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Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids preview: Quest for Rocky Mountain Cup begins

Riding high off their first win of the season, RSL looks to continue that form against their Rocky Mountain rivals.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake will travel to Commerce City for the first time of the 2017 campaign to take on rivals Colorado Rapids as the battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup begins.

Where they stand

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their snowy 3-0 win over Vancouver, Real Salt Lake (1-3-2, 5 points) jumped up to eighth place in the Western Conference after reaching dead last in the overall standings. Although there are still 28 games left to play, RSL now sits one point outside of the playoffs, which is an indication how quickly a season has the potential to be turned around for any team this early in the year.

Colorado (1-2-1, 4 points) sits one point behind RSL in ninth place, although they have two games in hand on the Utah side. It’s looking like the Rapids of 2016 are all but gone as they’ve secured only one win and one draw — which was a 2-2 result at home against a shaky Minnesota United. Their latest match was a 3-1 loss at the hands of Sporting Kansas City, thanks to a trio of goals from Seth Sinovic, Gerso, and Dom Dwyer.

Desperately trying to get back on track, the Pablo Mastroeni and the Rapids will look to secure a result against RSL at home this weekend.

Match history

With a storied history like these two clubs have with each other, there have been some upsets, some letdowns, and plenty of talking points over the years. RSL holds the edge in the all-time series with 15 wins and 12 losses, while the teams share 10 draws.

The most recent meeting came on August 26, 2016, when RSL came back from an early 1-0 deficit to beat their western foes 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals from Yura Movsisyan. Incidentally, that was Real Salt Lake’s last victory up until last week’s triumph over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the raw data from the all-time series, there’s always been a little more to play for between the two sides since the Rocky Mountain Cup came into existence in RSL’s expansion year, 2005.

Over the last 12 years, Real Salt Lake has dominated possession of the Cup, winning the series eight times to Colorado’s four, most recently in 2016 when RSL won two of the three games in the season. As far as rivalries go, this has been one of the best in years past, although many RSL fans don’t seem to think the rivalry — or the Rocky Mountain Cup — is as important as it used to be.

READ: Why the Rocky Mountain Cup should matter

Key players and personnel

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

RSL’s standout player from last week’s performance was no doubt the MLS Player of the Week Albert Rusnak, who scored the first and game-winning goal while bagging assists on the other two. It’s hard to say whether his performance was due to the layer of snow on the ground, to impress newly appointed head coach Mike Petke, or simply just because he’s now adapting and finding his rhythm and pace in this squad. Regardless of the reason, he’ll be the player to watch at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the visitors as he can dictate the tempo of the attack and will be a major factor in any goals scored for the claret and cobalt.

We can’t forget about target man Yura Movsisyan either, who has scored in three of the last four matches. With quality service coming from all directions, he’ll look to increase his goal tally every time he steps on the pitch.

Colorado is still reeling from the loss of captain Sam Cronin and defender Marc Burch, as they were both sent to expansion side Minnesota United in a trade that saw Mohammed Saeid and Josh Gatt sent to Colorado in return. This was a big hit for Colorado — both Cronin and Burch were regular starters and were vital to the team’s shape.

Surprisingly, forward Shkelzen Gashi isn’t the team’s highest scorer like many predicted. In fact, he hasn’t scored a goal at all this season. Of the team’s four total goals, Dominique Badji has netted two of them, while Marlon Hairston and DP Kevin Doyle have one each. The Rapids’ attack has been lacking this year, and their defense isn’t up to par with how they performed last season. Look for them to struggle with RSL’s front four in Movsisyan, Lennon, Plata, and Rusnak.

Both teams are struggling a bit with injuries at the moment — Colorado is missing late-game terrorizer Alan Gordon with a hamstring injury and Axel Sjoberg, who is arguably their best defender, also out 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury.

RSL’s injury list never seems to shrink, as they’re still missing much of the backline — David Horst, Aaron Maund, Tony Beltran, Justen Glad — as well as Chad Barrett, Jordan Allen, and Sunny. Chris Kamrani of the Salt Lake Tribune tweeted earlier in the week that both Maund and Allen were at training while Beltran and Sunny still weren’t on the pitch.

In a surprise start, youngster and USMNT U-20 player Danilo Acosta started at right back in Tony Beltran’s place, and seemed to play a pretty solid game. We’d expect him to start there again in Colorado as long as Beltran is still unavailable.

Nobody quite knows what Mike Petke’s second game in charge holds in store, but if last week was any indication as to how the team will play going forward, it seems we’ve got 90 minutes of exciting soccer in our immediate future.


Real Salt Lake
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee surgery 4-6 months), David Horst (knee surgery, 6-8 weeks)
QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Allen (quad strain), Justen Glad (knee injury), Sunny (hamstring), Aaron Maund (hamstring strain), Tony Beltran (back)

Colorado Rapids
OUT: John Berner (wrist), Axel Sjoberg (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Alan Gordon (hamstring)

Expected Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Acosta, Wingert, Schuler, Phillips; Mulholland, Beckerman; Lennon, Rusnak, Plata; Movsisyan

Colorado Rapids: Howard; Miller, Ford, Watts, Williams; Azira, Boateng; Hairston, Gashi, Badji; Doyle

Match info

When: Saturday, April 15, 7:00PM MT

Where: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park — Commerce City, CO

Weather: 46 degrees, clear (no snow!)

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live

Referee: Ismail Elfath