The rivalry for the Rocky Mountain Cup is usually big enough, and with the new MLS schedule we know there will be 3 RMC matches this year. RSL took a big step towards claiming the trophy again back in April when they won the 1st leg 2-0 and can actually secure the trophy for the 6th straight season with a win on Saturday. I have to think for both sides however their focus is simply on getting back into top form, each side has just a single victory in their last 5 matches.
There is an additional factor for RSL in this and next weeks match as they prepare to enter the group stage of the Champions League in under two weeks. The new format of the CCL means that there are just 4 group stage matches, and only the team that wins their group will advance, this means that unlike the long MLS season there simply is no room for mistakes in Champions League. The Rapids are looking to get themselves back into the MLS playoff hunt, they currently are in 7th place and 5 points behind the LA Galaxy for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The all time series between the two sides is almost dead even, each side has won 8 matches and 7 times the result has been a draw, RSL holds a slight edge in goals scored with 24 to 22 for the Rapids. RSL does have a home edge with 6 wins, 3 draws, and 3 losses and again an edge in goals scored with 14 scored and 8 allowed. When you factor out the first two years that RSL was in the league, the edge is even greater as RSL won just twice in the first 8 meetings between the two teams.
After the jump, the Key Match Up, Wildcards, and more
Key Match Up:
Marvell Wynne vs. Jamison Olave - Now while many of you might not think of this as a big match up, it is a huge one for me as both are guys who change how both their team and opponents play. Jamison Olave at 6' 3" and over 200 lbs is one of the most physically intimidating players in MLS, and then you see how quick he is and you can understand why when healthy he is considered one of the best central defenders in the league. Marvell Wynne is just 5' 9" and about 170 lbs, and while he has been moved to be a center back, he has most often played on the outside where his physical style and amazing speed have allowed him to contribute on both sides of the ball. He has 2 goals and 15 assists in his 159 starts in MLS.
What makes both of these guys so dangerous is their speed, which allows both themselves and their teammates to take more risks knowing they have someone who can quickly recover and get back into position on defense. So while I doubt they will have many direct confrontations in the run of play, they may see more of each other on set pieces and how they perform in their respective roles will have what I believe is a huge impact on which team comes away with the win on Saturday.
Tony Cascio - while many thought his time at the RSL Academy in Arizona and in Utah with RSL would have kept his rights with RSL but MLS said no and it was the Colorado Rapids who drafted him this year. He was one of the rookie of the year candidates after starting 13 of the Rapids first 14 matches, when he had 2 goals and 1 assist, since then he has featured in a number of matches from the bench and added another assist to his stats. While others have taken the majority of starting minutes lately, one has to wonder if the energy Tony can bring to the pitch might be something that Oscar Pareja looks for to help his team shake their recent funk.
Justin Braun - I don't expect that Justin will start, but with Paulo Jr. on loan one has to believe that Justin's experience and size might make him a perfect option off the bench to give RSL a boost late in the match on offense. This will be the first home match for Justin since joining his home town team and you have to believe that the emotions will be high and the desire to get on the pitch may be something the team uses to feed the energy level late in the match.
Silviu Petrescu - All season long I have listed the officials as wildcards and all season long they have lived up to that reputation, and now in a match that has the emotions of a huge rivalry and likely some physical play, we will have to see if the calls of the official impact the match. In the first RMC match, a blown offside call gave RSL the late 2nd goal that sealed the match. Silviu has been in charge of 47 MLS matches and he is a guy who likes to be in charge from the start, he calls an average of 27.4 fouls, issues 3.8 yellows per match, he has pulled out 8 red cards and pointed to the PK spot 7 times. My hope as always is for a even called match.
My RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Luis Gil, Ned Grabavoy, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, and Alvaro Saborio
I go with Ned in the d-mid role simply because it keeps Luis Gil in the lineup and because while I like what Yordany Alvarez can do, he tends to get carded a lot, 5 yellows in his 622 minutes over the last two years. I also think Ned can do more on the offensive side of the ball, something the team has come to rely on Kyle to do when he is in the lineup.
We have seen both of these teams look very good at moments and look very bad, but I think there is the reality that while RSL has struggled a bit over recent weeks, they are at least on paper the better team. While RSL has to deal with the suspension of Kyle Beckerman, the reality is that the Rapids are missing both Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, and both Omar Cummings and Conor Casey (whom nobody likes) are still banged up with injuries.
For RSL it is all about finishing their chances, we know that we will have more possession and we will attempt and complete more passes than the Rapids, it will come down to can we finish our chances and can we eliminate mistakes. I believe the answer is yes and I think our guys want to do something to get last weeks 5-0 loss out of mind and you could see a real offensive effort. I am going to pick this one as a 3-1 win for RSL, as they secure the Rocky Mountain Cup for a 6th straight year.
How do you think this match will end up?
OFF MY SOAPBOX