When Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA joined MLS in 2005 they became instant rivals and the history between the two sides is an interesting one that continues to be written.
In 2005 Major League Soccer saw the first expansion since the Chicago Fire joined the league in 1998 when Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA joined the league, since then you can see two very different paths taken towards success and two very different sets of results.
Both teams struggled in 2005 with RSL picking up just 5 wins, one better than the 4 Chivas USA were able to get that first year. That first year the sides played each other 4 times with each team getting two wins at home, perhaps the most telling of those inaugural matches was the 5-1 Chivas USA win at the Home Depot Center on July 9th 2005. By the end of that first season it was clear these teams were taking very different approaches to success in MLS, Chivas USA was already on their 3rd coach and was quickly dumping their attempts to play the reserve team of their parent club. Real Salt Lake were still looking to pick up guys who had played for coach John Ellinger, or youth players that had impressed him in his time with US Soccer.
Both teams improved greatly in 2006, and each was able to pick up 10 wins that season, the difference for Chivas USA was the 13 draws they got, while RSL had just 9. The end result was Chivas USA qualified for the playoffs in just their second season, while RSL finished at the bottom of the Western Conference. The teams again played 4 matches but this time the teams drew 3 times with Chivas USA picked up one win in the series.
2007 would be a landmark year for both teams, both sides would make changes that continue to impact the clubs to this day. For Chivas USA they built on the time of Bob Bradley's new approach to the team by announcing Preki as their new head coach and he would lead Chivas USA to the top spot in the Western Conference and another shot at the playoffs. For RSL a slow start to the season lead to a change in both coach and GM, as RSL's first player Jason Kreis became the team's second coach and Garth Lagerwey went from being a lawyer and part-time color guy for DC United to the team's second GM. The changes didn't make an immediate impact as RSL finished the 2007 last in the Western Conference again, and Chivas USA dominated the rivalry by winning all three matches that year.
Things would start to change in 2008 for both clubs, for Chivas USA they would continue to play well finishing in 2nd place in the Western Conference with a 12-11-7 record. RSL would make the playoffs for the first time as they finished 3rd in the West with a 10-10-10 record. Chivas won the regular season series 2-1 in 2008 but when the teams were matched up in the first round of the playoffs it was RSL who won that series with a 1-0 home win and a 2-2 draw at the Home Depot Center. While Chivas was the first to make the playoffs and the first to win a playoff match, RSL was the first to win a playoff series.
2009 would be the year things really changed for both sides, for Chivas USA they would finis the season ahead of RSL with a 13-11-6 record and make the playoffs for a 4th straight time but they would again lose their first round playoff series. Chivas would also say goodbye to Preki and welcome Martín Vasquez as the 5th coach in the team's history. The season series between the two sides ended up with each team winning once in the new balanced schedule format, Chivas picked up a 1-0 win at home, while RSL scored a convincing 4-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake qualified for the playoffs again with a 11-12-7 record, and were moved to the Eastern Conference where they eventually won their way to MLS Cup and lifted the trophy after a PK shootout win over the LA Galaxy.
In 2010 things improved during the regular season for RSL, as they finished with a 15-4-11 record, just 3 points shy of the Supporters' Shield. RSL also became the first team in MLS to win their Champions League group, but the busy schedule left a weary team that lost in the first round of the playoffs to FC Dallas. For the first time in this expansion rivalry, RSL held the upper hand as RSL won 2-1 at the Home Depot Center and the sides drew 1-1 at Rio Tinto. Chivas USA went the opposite direction and finished with a 8-18-4 record which left them in dead last in the Western Conference and would lead to yet another coaching change.
RSL's assistant coach Robin Fraser would become the 6th head coach in Chivas USA history at the start of the 2011 season but things wouldn't improve much for the team as they finished last in the Western Conference again with a 8-14-12 record. RSL would do their former assistant coach no favors as the team swept the season series with two 1-0 wins, but Chivas would do some damage as a blatant foul in the first match left Javier Morales on the sidelines for 5 months. What RSL would do in 2011 is become the first MLS team to qualify for the Champions League final, the team would finish the regular season with another 15 win season at 15-11-8 and advance to their 3rd conference final in 4 years, but would lose to the eventual MLS Cup Champions the LA Galaxy.
2012 is a story that is still being written, but we do know a couple of things; RSL would again hit the 15 win mark and enter this weekends match with Chivas USA with a 15-11-4 record and a 5th straight playoff spot secured, we know that Chivas has hit the 15 loss mark already this year and will miss the playoffs again. The season series between these two sides has been interesting so far this year, back in March Chivas came to Rio Tinto and were able to walk away with a 1-0 win. When the two sides faced off again in June it was a huge 3-0 RSL win, in a match where they simply dominated every aspect of the match. Now the two teams will face off again on Saturday, for Chivas USA there is nothing left to play for but jobs and pride, while RSL might have their playoff ticket punched already they still have a good deal to play for as playoff positioning is still at stake.
One thing is clear as we look back at the years, Chivas was able to get some quick satisfaction early on but constant changes in their coaching staff have left the team a shell of those early years under Bob Bradley. Real Salt Lake took a different path, one that lead to a huge risk appointing an player as their 2nd coach but as Jason is so fond of saying "Audentis Fortuna Juvat", Fortune favors the Bold. So far he has been right, but what does the future hold for these expansion brothers?
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