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?
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.
We can all face facts, first these two teams don’t like each other much, their fans don’t like each other, and well Colorado is a desperate team. They have no wins so far this year, they haven’t held the Rocky Mountain Cup in 6 seasons, and well they are the Rapids. The fact that these two teams are meeting for the second time in the first 5 weeks of the season seems a bit nuts to me as I would think they would spread rivalry matches over the course of the season, and maybe feature them on holidays or other big weekends. We know how big this series is to each team, and the series is as even as they come with each side having 9 wins, and their being 8 ties between the two sides. RSL has scored 27 goals and the Rapids 24 goals, the Rapids do hold and edge when the match is played in Colorado, they have 6 wins to RSL’s 2 with 4 draws. The Rapids have won just 2 matches against RSL in the last 4 seasons, but RSL haven’t won at Dick’s since 2007, if RSL want to keep the Rocky Mountain Cup, they most likely will need to figure out a way to get a win in Colorado this year. So let’s take a look at the match:
Javier Morales – for RSL there is no denying the fact that a healthy Javier Morales makes them a better team, when he is 100 percent he is one of the best creative players in MLS. He marked his first minutes of 2013 coming on for the final 28 minutes against Seattle last week, he got a huge standing ovation from the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium from the fans who appreciate what he means to the team. While I have no doubt that he will see action against Colorado, could this be the time he gets his first goal against them? I think expecting anything special from him while he is working his way back to full fitness is unrealistic but with Javi you just never know.
Well it is the busiest time of year at work for me, and for the second straight year it matches up with the RSL home opener. Still how can you not be excited for the first home match of the season? Then add in it is a Rocky Mountain Cup match, and the only one that will be at Rio Tinto this year, so the stakes for the team and fans are huge. It is nice to see that RSL was smart enough to schedule an early start time to take advantage of the daylight hours early when the weather conditions can still be a big issue. I expect it will probably be a sell out or close to it, which should make for a great way to kick of what I think will be a huge home season for RSL this year. So all that being said, let’t talk about the match.
Lovel Palmer – One of the real high spots for me in the DC United match last weekend was the energy and effectiveness that Lovel had on both sides of the ball when he came on. With Abdoulie Mansally suspended for the match, we could see Palmer put into the starting lineup and even if not, I expect that with how he showed last weekend that we will see him at some point during the match. The RMC matches are a tough one to make your starting debut for RSL, but maybe it could be the start of something great for RSL & Lovel Palmer.
Kyle Beckerman – The only player who has never lost the Rocky Mountain Cup will be in his normal place at the back of the diamond for RSL on Saturday, Kyle won two RMC’s with the Rapids, and now six with RSL. It is a testament to Kyle’s physical and mental toughness, as well as his never say die attitude on the pitch that had him go from hated rival to one of the most beloved players in RSL history. It is only fitting that Kyle is the player featured on the home opener ticket. I expect another classic performance from Kyle.