Colorado’s arguably most effective scoring threat re-established himself as a starter for six of the last eight MLS matches in 2019, helping the side go unbeaten in the last three. Seeing Shkelzen Gashi contributing not necessarily in the scoring column, but as a dangerous part of the Rapids attack, is one important piece the team has been missing and makes a difference to the man himself.
Train and play with a sense of urgency is the overall message he tries to impose on the young players and maybe something he took for granted himself. “You have to enjoy your time when you’re a pro. A lot of people can’t be in this situation, a lot of players are searching for a club, so when you have this option to play in a soccer team you have to give everything to enjoy. The time goes so fast so go hard. (2018) is my third year. Enjoy it but work hard every day, because when you’re 45 saying, ‘soccer was amazing’. Why can’t you bring that every day? When you go every day crazy, the result will be win or lose, but you can control yourself, your passion, the hard work every day.”
Gashi’s 2016 showed Rapids fans the promise they were looking for from their marquis signing. The Swiss-Albanian scored some fantastic goals, caused havoc for opposing defenders, and provided a threat whenever he stood over a set-piece. However, following an indifferent off-season, 2017 saw his importance diminish due to injury and form to see the pitch in just 17 matches.
2018 began with Gashi’s physical condition and confidence much improved as, like all Rapids faithful, he had high hopes for the new coaching regime and Colorado begin to turn things around from the prior poor season. “For me, for three months (in the off-season) every day I trained two sessions. For three months I was in fantastic shape,” Gashi told The Voice of C38.
Unfortunately, the injury bug bit once again and the striker’s re-emerging form was derailed just when the Rapids were building some momentum early in the campaign. “I started good in the pre-season but of course with the injury-I get the hamstring, strained my calf-this brought me always a little bit back. Of course we have to win games, but at the end when I’m healthy and I can help the team I’m happy. I lost a lot of games with injury and I couldn’t help the team.”
Another issue limiting Gashi to just 814 minutes this season was his place in the eighteen as deemed by Head Coach Anthony Hudson and the staff. Hudson repeatedly explained it was based on “performance” and that he was going with players he had confidence in through his system. Gashi could have thrown in the towel, become a disruptive influence, or gone the way of a certain German player once touted in Colorado-That did not happen.
Instead, the affable but proud Gashi kept his efforts and attitude high in training becoming a good teammate and showing he could be counted on to round out the season during Colorado’s three-game unbeaten finale. “I’m not a guy that has to go into the office to speak (to the coaches), if somebody asks me then I give the answer, but in the end I can control myself. When I have feel strong, when I see something, I try to help.”
“In the end you can just be positive like I am and be really strong mentally,” Gashi explained. “I’m strong. I know the good side, I know that sometimes the bad side like the injury, I can only control myself. I try always to be a good example to stay positive and help each other. I’m also happy when I can help the young kids and they’re looking to me…(saying) ’Gashi, you’re positive, you run, you do everything with your exercises’. That makes me proud.”
“My role is to help them to see we are not down and we need to stay positive,” Shkelzen explains as to how he embraces his part as a veteran player amongst an increasingly younger locker room. “When I do my runs or my shots to stay positive and be a good example. When you win more games or lose more games you’re the same guys. When the sun shines-together, or rain-you’re always the same guys together. We can control us, we have to be professional in who we are, we have to run, shoot, we work really hard.”
This past season there were multiple reasons Colorado finished near the bottom of the Western Conference. Some were self-inflicted, chalked up to learning experiences, and some were hard luck when players like Gashi could only watch the results go against them.
“At the end, everybody wants to be happy after a win- ‘hey it’s a great week we won, it’s our passion’. But when moments it doesn’t work you have to stay positive. What you can control is the performance-you have to eat good, you have to sleep, the regeneration, before the game-the information how you want to play with the other players-everything because you’re a pro. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, and we’re in the situation where I can say we do everything.”
“Everybody works so hard and what we can do we control it. From the outside it’s a little bit hard, “why do they lose?”, I understand that but we can’t control what they want from us,” says Gashi knowing the supporters are frustrated, but letting them know he cares as well. “It’s hard from the outside because we want to win, score a lot of goals to make our fans happy, but I hope that they understand to stick together.”
Gashi insists that he is seeing the Rapids inch closer to becoming the attacking, scoring, winning team that the new staff promised to start 2018 and says they are all in the rebuild together. “I’m trying to speak a lot because the strikers need the most support to stay positive because it’s hard. For the striker to shoot and score, in the end we have to work to the striker from the back, step-by-step. It’s a thing from defender to midfielder, it’s everybody.”
“I don’t like a guy who just plays 90 minutes. I ask guys how many goals do you want to score before the game? A striker will be ‘I want to score, I want to shoot 5-10 times’, a midfielder, ‘I want to give a key ball’, a defender ‘I want to win all my fights’, something like that. When they don’t care then they’re in the wrong spot.” Gashi truly believes this is a club in which all the players and coaches care and that will go a long way to improving in 2019. “The work that we’re doing every day is so professional to be honest. This makes me happy because when I come in in the morning, then go home, I know I work hard. It’s important for myself.”