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?
Both sides found themselves on the outside looking in on the 2017 playoffs at the end of last season but the two were heading in very different directions as the final whistle of 2017 blew. For FC Dallas they once again saw a blistering start of the season, they didn’t suffer their first loss until week 10 of the season. A 5-1-4 start had them looking good, but just two wins in their last 15 matches of the season ended up again being the headlines on their season. For RSL the start of 2017 was worse than slow with a 2-6-2 start, which saw the club make just their 4th coaching change in their history as Jeff was out and Mike Petke was in. The end of the season is what gives most RSL fans huge hope as the club ended 6-3-1 over their last ten matches and showed that they would be a team to be reckoned with in 2018.
So here we are, for RSL unless you travelled to Florida to see their final preseason trip to the sunshine state you likely have seen very little preseason action as most of their matches had no streams this year so while we know most of the roster, there are a lot of unknowns heading into this first match for the club. The other side of the coin is better known as FC Dallas both had a fairly well covered preseason but also two matches in Champions League for us to consider as we look at what they may bring to the party on day one of the 2018 MLS season. FC Dallas lost their CCL matchup against Tauro FC, 3-3 but Tauro’s two goals at Dallas on Wednesday night gave them the road goals needed to eliminate the MLS side from the tournament. What were able to see is a FC Dallas team that has some holes in the middle of the pitch, but one that has some dangerous offensive pieces as well.
Historically FC Dallas has a huge edge in the series with RSL, a 19-11-6 edge with 14 more goals scored than the team in Claret and Cobalt, the edge is even more dramatic when you consider that RSL has just a single win playing against them in Texas. 1-13-2 is about as bad as a team can be against a conference opponent away from home, the -21 goal differential on the road against FC Dallas is dramatic and telling, just 12 goals in 16 matches played. It was the two matches in Texas last year that were perhaps the lowest point of the season for RSL a 1-5 loss at Houston followed days later by a 2-6 loss at FC Dallas. So what can we look forward to on Saturday?
It is time to start a new season of MLS action and for Real Salt Lake it is about delivering on the pitch, Mike Petke has had almost a full season to adjust the roster and tactics of the team and now we need to see that the run at the end of last season wasn’t a fluke.
So, what is that expectation? For me it remains the same each regular season, 15 wins and 50 points. If you make that happen you will make the playoffs. If we had hit that last season we would have ended at the 4th seed in the playoffs, making the playoffs has to be the goal of the regular season, doesn’t it? How do we get there?
Better at home, only one team that made the playoffs in the West last season did it without double digits wins at home (Vancouver). So, can RSL get 11 wins at home? One thing they will need to do is score more goals, while a +10 goal differential may seem good at home with 26 goals scored and 16 allowed, PDX and SEA both had a home +20, Houston had a crazy +26 at home. So to pick up an additional two wins at home, RSL will need to find a way to score more, 7 teams in the West scored more home goals than RSL. The reality is that we failed to take advantage of the elevation at home, we didn’t push other teams to deal with the elevation and it came back to haunt us, I expect that the team’s fitness from day one will be much better in 2018 than what we saw last year.