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Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids match preview

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Real Salt Lake begins their pursuit of another Rocky Mountain Cup win when the Colorado Rapids come to town.

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

After a disheartening loss against New York City FC last week, Real Salt Lake needs to bounce back in a big way, and they’re hoping to do it this week when rivals Colorado Rapids roll into town for the first game of the Rocky Mountain Cup.

Where they stand

RSL (2-3-1, 7 points) currently sits in seventh place in the Western Conference, and they are in need of a big turnaround after suffering three multi-goal losses through six games this season, including a 5-1 beating at home from LAFC, a 3-1 loss on the road in Toronto, and most recently, a big 4-0 loss in New York City. While it’s not time to hit the panic button yet, being so early in the season, Mike Petke knows he needs to figure out a way to get this team to start firing on all cylinders before it gets any worse.

The Rapids (2-1-2, 8 points), sitting just above RSL in sixth place, are coming off a surprising 2-0 win over reigning MLS champs Toronto FC. Of course, TFC fielded an extremely limited team, saving their preferred starters for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final. Still, Colorado took advantage of the opportunity and knocked in two goals to steal all three points, logging their second win of the season.

Match history

These teams have thrown wins back and forth throughout the years, RSL holding a slight edge with 17 wins through 41 games in all competitions. With 10 draws, that just leaves 14 wins for Colorado, being outscored by RSL 49-39 overall.

The last time they met, the Rapids stole all three points thanks to an early goal from Josh Gatt that RSL was never able to overcome. However, RSL had won the two previous meetings before that, securing the Rocky Mountain Cup for the ninth time in 13 years, proving that Real Salt Lake indeed has been the superior team out of the two throughout both their history.

Key players and personnel

With first-year MLS coach Anthony Hudson at the reins, Colorado looks a little different this year than in years past. Through their first five games, they’ve put in nine goals, which is an improvement on Rapids teams of years past who have had loads of trouble scoring on their opponents. This is in large part thanks to newcomers like Joe Mason and Jack Price — both coming over from the English Championship team Wolverhampton Wanderers — combining for three goals for the burgundy so far.

MLS: Toronto FC at Colorado Rapids
Dominique Badji is the team’s leading scorer, with 4 goals in 5 games for the Rapids this year.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The real hero of the Rapids’ young season thus far, though, is veteran Dominique Badji, who has been with the club since 2015. His best season to date was 2017 where he notched a career-high nine goals in 33 appearances. Through five appearances this season, he already has four goals including an impressive hat trick against the Philadelphia Union, and has shown no signs of stopping anytime soon. The 25-year-old striker from Senegal is on track to have the best season of his career, and it couldn’t come at a better time for a Colorado team who has struggled to find the back of the net in recent years.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of RSL’s own draft picks from 2012, Enzo Martinez, who joined the Rapids this past offseason. He’s already become a regular in Hudson’s lineup, playing four of the five games so far this season, and we can most likely expect to see him in the starting eleven this weekend as well.

The Rapids aren’t without absences, of course, as they’ll be missing key defenders Kortne Ford and Marlon Hairston to injury.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Real Salt Lake
Corey Baird has made an impact on the field, starting in Joao Plata’s place for two games straight.
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

On the west side of the Rockies, Petke has some decisions to make ahead of the rivalry game. With Joao Plata now missing from the lineup for two games straight while Corey Baird stepped into the spotlight, it remains to be seen whether Plata will make his way back into the starting eleven at home this week. While Baird brought a much-needed spark to the attack, he lacks the speed and precision that Plata brings to the field when he’s playing at his best. It was reported that Plata missed the NYC game due to injury, but he’s not listed on any official injury report as of now.

Speaking of injuries, RSL’s list seems to keep growing, with key players Marcelo Silva and Demar Phillips both listed as questionable. Both players missed the game last week, and it’s pretty safe to assume they won’t quite be fully match fit by the game this weekend, either. Adam Henley stepped in on the left side of the defense in NYC while David Horst slotted in for Silva in the center. Should both players still be out this weekend, we can probably expect to see the same decisions from Petke there.


Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Horst, Glad, Henley; Beckerman, Kreilach; Savarino, Rusnak, Baird; L Silva

COL: Howard; Wynne, Sjoberg, Smith; Colvey, Blomberg, Price, Martinez, Castillo; McBean, Badji

Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Taylor Peay (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Marcelo Silva (groin), Shawn Barry (hamstring), Luke Mulholland (hamstring), Demar Phillips (ankle)

Colorado Rapids
OUT: Kortne Ford (MCL sprain), Marlon Hairston (knee), Danny Wilson (undisclosed)

Stat leaders

Real Salt Lake
GOALS: Joao Plata (2)
ASSISTS: Albert Rusnak, Brooks Lennon, Corey Baird, Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino (1)

Colorado Rapids
GOALS: Dominique Badji (4)
ASSISTS: Tommy Smith, Jack Price (2)


Match details

When: Saturday, April 21, 2018; 7:00pm MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: Clear, 64 degrees

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV App, MLS Live (free)

Radio: ESPN 700