Shkelzen Gashi - Colorado Rapids - Takes Corner Kick

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids will be without some of their biggest stars as they head northwest to face the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship next week (Tuesday, Nov. 22; 10 pm ET, FS1, TSN1, TSN3, RDS2).

The club announced on Monday that Designated Player and US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard will miss the next four months with an adductor injury. Rapids midfielder Shkelzen Gashi continues his rehab from an ankle sprain suffered during the Rapids’ 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy on Nov. 6, and isn’t anticipated to return until the series vs. the Sounders makes it way back to Colorado on Nov. 27.

But the outlook at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park remained positive this week.

“Gashi is making improvements every day,” said coach Pablo Mastroeni. “He’s a lot further than anything I anticipated to this point. His participation in the first leg will be doubtful, but with the expectation that we’ll be able to get him in a good way for the home leg.”

Howard's place will be filled by Zac MacMath, the understudy who started in goal for Colorado before the veteran star's summer arrival and actually posted superior numbers as the Rapids raced out of the gate in 2016.

“Obviously disappointed in the fact Tim got injured,” Mastroeni said. “That’s obviously a concern of ours when we release players on international duty, but it’s a part of the game.

“What I think we’ve done this year is create a very good team and the expectation is that Zac steps in and does a really good job. Before Tim, he was probably one of the best goalkeepers in the league and the expectation is that he continues in that form.”

In 17 starts this season, the 25-year-old MacMath posted six shutouts and a 0.76 goals-against average. He was also present during Colorado’s previous two meetings against the Sounders, with the Rapids taking home all three points both times and conceding just once in the series.

“Tim will be missed absolutely, but the good thing for us as players is we had Zac for the whole preseason and first half of this season,” Rapids captain Sam Cronin said. “He’s a familiar voice, a guy that’s come on still and taken a leadership role on this team. People are comfortable with him and confident with him. It’s disappointing to lose Tim but I believe in Zac just as highly.

"I’m excited for Zac’s opportunity to shine in the three biggest games of the season.”

The Rapids do expect to have a big player to lean on in Jermaine Jones, who continues to gain fitness while logging minutes with the US national team. Jones, 35, went the full 90 against Mexico last Friday in the same game in which Howard went down with injury.

Mastroeni hopes to deploy the midfielder in full effect, despite the potential injury risks that the artificial surface at CenturyLink Field presents.

“This is it. This is the end. We’re fighting,” said Mastroeni. “We’re living for the day, we’re fighting for the day. All hands on deck. All horses out of the stables. We’re going, we’re pulling everyone else that’s behind, and we’re going for it.”