The Colorado Rapids will be without one of the MLS’ best goalkeepers when they take on the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.
Veteran Tim Howard, who stonewalled the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalty kicks in the semifinals, is out for the rest of the season after he fractured his right adductor longus (located in the upper groin) in the United States National Team’s loss to Mexico on Friday.
The good news for the Rapids is that they have another one of the MLS’ best goalkeepers ready to step in.
Zac MacMath started 17 games this season before Howard made his debut on July 4. In that time, he allowed just 13 goals. MacMath’s 0.76 goals-against average is the second-best in the MLS of any keeper who’s started at least 10 games.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in the fact that Tim got injured,” Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni said. “But I think what we’ve done here this year is create a very good team. The expectation is Zac steps in and does a very good job. I think, before Tim got here, he was probably one of the best goalkeepers in the league. I think the expectation is that he continues in that form. We have nothing but the upmost belief in him in that locker room.”
What also gives Mastroeni belief is the group in front of MacMath. The Rapids didn’t give up an MLS-best 32 goals in the regular season solely because of who was in net, Mastroeni said. It’s a team-wide approach.
“What I think a lot of people misconstrue is defense is the back four and the goalkeeper. It’s a mentality. The expectation is when we don’t have the ball, everyone is working to get the ball back. I think this year, we’ve had a lot of good work up top. I think our attack and our ability to impose threats with the guys we’ve had has actually alleviated pressure from the defense this year. So the combination has really brought about a good defensive team.”
The Rapids will face a Seattle Sounders team that bested a Supporters’ Shield-winning F.C. Dallas side in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The Rapids will have to deal with the atmosphere at CenturyLink Field, where the Sounders drew more than 42,000 fans per game, a tough playing surface and injuries in the first leg. Aside from Howard, Mastroeni said striker Shkelzen Gashi is doubtful to play in the first leg because of a sprained ankle he suffered against the Galaxy on Sunday.
Playing without Gashi, the team’s leading scorer, and Howard, who’s perhaps the best U.S. goalkeeper ever won’t be easy to overcome. The Rapids know this. What softens the blow is that Colorado has talented players behind them ready to step in.
“Tim will be missed, absolutely,” team captain Sam Cronin said. “But the good thing for us as players is we had Zac the whole preseason, the whole first half of the season. People are comfortable with him, confident in him. It’s disappointing to miss Tim. But I believe in Zac just as highly. As players, we feel great. And I feel great about Zac’s opportunity to shine in the three biggest games of the season.”
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