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Match preview: Rocky Mountain Cup on the line as RSL hosts Colorado

RSL looks not only to secure the Rocky Mountain Cup with a result over Colorado, but they also will look to jump as high as second place in the standings with only eight games left to play.

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

It’s rivalry week, which can only mean that the Colorado Rapids are coming to town to take on Real Salt Lake in the second and final game of the Rocky Mountain Cup series this season.

RSL won the first meeting this year back in May with a 3-2 result thanks to goals from Albert Rusnak, Corey Baird, and Sam Johnson. In fact, RSL are unbeaten in their last four against Colorado with three wins and a draw, and they’ll look to add another win to that record this weekend.

This game will also mark the final time that Nick Rimando and Tim Howard will share the field, as both are set to retire at the end of this season.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 12-10-4 (40 points)
Table: 4th place (west)
Points per game: 1.54
Most goals: Sam Johnson (9), Albert Rusnak (9)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (5), Damir Kreilach (5)
Clean sheets: 8
Form: DWWWL

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Bouncing back

RSL’s six-game unbeaten run was snapped last week as LAFC came to town and left with all three points in a 2-0 win that saw both sides receive a red card. All things considered, RSL still played pretty well and held the league leaders throughout the entire first half to a 0-0 score line, but it went a little downhill when Carlos Vela earned a penalty kick in the second half, and Adama Diomande ended up doubling their lead late in the game.

LAFC is basically untouchable as they sit atop the table — 19 points clear of second-place Minnesota, so for RSL to bounce back from that loss shouldn’t be too much trouble. Especially when they’re going up against an abysmal Colorado Rapids team who have only won two of their last eight outings.

Rocky Mountain Cup time

RSL could secure the Rocky Mountain Cup for the fourth year in a row with a win, a draw, or a one-goal loss. While the RMC doesn’t technically mean anything in official MLS play, it’s a much-cherished supporter-created trophy that RSL has dominated over the years. With a good result this weekend, RSL will have claimed the trophy 11 times in its 15-year existence.

Missing players

With Aaron Herrera’s red card in the LAFC game last week, coach Freddy Juarez will most likely look to either Donny Toia or Brooks Lennon to take his spot at fullback. Corey Baird is also suspended for this game after receiving his fifth yellow card last week. Nick Besler is also still out with a foot injury, as well as the usuals Jordan Allen and Tony Beltran.

Rimando vs. Howard

With just four regular season home games remaining in Nick Rimando’s career, many look to this game as a match to watch since it’ll be the last time Rimando and Howard ever see each other in play on the field. That is, of course, assuming that Howard actually plays. He’s missed the last three games straight due to a calf injury, although he’s listed as questionable on this week’s injury report.

Possible scenarios

Depending on how other games go this weekend, RSL could see themselves jump as high as second place in the west with a win over Colorado. The Galaxy sit just one point ahead of RSL with 41, but as they take on LAFC this weekend at Banc of California Stadium, there’s a good chance they won’t be grabbing all three points, and in that case an RSL win would secure second place as they’d sit just one point ahead of Minnesota United.

Of course, with a loss, they could potentially fall as far as sixth place if both Seattle and San Jose pull off wins. The Earthquakes would need some help in the goal differential department, but a big win over Vancouver could do them wonders.

Absences

OUT: Jordan Allen (knee; out for season), Tony Beltran (knee), Nick Besler (foot), Corey Baird (yellow card accumulation), Aaron Herrera (red card)

Projected lineup

Rimando; Toia, Onuoha, Glad, Lennon; Beckerman, Luiz; Savarino, Kreilach, Rusnak; Johnson

Colorado Rapids

Record: 7-13-6 (27 points)
Table: 11th place (west)
Points per game: 1.04
Most goals: Kei Kamara (11)
Most assists: Jack Price (8)
Clean sheets: 3
Form: LWWLD

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Less than stellar

Despite making a few upgrades this season, the Rapids have struggled to find good form — and a consistent coach — throughout the year. Anthony Hudson was let go just a few months into the season after he made some comments about his team that any club wouldn’t want to hear from any of their own staff. It didn’t help that they had lost six in a row at that point, either.

Ex-Rapids player Conor Casey took the reins and has been in charge ever since, experiencing some highs and lows — though mostly lows — as he’s tried to navigate the murky waters of the Western Conference. They had a stretch in early summer that saw them go seven games unbeaten, which included a 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy and LAFC, but since that run ended, they’ve gone 2-4-2 in their last eight.

While they’re not mathematically ruled out of the playoffs yet, it would take a miracle for them to climb that high, as they sit in 11th place and 10 points under the playoff line.

They can score... sometimes

Sure, Colorado added some new pieces this year who have been able to put some goals in the back of the net, namely additions Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, who have 11 and eight on the season, respectively. Andre Shinyashiki comes in third with five goals.

However, those goals can generally come few and far between. Aside from a big 6-3 victory over Montreal a few weeks ago, when Kei Kamara banged in a hat trick, they’ve only scored nine other goals in their last eight games. Combine that with a defense that’s only kept three clean sheets all year, and you find yourself hovering near the bottom of the table.

Absences

OUT: Kortne Ford (knee surgery), Deklan Wynne (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: Tim Howard (calf)

Projected lineup

Irwin; Rosenberry, Abubakar, Smith, Vines; Price, Acosta; Nicholson, Rubio, Shinyashiki; Kamara


Match info

When: Saturday, August 24, 8:00PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 88 degrees, clear skies (sunset at 8:09PM)

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

Referee: Ted Unkel