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Colorado Rapids' Edson Buddle struggling for fitness after knee troubles: "I still have a ways to go"

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. –  It’s been more than two months and 785 playing minutes since Colorado Rapids striker Edson Buddle, brought in last December to be the team’s difference-maker up top this year, last found the back of the net.

Tick, tock.

On paper, 2013 hasn’t been kind to the 12-year MLS veteran. The 32-year-old has just two goals in 12 starts (14 games) for his new club, and he’s battled recurring injuries throughout the year as he’s struggled to get into proper game shape.

But if you ask Buddle whether or not this season has been a disappointment, he'll tell you that while inconsistency has plagued him so far this year, he’s not far away from being the difference-maker the Rapids want and expect from their No. 9.

“I’m still looking to get myself going as far as scoring goals, but to get in a routine, from a physical standpoint, that’s what helps me,” Buddle told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “When you’re not feeling at your best, you want to feed off your other players, link up with players, and not get too exposed as a team. We’ve got to play as a team when you’re not at your best.”

The injury recovery process has taken longer than even Buddle expected. Starting the year battling right knee pain due to a meniscus tear and surgery stemming back to last season, he missed the first four games of 2013 and was held to limited minutes upon his return as he slowly regained game shape. He then had another injury setback in May, and he hasn’t started more than four consecutive games so far this year.

Buddle estimated on Tuesday that he’s still only at about 80 percent game shape as he continues to shed body fat, but Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja says the team still looks at Buddle as the team’s answer up front.

“With Edson, we all know that he came from a long injury problem, and we have been patient with him,” Pareja said on Tuesday. “His fitness, his condition, it has its little ups and downs, but he’s a great, great professional. He’s a great guy to work with and I don’t have any doubt that we will get there.”

Pareja doesn’t like calling out specific players, but he has repeatedly stressed the importance of getting more goals from his front line. The Rapids have said they’re “actively” looking for an attacking player in this month’s transfer window, likely at least partially a result of Buddle’s lack of production so far this season.

Buddle, however, wants to put in the work to show that he can help sixth-place Colorado down the stretch as they battle for a spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.

“I still have a ways to go, as far as my body goes,” he said. “I thought it was going to be easy. But it’s not.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.