is up for the challenge.

“I know I have been working hard and I’m not trying to get to a certain level,” he said. “I just know that the more work I put in, the better it will be. I’m feeling very sharp both physically and mentally.”