His team is still fighting for MLS Cup, but Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi already has one award in the bag, as it was announced on Friday that the Albanian international has won 2016 MLS Goal of the Year.
Gashi’s stunning free kick in the Rapids’ 3-3 draw at Vancouver on Sept. 24 beat out New York City FC attacker Jack Harrison’s excellent run and finish against Montreal, 77 percent to 23 percent, to take home the top honors.
Gashi’s strike was truly world class. The first-year Designated Player stepped up to a 30-yard free kick in the center of the field, curling a rocket around the Vancouver wall and into the top-left corner in the 75th minute to give Colorado a briefly-held 3-2 lead at BC Place.
The goal won six head-to-head matchups to be crowned champion of the 64-goal Goal of the Year bracket. Gashi dispatched Montreal’s Matteo Mancosu in the first round before topping Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris and Quincy Amarikwa en route to the final against Harrison.
Gashi’s closest matchup actually came in the first round, when he collected 62 percent of the vote against Mancosu. He finished with at least 66 percent of the vote in all of his other matchups on the way to the final.
Gashi, 28, transferred to Colorado from Swiss club FC Basel in February. The 28-year-old led the Rapids with nine goals and finished tied for second on the team with four assists in 26 regular season appearances.
His free kick was brilliant, but his best goal of the year may have actually come in last Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg against the LA Galaxy, when he took advantage of some space in the midfield to smash a curling shot off the right post and in from nearly 45 yards out. Because that goal didn’t happen in the regular season, it wasn’t eligible for Goal of the Year.
Gashi and Colorado will resume their playoff run on Nov. 22 when they’ll open the Western Conference Championship series against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field.