While the Rocky Mountain Cup was once the trophy for what was at one time one of the top rivalries in the league, years of dominance by Real Salt Lake, 7 of the last 8 years won by RSL, have made it less important to some fans (me included). This year the 3 matches with the Rapids will be huge, not because of the RMC, but rather for the 9 points that could make the difference of making the playoffs or not. If you look at the Western Conference standings today, you will see that the Rapids are at the very bottom with just 13 points from 13 matches and just above them are RSL with 17 points from 14 matches. Neither side can be happy with these results, neither second year coach looks very comfortable with how the season is going.
A single win won’t put either side back into the playoff picture, but 3 points would at least get things moving in the right direction. With just 4 losses on the season the Rapids have fewer losses than RSL, but their two wins are also fewer than RSL. Both sides are coming off back to back losses and it isn’t the first time this season for both sides to have to deal with that.
Traditionally RSL has been one of the most solid defensive squads in MLS, but this year mistakes have cost matches, and 18 goals allowed the 1.29 GAA is one of the worst in team history (2008 we gave up 1.3 GAA) compared to 2010 season when we gave up just 20 goals all season. Life on the other side of the ball is just as troubling with just 13 goals scored in 14 matches and 6 times RSL being held without a goal. Our 0.93 goals scored per match is lower than any season average, even our 2005 season ended with a 0.94 average. So it is little wonder that many RSL fans are scratching their heads, we were told about this new more dynamic formation that would solve the woes of last years playoff performance against the Galaxy but as we near the halfway point of the MLS season, there is very little proof in the pudding.
So here we sit about to take on a once bitter rival, needing a win while some of our best players of the season are gone. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are both off with the USMNT team in Europe, rising star Jordan Allen is with the U20 team as they enter the knockout stages of their World Cup, so RSL will have to adjust their lineup again and hope that things click better than they have in recent weeks where mistakes have seen us end up with losses where draws were probably deserved.
If RSL fans are upset, imagine what it must be like to be one of the few Rapids fans? Each week I am amazed how empty their stadium is, but with a team that has struggled to make the playoffs in recent years and a team that is just 1-3-3 at home I kinda get it. While RSL fans can look at our lineup and see lots of familiar names, Rapids fans have no such luxury as roster turnover continues with 16 new players on their roster, and most of them will be in action on Sunday. Some of them are familiar MLS names, like Sam Cronin, Marcelo Sarvas, Michael Harrington, James Riley and Bobby Burling, others not so much, Juan Ramirez, Lucas Pittinari, Kevin Doyle, and newly signed Luis Solignac look to lift the Rapids out of the cellar. Both Ramirez and Doyle are Dp’s, Ramirez comes from Argentinos Juniors, while Doyle joins the side from Wolverhampton.
The moves in recent weeks to bring in Doyle and now Solignac show that the Rapids know they needed to get better in a hurry if they wanted to be able to compete in a very tough Western Conference, RSL may need to strike quickly to get points off a side that could improve leaps and bounds as the season goes along. It also leaves the question of will RSL make a similar big move to bring in someone to boost the roster, especially with the Gold Cup quickly coming and bringing with it an expected number of call ups.
So how will Sunday go for RSL? A loaded question as we have yet to see any real level of consistency from the team, but against a Rapids side that has given up just 12 goals all season, two things are very clear to me. First we need to score quickly, the Rapids have only given up 4 second half goals all season, RSL has given up 6 in the final 14 minutes, so this is a match RSL must score first in. The second is no late mistakes, giving up 6 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches and 5 more in the final 15 minutes of the first half of matches simply is unacceptable. Neither side has won a match after giving up the first goal, so you can likely bet that scoring first will be the key to getting some kind of a result. For the first time in 6 seasons, I enter matches very nervous for RSL, as I simply haven’t seen enough quality from players who have much more in them than we have seen, with our roster we should be fighting for a top place in the West, not trying to stay out of the cellar.
Tactically we know that the Rapids will use Harrington and Riley to push up the sides, but with so many new pieces on the field for them it is hard to know what they will look to do. For RSL the gameplan should be simple at home, dominate possession and create chances for Sabo and Plata to showcase their finishing ability. If Demar Phillips returns to the lineup, we will need those six quality balls into the area that Dunny promised us when Phillips was signed, and with Javier Morales and Plata working together we should cause some real chaos for the Rapids to have to deal with. I expect this match could get really physical and ugly as both sides understand that there is a lot more than the Rocky Mountain Cup at stake, both sides are looking to salvage their seasons as the summer months come on strong.
That’s How I See It