“I’ve been bored the last couple of weeks, so I’m ready to be back,” Howard said, tongue-in-cheek, when asked if he was feeling ready for Colorado’s home match Friday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Howard was suspended after an altercation with a fan following the Rapids' 3-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City on April 9. His return couldn’t come at a more opportune time for Colorado, which has stumbled to a 1-5-1 start this season, including an 0-3 record during his suspension. The 37-year-old gave a blunt assessment when asked what areas the team needs to improve in order to start racking up points in the table.
“Everything,” Howard said. “We’re not winning, so that’s the easy answer. I think we’re far away and we haven’t had a win in quite some time. You can dissect it all day, but we can get better in a lot of areas.”
But with Howard’s return, the Rapids are expecting to see an instant uptick in many of those areas.
“The experience that he brings and that we can draw on from years and years at the highest level is the most critical,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “His voice and communication are also very important. That’s how he can impart his specialty on this team.”
The importance of Howard’s veteran presence has become magnified since the trade of team captain Sam Cronin and veteran left back Marc Burch to Minnesota United in late March. That trade caught many, including the Rapids ‘keeper himself, by surprise.
“Sam had been here for a lot of the ups and the downs. It was mostly downs. When you go through that, you have a certain resiliency which is respected,” Howard said. “But I think this club made that big trade for a reason, whether that purpose is served today or served down the line.
“Losing a player like Sam or 'Burchy,' that’s tough for any team. But that’s sports. You can’t cry about it.”
Instead, he stressed that it will be important for the rest of the squad to not only step up, but learn to be the villains when opportunity presents itself.
“A team can never have enough of those guys,” Howard explained. “I’ve been on some teams where there’s 11 guys out there who you wouldn’t like to have dinner with. I think that’s what every team aspires to be.”
Howard also emphasized the team’s need to recapture defensive dominance which defined the Rapids during a successful 2016 campaign. It’s been a stark contrast through seven games this season, with Colorado conceding a middling 1.57 goals per game thus far in 2017.
“We have to be dogged in our defending,” he said. “That’s the staple of this organization. That’s clearly what we’re trying to get back to.”
Colorado pride themselves in a defensive identity, but the offense could likewise use improvement as well, with the Rapids producing league-lows in shots (51), shots on goal (16), and goals (5). Mastroeni was resolute in expressing that it will indeed take a full team effort to right the Rapids’ ship.
“It’s not about one player coming in and one going out,” said Mastroeni. “It’s about the collective mindset of the club, the coaching staff and the players. If we get a good result here at the weekend, the energy will be different.”