With anticipation building, Colorado Rapids looking to make statement

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – July 4 has always been a date for Colorado Rapids supporters to circle on the calendar, but Monday night's match (9 pm ET; FREE STREAM) is expected to be bigger and better than ever.

With the Portland Timbers coming to town, it’s a matchup of the defending MLS Champions against the current Supporters' Shield winners in Colorado. It will also mark the first MLS matches in over a month for Shkelzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones, who have returned to the Rapids after time spent at Euro 2016 and Copa America, respectively. And did we mention that Tim Howard is expected to make his Rapids debut?

“I think there’s a lot of storylines in this game,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told reporters this week. “The most important thing for us is to get the second part of the season off on the right foot. We’re at home in front of a packed house on the Fourth of July. The storyline is we want to continue to get better as a team and get three points at home.”

While this week’s focus in the Rapids’ camp has once again been on taking care of business at home, the increased media attention surrounding Howard and the club has no doubt created added pressure to maintain the club’s lead atop the Supporters' Shield Standings.

Yet for Howard, who has represented the US in multiple World Cups and at top clubs in the English Premier League, the increased heat of the spotlight is something he welcomes.

“I feel a ton of pressure but I’ve played 650 games and I’ve felt pressure in every one,” he said. “When I don’t feel pressure and anxiety, then I’ll hang ‘em up.”

Nevertheless, Howard acknowledged the importance of the matchup against Portland, calling it a “statement” game for Colorado.

Said Howard, “I think anytime you play the defending champion, it’s a big game. No matter how they start the season or how they’re playing, at the end of the day, they’re still champions. It’s a good measuring stick for this team.”

But even for Pablo Mastroeni, who’s appeared in numerous Independence Day matches as a player, and more recently as a coach, believes that the match stands out among the many.

“Every Fourth of July game is very unique,” Mastroeni said. “I think this is the most talked about. There’s a lot of expectations going into this game and that’s when the best players play the best football. I’m really excited about the game and looking forward to three points.”