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Match preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids

RSL has a chance to lock up their third-straight Rocky Mountain Cup, their 10th overall, with a win over the Colorado Rapids at home.

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

Real Salt Lake has a chance to lock up the Rocky Mountain Cup for the third year in a row with a win over Western Conference rivals the Colorado Rapids this weekend. In just their second of three meetings on the season, RSL will host the Rapids with a chance to not only seal their Rocky Mountain Cup victory, but to extend their home unbeaten streak into double digits as they look for their 10th straight game at Rio Tinto Stadium without a loss.

The first time they met this year, RSL defeated the Rapids handily with a 3-0 win at home on April 21, thanks to goals from Joao Plata, Damir Kreilach, and Albert Rusnak. This is the same game that star goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off with a red card in the 20th minute for handling the ball outside of the penalty box, but RSL wasn’t able to open the scoring until the 82nd minute with Plata’s penalty kick.

With a long and storied history dating back 13 years, RSL and Colorado have fought for the rights to the Rocky Mountain Cup every year, although the cup itself has spent the majority of its existence in Utah. RSL has held the trophy nine times, with Colorado only having four wins to their name. While the RMC doesn’t hold any weight in competition, it’s a trophy that was started by the fans and meant a great deal to both fanbases, especially in the beginning. While it may not be the heated rivalry it once was, it’s still a chance for RSL to prove that they can best their Rocky Mountain rivals. Again.

If all goes well this weekend, Real Salt Lake will seal up their 10th Rocky Mountain Cup victory. All they need to do is win.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 9-9-2 (29 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 9th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.45 (9th in MLS)
Most goals: Corey Baird (5), Albert Rusnak (5), Luis Silva (5), Joao Plata (5)
Most assists: Damir Kreilach (6)
Clean sheets: 5
Form: DLWWL

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Petke-less for two games

Coming off a disappointing 3-2 loss on the road in Minnesota last week, RSL will turn their focus to the home game this week, and they’ll have to do it without head coach Mike Petke, who was handed down a two-game suspension and fined $10,000 for his actions during and after the loss in Minnesota.

It’s expected that assistant coach Freddy Juarez will be at the helm for the next two matches.

In addition to missing Petke, they’ll be without stalwart center back Marcelo Silva, as he’s been suspended for yellow card accumulation after receiving a card in the game against Minnesota. That begs a big question: who will start in his place? With David Horst and Shawn Barry both out with injuries, it’s likely we’ll see Nick Besler step into the center back role, as he’s been able to move between central defense and holding midfielder when needed this season.

Home sweet home

As mentioned before, a win or draw against Colorado would extend RSL’s home unbeaten streak to 10. If not for this season’s 5-1 loss to LAFC in the home opener, their unbeaten number would be sitting at 17. Regardless, boasting only one loss in their last 17 matches at home isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

With four players sharing the title of leading scorer for the club — Joao Plata, Luis Silva, Corey Baird, and Albert Rusnak all have five goals — we could easily see one of them take the clear lead after this week. It’s obvious that RSL doesn’t have much of a problem scoring goals, banging in 29 so far this season. It’s the defense that could use some work, having allowed 37 goals against the team this year, good for fourth-most goals allowed in the Western Conference.

Colorado Rapids

Record: 4-11-4 (16 points)
Table: 11th place (west), 21st place (overall)
Points per game: 0.84 (T-21st in MLS)
Most goals: Dominique Badji (7)
Most assists: Tommy Smith (3), Jack Price (3)
Clean sheets: 4
Form: WWLLD

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Season-long struggles

Surprising to almost nobody, the Rapids have had a rough go at it this year. Only four wins to their name — two of which game in their last five games — they’ve racked up 11 losses, scoring only 22 goals this season, second-to-last in the league for goals scored, ahead of only the Seattle Sounders.

They recently just ended a two-game losing streak by playing the Houston Dynamo to a 0-0 draw at home last week, earning their fourth clean sheet this season.

Mason out, Barnes in

While continuing to figure out their attacking situation, the Rapids announced last week that forward Joe Mason’s loan spell had ended and he would be returning to Wolverhampton after spending just over half a season with Colorado.

Around the same time, the Rapids secured a deal for long-time MLS attacker Giles Barnes, who has played for Houston, Vancouver, and Orlando City, racking up 36 goals in 157 MLS games. After spending this season with Liga MX side Club Leon, the 29-year-old forward is making his return to MLS.

Barnes made his Colorado debut against Houston last week, only to be pulled out in the 52nd minute after suffering an ankle injury. While he isn’t listed on the official MLS injury report, it will remain to be seen whether he gets the start this week, or if coach Anthony Hudson feels he needs to take a week off to be sure his ankle will hold up.

Road woes

Much like RSL, Colorado has struggled immensely on the road this year, going 1W-6L-1D through eight road games this season. Their lone win coming just a few weeks ago with a 1-0 victory over Montreal.

Of course, while RSL has been just as bad on the road, it’s good news for them as they’ll be able to take advantage of the Rapids’ poor road form at Rio Tinto Stadium.


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), Shawn Barry (knee), Demar Phillips (ankle), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season), Luke Mulholland (back), Ricky Lopez-Espin (knee), Connor Sparrow (knee), Marcelo Silva (suspended-yellow card accumulation)

Colorado Rapids
-none-
Unofficial: Giles Barnes (ankle)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Besler, Glad, Acosta; Kreilach, Beckerman; Savarino, Rusnak, Saucedo; Baird

COL: Howard; Ford, Sjoberg, Smith; Blomberg, Price, Wilson, Castillo; McBean, Nicholson; Badji

Match info

When: Saturday, July 21, 8:00PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 93 degrees, cloudy

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Baldomero Toledo