Colorado Rapids look for youngsters to step up as Kevin Doyle departs for international duty

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – International call-ups will be affecting teams throughout MLS this week as many teams’ stars depart to represent their native countries on the world stage.

With Kevin Doyle (Ireland), Maynor Figueroa (Honduras) and Dillon Serna (US U-23s) all set to miss time during the current FIFA window for international friendlies, World Cup and Euro qualifiers, the Colorado Rapids find themselves as one of many MLS teams looking to fill lineup gaps in the early part of September.

“It’s next man up,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of the situation. “It’s not about the guys you don’t have. It’s about the guys that need to come in to put a stamp on the game and really make a difference. That’s the focus for us this week: Making sure that the guys who are coming in step in with the right mentality.”

With a bye this weekend, Mastroeni’s side still have a full week to prepare for their Sept. 9 fixture against Vancouver, but it’s unlikely they’ll be with Doyle, who was called to Ireland for their Euro qualifiers at Gibraltar on Friday and against Georgia next Monday.

“I could maybe make it back for the Vancouver game, but it’s going to be very tight,” Doyle said. “There’s a bit of traveling to do.”

With two game-winning goals in Colorado’s last two games, Doyle’s absence is a tough blow to a Rapids side that has won three-straight and six of their past nine.

“There’s no doubt that you’d like to have every player available, especially when you’re on a decent run of form,” Mastroeni said. “You’ve got a guy like Kevin who’s been very good in front of goal and creating a lot of good stuff for his teammates. It goes without saying that you’d like to have a player like him.”

In his place, the Rapids staff is currently mulling its options, which could include slotting Gabriel Torres at the No. 9 position or giving rookie Dominique Badji the nod.

“I’m ready for it,” Badji said of the opportunity. “I’ve been preparing for it these past couple of weeks and am ready to score some goals.”

Fresh off of a six-week loan stint at the Rapids’ USL affiliate Charlotte Independence, Badji has displayed a new attitude and resolve touted by Mastroeni.

“There was a noticeable difference in Badji when he came back from Charlotte,” Mastroeni explained. “The first training session he bruised up a couple guys. He had this hunger to him and this desire. He wasn’t the same man that left six weeks ago.”

Said Badji: “I think being in Charlotte is just a reality check. We take advantage of the things we have [in Colorado]. The mental part of it is the hardest, but once you get over it, you just want to develop. I enjoyed being on the field. I wanted to be back out on the field scoring again.”

During his time in Charlotte, the 22-year-old spent time working individually with Independence head coach Mike Jeffries to tweak various aspects of his game, including form, tactical awareness and finishing as well as additional work on an expanded role as a winger.

“I think the coach understands what [the Rapids] want out of me,” Badji said. “You’ve got to understand that you need to do a lot more off the ball to help your teammates.”

In the coming days, Mastroeni will not just be evaluating the rookie, but the entire squad, as he looks for the right combinations and proper personnel to continue his team’s push to improve their playoff hopes.

“This is where opportunities come in professional careers,” Mastroeni said. “You have to snatch them because they may or may not come again. That’s what I’m reiterating to the guys because it creates a lot of opportunity for a lot of players. We want to be a group that competes every day in training.”