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RSL vs. Colorado preview: Winner takes the Rocky Mountain Cup

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In the third and final regular season match-up against their Rocky Mountain rivals, Real Salt Lake will host the Colorado Rapids on Friday in a game that will determine who wins the coveted Rocky Mountain Cup this year.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Where they stand

The Rapids (11-3-10, 43 points) are having what’s turning out to be the best season they’ve ever had—sitting in second place with two games in hand on first place FC Dallas. They lead the league in points per game with 1.79 through 24 games played, and have only lost once in their last 19 games.

Although Colorado is in second place, it has very little to do with their offense—scoring only 27 goals on the season so far, they find themselves in a three-way tie for second-worst in the league, with San Jose the only team lower than them with 26 goals. However, something can be said for their defense, only allowing a league-best 20 goals all season long.

With RSL’s (11-8-7, 40 points) win over Dallas last weekend, they jumped over the LA Galaxy to secure themselves a third-place spot for the time being, only three points behind Colorado. Salt Lake’s attack is—on paper—much more potent than Colorado’s, having scored 37 goals this season. The defense has struggled a bit more, allowing 36 goals overall.

Real Salt Lake v Colorado Rapids Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Match history

The rivalry between these two sides has always been fierce, and with Colorado’s impressive season so far, it’s become even more intense as this game will prove to be an all-out battle. RSL leads the all-time series with 14 wins, 13 losses, and 10 draws through 37 games played. They’ve also outscored their rivals 41-35 overall.

Each team has won a game against each other this season, the home side winning each time by a score of 1-0. Both teams are still unbeaten at home and RSL will have a good chance to keep it that way on Friday.

Since the series is tied for the season, whoever wins this match-up will claim the Rocky Mountain Cup. Or, if they play to a draw, Colorado will retain the cup since they were the winners last year. RSL leads the Cup series, taking the trophy home seven times in the last 11 years, while Colorado has only won it four times—two of those in the last three years.

It’s also worth noting that RSL has never lost to Colorado at Rio Tinto Stadium, which includes 13 games since the stadium opened in 2008. The last time the Rapids beat RSL in Utah was in April of 2007 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Jockeying for position

Even more important than the supporter-created Rocky Mountain Cup, this game has some playoff positioning implications in what will be a crucial six-point swing. If RSL can take all three points, they'll effectively jump into second place, tied with Colorado on points but holding the lead on the overall wins tiebreaker.

Of course, if they lose, Colorado will double their lead on RSL in the standings, and LA will have a chance to reclaim the third place spot this weekend when they host a struggling Vancouver.

Personnel and key players

The Rapids have a whole new look this season, adding familiar names in goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Jermaine Jones, and midfielder Marco Pappa. In addition, they also picked up Albanian striker Shkelzen Gashi this year, and more recently acquired Sebastien Le Toux from the Philadelphia Union to add to their often-struggling attack.

RSL has seen the resurgence of Jamison Olave over the past few games while he’s been filling in for an injured Aaron Maund. Not only has Olave had some impressive play—starting and going the full 90 minutes in the last four outings—but he also notched the winning goal over FC Dallas last weekend to secure the full three points at Rio Tinto Stadium, good for two goals on the season.

There has also been talk of both Sunny and Jordan Allen returning to RSL’s lineup as early as this weekend, although no official word has been given on either of their availability.

Breakin’ records

Just as Rimando broke the all-time win record in front of his home fans, Kyle Beckerman has the opportunity to do the same this weekend.

If he starts and plays at least 88 minutes, he’ll surpass Steve Ralston in all-time minutes played for a field player, which is a huge accomplishment that speaks a great deal for longevity. Beckerman will obviously keep adding to his tally to ensure that he’ll hold the record for a long time to come, as the next closest player to him is Bobby Boswell and sits 2,445 minutes behind him.

Colorado absences: Dillon Serna (out, knee surgery); Jermaine Jones (doubtful, quad injury); Sean St. Ledger (doubtful, knee injury); Sebastien Le Toux (questionable, back pain)

Real Salt Lake absences: Aaron Maund (out, broken toe); Sunny (out, facial fractures); Emery Welshman (out, hip surgery); Jordan Allen (questionable, adductor injury); Tony Beltran (suspended, yellow card accumulation)

RSL expected lineup: Rimando; Phillips, Olave, Glad, Wingert; Beckerman, Morales, Mulholland; Plata, Movsisyan, Martinez

Colorado expected lineup: Howard; Burch, Sjoberg, Burling, Miller; Powers, Cronin; Le Toux, Gashi, Hairston; Doyle