Tim Howard on track for Rapids debut as “seamless integration” continues

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Pablo Mastroeni wasn’t going to give away his starting 11 for Monday night’s game against the Portland Timbers. But all signs point to new addition Tim Howard making his Colorado Rapids debut against the defending MLS champs.

“There’s a very good possibility,” the Rapids’ head coach said of Howard’s anticipated debut. “I think it’s in the back in everyone’s mind, for it to come to fruition. For Tim to get here, meet his teammates and finally get a game under his belt would be fantastic.”

And while it’s true that the Rapids have invested time, faith and resources into the signing of Howard, it doesn’t make Mastroeni’s personnel decision any easier. With Howard’s start, Mastroeni will have to bench Zac MacMath, who leads the league in goals-against average (0.69) and is tied for the league lead in shutouts (6).

“It’s an unenviable situation,” Mastroeni said of the Rapids’ goalkeeping circumstances. “Man management is a difficult part of the job and there’s a lot of difficult conversations to have. In the end, you make the decisions that best help the team get a result.”

When asked if he would indeed start on Monday, Howard responded that he had “no idea” and that the decision was Mastroeni’s to make. Nevertheless, the 37-year-old ‘keeper expressed excitement and anticipation at the prospect of his debut.

“I feel great,” Howard said before Sunday’s training session. “That’s what I love to do: compete and play. Obviously I’m preparing [to start]. I’m ready.”

His teammates, particularly those along Colorado’s back line, appear equally excited to play in front of the US national team regular.

“You know what you’ve got back there … you’ve got one of the best goalies of all time,” Rapids defender Marc Burch said. “Once we get in the swing of things, we’ll feel really confident having him back there.”

With Colorado’s defense having conceded a league-low of 3.38 shots per game through 16 games played, the confidence factor is a two-way street.

“It gives me huge confidence,” Howard said of the Rapids’ league-leading defense. “I’m just trying not to be the one who screws it up. They’ve been fantastic and obviously there’s a cohesion there. They’ve built that camaraderie, trust and understanding. It’s up to me to figure out how things work and jump into the frying pan.”

If anyone can make that jump, it’s the “Secretary of Defense.”

Said Mastroeni: “It will take some time, but he’s well-traveled, has great experience and has played at the highest level. I think his integration will be seamless.”

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