As Real Salt Lake faces off against the Colorado Rapids this weekend, let's talk about why RSL can bank on three points against their Rocky Mountain rivals.
Last week’s performance
The bottom line from RSL’s win over Sporting Kansas City last week is that they can win games even without a full preferred starting lineup. With Jamison Olave, Burrito Martinez, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Nick Rimando all absent from the starting eleven, our youth-energized team handed SKC their first loss of the season with a 2-1 win on the road.
For the upcoming match at home against the Rapids, we should see a nearly full-strength squad. Beckerman, Olave, and Martinez will all be back after having served their one-game suspensions from the Portland game. Morales is expected to possibly make a return for this match, but we’ve still yet to hear an official word on whether Rimando will be healthy by Saturday.
At any rate, we’ve seen what kind of depth this RSL squad has this season, and knowing that we have that kind of power available on the bench should give us a huge confidence boost.
Colorado identity issues
The Rapids have undergone plenty of facelifts in the past couple seasons, bringing in new players and sending out old ones almost as quickly as they can. With the acquisition of forward Shkëlzen Gashi after his stint at FC Basel, Marco Pappa from Seattle, the pending addition of Tim Howard this summer, and the debut of Jermaine Jones just around the corner, there are some things for Colorado fans to be excited about.
But let’s face it—any team that makes this many moves in the offseason is bound to go through a shaky adjustment period. The Rapids have been, well, subpar in the last few years, to say the least. With all these new faces on the squad, they’re hoping to see a quick turnaround and a new-look team in 2016. On paper, it would seem they’re on their way there, with only one loss, one draw, and two wins, including a win over eastern conference powerhouse Toronto FC.
If we look a little closer at these games, we’ll see that they are far from perfect. They have yet to score more than one goal in any single game - scoring one each against LA, DC, and Toronto. The game winner at home against LA was scored by Marco Pappa in the fifth minute of stoppage time for a last-second game-winner. Against Toronto, they were able to dominate possession and shots after Benoit Cheyrou went out in the 13th minute with a second yellow card, and managed to grab a 1-0 win in that contest.
Sure, four games isn’t much to get a clear picture of what kind of team they will be this year, but it seems that they’re having some trouble finding their rhythm in the run of play, and you’ve got to expect that an experienced RSL team with a core that has been together for several years will be able to capitalize on any uneasiness shown by the Rapids.
Missing key DP
Let’s not forget that Colorado’s attack will suffer a bit while DP and Irish international Kevin Doyle is expected to be out another two to four weeks with an injury he sustained during the FIFA international break while playing in Ireland’s game against Switzerland.
He suffered a deep laceration to his calf that required surgery and will miss several more weeks while it heals.
He has by no means been a prolific scorer for Colorado since he joined in May of 2015, but he does add a bit of threat to their attack and notched himself five goals after he was added to the team last season.
We’ll expect Luis Solignac (who got the lone goal against Toronto FC) to start in his place until he recovers.
Undefeated records are nice
RSL is unbeaten through four games in 2016 (2-0-2) and would obviously like to keep it that way. With the potent attacking combination of red-hot Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan, and Burrito, I don’t think anyone is expecting the goals to stop anytime soon.
Defense has been a hot topic of conversation this season, and although our defensive woes are far from over, watching Justen Glad get his first MLS goal and help secure a win against SKC last weekend has eased the minds of many for now, knowing that there is a very capable up-and-coming defender who can step in at any time. Could we even see Glad get the start over Maund or Olave this weekend after his performance?
With all this in mind, RSL will be working hard to stay one of the only two unbeaten teams left in MLS (along with Orlando City, 2-0-2) going into week five of play.
Rocky Mountain Cup revenge
And finally, while it may be up for debate whether Colorado is still a fierce rival of RSL or not, one thing that adds a little fuel to the fire is the Rocky Mountain Cup.
The Rapids won it last season for only the fourth time in 11 years by a narrow goal differential.
The players want it back. The supporters want it back.
While this may be the only thing left at this point that makes RSL and Colorado any kind of rival, it still adds a little more to play for since we missed out so narrowly on keeping the trophy in 2015.