Back in the days of Rice Eccles Stadium matches against the Rapids held a very special place in the season for most RSL fans, then came the years and years of domination over the Rapids and the rivalry faded for many of us. We moved on to rivalries with the top teams in MLS and most often that didn’t include the Rapids. Since RSL won the MLS Cup in 2009, the Rapids have only once finished above them in the Western Conference standings, that made it easy to take them for granted. However things aren’t what they have been in the past and while the Rapids have continued to struggle most seasons, the last couple years have seen RSL join them in the bottom half of the table two or the last three years. So perhaps more than most years the Rocky Mountain Cup is taking back some relevance this year as RSL looks to get things going in the right direction.
The Rapids have been a surprise early on this season, their 2-1-2 record isn’t amazing but with nine goals scored and just five allowed in their first five matches, their plus four is tied for second best goal differential in the West. Their best matches have come at home against Eastern Conference foes, with wins over both TFC and the Philadelphia Union and a home draw with Sporting KC. On the road they had an opening weekend loss in New England and they also have a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas. It is still unclear if the Rapids are a much improved side this season or not, but they will be looking to try to get their hands on the RMC.
The Rapids had some early success against RSL when we were an expansion side but the reality is RSL is 13-0-4 against Colorado at Rio Tinto Stadium with 25 goals scored and just 6 given up. So can RSL find a level of consistency in their play and in results? Just six matches into the season and there have already been three multi goal losses for the Claret and Cobalt (or the black this week), is this the week things get on track?
Key to the Match:
Goals or Defense? A single clean sheet and a goal per match average, we have seen stretches for RSL where we have given up a lot of goals but usually those are stretches where we score a lot of goals, or times when our defense is impossible to beat and we grind out close wins. This season has seen neither of those things and as a result just six matches into the season RSL sits with a negative eight goal differential. Only one team has a worse GD than RSL, that is Vancouver who were on the wrong end of a 0-6 result last night. So on Saturday night, facing a classic rival, can RSL find something they can be consistent at?
Players to Watch:
Kyle Beckerman – The RSL midfield has been a hot mess all season, on both sides of the ball and the reality is that in this match of all matches the player who has been on the right side of the most one sided trade ever in MLS history (don’t even try to argue), needs to step things up. The armband has been his for a decade and while nobody can expect him to be the same player he was a few years ago, he is still the leader on the pitch and in the locker room. He is still the guy who hates losing and he is still the guy who is the face of the franchise. So while the dreads may be gone, the man beneath them is still here and it is now time for him to lead his team.
Dominique Badji – The four goals scored may be a bit deceptive since 3 came in one match against the Union, but Badji has always been a dangerous guy on the pitch, his nine goals and six assists last year are proof of it. He has never scored against RSL, in fact only one current Rapid has scored against RSL (Shkelzen Gashi, with a single goal), but you have to respect his speed and he has shown that he knows how to stretch a defense and that is something teams have done well against RSL this season. You have to believe that this is a match he has circled on his calendar and will be looking to be a difference maker in.
(I can dream right)
This is a match I should be able to simply say 2-0 RSL win, but this isn’t a typical RSL season and the Rapids appear to be a much better side than they have been in recent seasons. Neither of these teams has won a match in which they have given up the first goal of the match, the Rapids have scored three goals in the first 15 minutes of their matches so far this season. The Rapids have yet to give up a first half goal this season, but have given up three in the final 15 minutes (RSL have give up 5). I have to believe after having ten days to absorb the loss at Yankee Stadium, that RSL will be looking to convince the rest of the league as well as themselves that they aren’t as bad as they have looked so far this season. Can RSL find the back of the net when it isn’t snowing or when they try from the PK spot? I sure hope so, I am going to be optimistic and go for a 2-1 RSL win.
That’s How I See It!!