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Colorado Rapids hope to get injured European stars back in lineup

Colorado Rapids midfielder Shkelzen Gashi following a 2017 draw against FC Dallas at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids have played one game in the first three weeks of the regular season, but the bye weeks have been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as things continue to come together for new head coach Anthony Hudson.

“The preparations so far have been good,” Hudson told Pro Soccer USA at training this week. “We’ve wanted to use this time at altitude. We haven’t really trained at altitude so this was an important time.

“It’s strange really because at this stage we should be tapering off from the start of the season and making sure we’re fresh. But we’ve gone quite hard over the last week to ten days because we want to be strong at altitude.”

Team chemistry and continuity have been overarching themes for Hudson since landing in Colorado, in addition to installing his own brand of soccer. Despite coming home empty-handed following the team’s season-opening loss to New England, the Rapids manager sees progress.

“The key things for me were we looked organized and we played together,” Hudson said. “We played for each other. It was a team performance, which was really pleasing. On the other side of that, it was the first time where we were tested in another sort of way which was how we want to pass the ball and we learned a few things about managing the game late in the game.”

In addition to establishing fitness levels at altitude, Colorado has used the extended time between MLS fixtures to get healthy and apply the lessons learned in New England.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Rapids Designated Player Shkëlzen Gashi (calf) was still recovering and absent from full training, while Stefan Aigner (calf) trained with the team and is expected to be available for Saturday’s match against Sporting KC.

“It’s been tough really because he came off the back of a long illness,” Hudson said of Aigner. “He’s had a slight injury and he had to go back to Germany to get his visa and his Green Card. So, he’s missed a whole chunk of time. It’s just been sort of stuttering for him, but he’s back now fit and we just need to get him in the right condition.”

As for Gashi, Hudson remains optimistic the Swiss-Albanian midfielder can return to training soon.

“Gashi has been a difficult one because he injured his calf in preseason and when he’s close to coming back he injured his other calf,” he explained. “I hope that he’ll be training next week.”

For Hudson, the sooner the two Europeans can back on the pitch and contributing, the better.

“They’ll almost be like two new signings because we haven’t seen them in preseason,” he said.

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