Real Salt Lake vs Colorado Rapids - match preview

When the Colorado Rapids come to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday I am willing to bet they will get a dose of Sebastian Velasquez, and for RSL that could be a good thing as I think he may join the growing list of Real players to find the back of the net. (photo by me)

Oh the Colorado Rapids are coming to town, and that always means a bit of extra venom and anger among the supporters of both clubs as the Rocky Mountain Cup 2012 edition will get underway Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. If you were around in the time before (well the time before Jason Kreis as head coach of RSL- better known as "the void") well then you remember when not many people cared about this rivalry the first year, but then came the moment. Not sure if it was Pablo (and others) taunting the RSL fans who had given them so much grief during the match or the altercation between him and Dave Checketts but whatever it was the rivalry started to pick up steam and it hasn't looked back since. You can read a nice little history of it on the denverpost.com site.

So the teams have been fairly even if you look back to the 2005 season, the series is 7 wins for RSL, 8 wins for the Rapids, and 7 draws, but those numbers are a bit deceptive. RSL's initial two years were ugly times and 5 of those Rapids wins came during the first two years of the rivalry. I think the fact that RSL has been able on several occasions to end the Rapids season with a loss that has kept them out of the playoffs, has added some joy for RSL fans for those early lean years, the reality of the RMC is this, since 2007 it hasn't left the grasp of the RSL fans.

This should be an exciting match as both teams get a bit up for the contest, the fans will be up for the match, and you can be sure that RSL will play better than they did on Wednesday night and I expect some changes to the lineup. Here are the latest injury updates:

After the jump you will find my Key Match Up, Wildcards, my RSL starting XI and more:

Key Match Up:

Kyle Beckerman vs. Jeff Larentowicz - Yes I started writing this before MLS featured the pair of these two in their between the Lines feature. Talk about two players who really have seen their stars shine brighter since moving to greener pastures, both Kyle and Jeff have gone from role players with their former teams to stars with their new clubs.

Kyle had stared to find his form with the Rapids and in 2006 was a huge factor with 7 goals and two assists but in 2007 the Rapids traded him to RSL for Medhi Ballouchy, and Kyle stepped in and immediately started to pay dividends for RSL head coach Jason Kreis. Kyle's hard work and dedication to doing what was needed allowed him to become a quick leader on the team that was in transition and those things also quickly had the RSL fans who hated him just weeks before the trade starting to become fans of KB5. Kyle has become one of the iconic players in MLS with his dreads but also his bulldog attitude on the pitch, while being very laid back off of it, all have played into his success at RSL that has made him a star in MLS and gotten him back on the USMNT.

I was shocked and amazed that the hardworking Larentowicz was traded by New England, his partnership in their midfield with Shalrie Joseph was one of the keys to their success, but it was an injury to Matt Reis that forced a trade that sent Jeff to Colorado and I think his career has rocketed since then. I was a bit concerned that with Pablo Mastroeni he might get lost in the shuffle but instead their partnership I think helped both of them reach new heights on the pitch, lifting MLS Cup in 2010 had to be a sweet bit of revenge for Jeff as he was never able to do with the Revolution.

I have to say that I consider these two guys to be among the very best controlling midfielders in MLS, and the battle between them should be great on Saturday.

Wildcards:

Tony Cascio - With Conor Casey on the injured list it left an opening up top for someone to fill in alongside of Omar Cummings, well sorta as the Rapids have tried a bit of variations with their formations so far this year, that role for the first four matches of the Rapid season has been their first round pick of the 2012 MLS draft. There was a bit of controversy around the pick as Tony had actually played at the RSL Academy in Arizona but was then put into the draft. He is one of the young players who has quickly gotten up to speed and has already picked up his first MLS goal. He is one of the rookies that I think fans of all teams should keep their eyes on.

Sebastian Velasquez - It has been a couple matches since Sebastian saw action, but with a very busy week (this will be our 3rd match in 7 days) and injuries to both Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy it is likely that we will see him back either in the 18 or in the starting 11 on Saturday. The rookie has been a breath of fresh air and energy for RSL and has quickly become a fan favorite. His adjustment to MLS was fast tracked at the start of the season due to injuries, but the MLS season is a very long one and often some of the younger players have to adjust to both the travel and intensity of the league. Don't be surprised if you see his rat tail flying around on the pitch Saturday afternoon.

Jair Marrufo - Well Wednesday night there was a bit of controversy on the hand ball call that lead to the RSL PK, but isn't some level of controversy the norm in almost every MLS match? Forward to Saturday and Jair Marrufo comes to town, from being the 2008 MLS official of the year, to the controversy over Blanco's jersey, to being suspended for poor performance by MLS, and being removed from the FIFA World Cup referee list, controversy is something Jair is very familiar with. So he has been in charge of 128 MLS matches, calls an average of 24.4 fouls, issues an average of 3.2 yellows per match and he has issued 29 red cards (just under 1 every 4 matches) and pointed to the PK spot 41 times (just under 1 every 3 matches).

With what is sure to be an emotional, high energy, highly physical match, I again only hope that the match is called fairly and correctly for both sides. Consistency should be the goal.

My RSL starting XI:

Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, Fabian Espindola, and Alvaro Saborio.

My Prediction:

One thing is very clear, RSL must play better on Saturday than they did on Wednesday and I fully expect that they will. Given the new style of play that Oscar Pareja has them playing in their new 4-3-3 formation, it should be a very exciting match of two teams looking to possess and attack. I will be a bit surprised if Marvell Wynne isn't on the outside where the Rapids can use his speed getting forward to help their attack. I think the battle in the midfield is going to be great but the question is who will score the goals? For RSL they have scored 9 goals with 7 different players finding the back of the net, while for Colorado 6 different players have contributed to their 7 goals scored.

Fabi and Sabo have combined for 5 goals and 2 assists in their combined 938 minutes against the Rapids, while Nick Rimando has an impressive 0.73 GAA when facing the Rapids. Omar Cummings and Brian Mullan have played over 2,000 minutes combined against RSL and they have 6 goals and 5 assists in that time, while their keeper Matt Pickens has an even more impressive 0.63 GAA against RSL. This would make you believe that a traditional low scoring match is in order, there are just 7 combined goals in the last 4 meetings between the two teams and the Rapids haven't beat RSL since May of 2009.

So if RSL can complete 80-82% of their passes, get 13 or more shots with at least 7 on goal and keep at least 55% possession well then I fully expect a 2-1 win for RSL. Expect a early RSL goal, as the Rapids have given up 2 of their 5 goals allowed in the first 15 minutes of matches.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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