After painful spring, Edson Buddle still short of full fitness for Colorado Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — It’s been a bumpy opening few months during Edson Buddle’s tenure with the Colorado Rapids.

After the Rapids traded for the 32-year-old striker in December, Buddle began to feel knee pain a month later while training with the US national team in January, and continued knee problems forced the veteran to miss the first four games of the MLS season. Then, after starting three games in March and April, he encountered more knee problems that forced him to sit out two more games in late April.

Although he’s started and played deep into the second half in the last three games he’s been eligible to play in (he was suspended for a 1-1 draw in San Jose on May 18), Buddle says the stop-and-go nature of his season doesn’t have him in proper condition yet, and it’s limited what he’s been able to do on the field.

“I like to be available for players, midfielders when they play the ball and stuff,” Buddle told MLSsoccer.com after the Rapids’ 2-2 draw with FC Dallas last Saturday. “I like to make more runs. Right now, I’m still trying to get more fit.”

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For a 32-year-old changing cities and battling nagging injuries, Buddle’s battle to return to game shape is to be expected. But the transition has forced him to adjust his game for the time being. Once willing to go out on slicing runs and chase long passes, Buddle is now more of a back-to-the-goal striker, holding the ball and carefully picking out times to make his runs, unable to sprint as much as he might normally prefer.

“I think he needs to get fitter for sure,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said this week. “What he’s done is come and help us to hold the ball and make us play, and he’s helped us tremendously there. Now, can we get him turned and occupy the space in the backs? Can we do that 90 minutes? That’s what we want.”

But even as he settles into a new role, Buddle has found a way to stay productive, directly contributing to Colorado’s current six-game unbeaten streak.

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The Rapids are undefeated in the seven games Buddle has played in this season (5-0-2), and he’s provided two key goals in his limited time on the field, scoring the lone goal in Colorado’s 1-0 win over Toronto on May 4 and the opening strike in a 2-0 win over Columbus on May 11, while also assisting on the goal in the Rapids’ 1-0 April 6 win over Real Salt Lake.

The impact and productivity are still there for the 2010 World Cup veteran. The consistency, however, is a work in progress, and Buddle plans on using the Rapids’ two-week break to continue working back into shape.

“Edson had a tough moment with his knee and a tough moment as well adjusting after the surgery because of the transition with the cities and everything,” Pareja said. “But I think we’re going to get there and he knows that we know [that].”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.