by Kali Korbis, Salt Lake
If familiarity breeds contempt, the rivalry between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids is about to get even more heated.
RSL travels to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday for the second leg of this season’s Rocky Mountain Cup after playing to a 1-1 draw in Salt Lake City just a few weeks ago. The scheduling congestion means that the two sides will meet twice before seeing some of their other Western Conference opponents even once.
The short amount of time between matches has also kept the rivalry among Real and the Rapids at the forefront for many fans. Even the clubs’ front offices have gotten into the rivalry spirit, with the PR departments creating rivalry-themed videos and bantering with fans in social media.
Sam Stejskal, media services manager at RSL enjoyed the experience:
“It was fun. It’s important to show the fans that the clubs and the players care as much about this rivalry as they do.”
For the players, however, Saturday represents a chance to improve on their performances back on March 16, in which each team had some critical defensive errors and failed to capitalize on key scoring chances.
RSL will be boosted by Javier Morales’ return to the squad, while Chris Wingert played in a reserve match against BYU on Monday. The latter is likely to be the limit of Wingert’s ambitions again this weekend.
RSL come off one of their best performances of the season last Saturday. The 2-1 scoreline does not fully illustrate the margin in every department that they held over the Seattle Sounders. With many first teamers absent and even with losing Robbie Findley after 14 minutes, the Utah side pummeled Seattle throughout the first half.
All of the players whose passing confused and outplayed Seattle, Luis Gil, Seb Velasquez and Ned Grabavoy are back and available. Robbie Findley is on the disabled list so there may be a repeat of Joao Plata’s and Devon Sandoval’s abysmal finishing against the Sounders, although sometimes it is very easy to shoot at Mike Gspurning’s large frame. Findley’s partner in crime, Alvaro Saborio, is one of many who have been shifted onto the questionable list.
If they create as many chances, and the Costa Rican is fit, they could score a handful. The side will be buoyed by the news that Alvaro Saborio has extended his contract till 2015.
Injury wise, you have to feel the Rapids’ pain:
OUT: DF Diego Calderón (right knee surgery); MF Jaime Castrillón (right knee surgery); MF Pablo Mastroeni (left quad strain); GK Matt Pickens (left arm fracture); MF Martín Rivero (broken right foot)
QUESTIONABLE: FW Edson Buddle (right knee soreness); MF Jamie Smith (hamstring tightness); DF Anthony Wallace (left groin strain)
That became worse yesterday with the news that Kevin Harbottle will miss the next 4-6 weeks through a sprained left knee suffered in training last Friday.
The Rapids are beginning to resemble the FC Dallas of 2012, with an entire team of likely starters unavailable most weeks.
In addition, in a self made problem, once saintly bad boy Drew Moor is suspended.
On the field, their biggest concern from last week would be the inability to close out a game.
When you are 2-0 ahead of a Portland club that has lost every match in Colorado 3-0 or 3-1, 2-2 is not an expected outcome.
Nor an acceptable one.
The Rapids are still winless in 2013 and it can only be small comfort that they are joined in that basement by two Cascadian clubs.
Real Salt Lake’s injured list seems longer but more of the absentees are unlikely starters under normal circumstances.
Carlos Salcedo (concussion), Chris Wingert (R knee soreness), David Viana (R quad strain), Khari Stephenson (L knee sprain), Rich Balchan (L groin strain), Joao Plata (hamstring string) and Alvaro Saborio (R knee swelling) are all listed as questionable.
Javier Morales is also on the list but is most likely to play some part.
Robbie Findley strained his left adductor while scoring against Seattle and will be unavailable. So is Cole Grossman.
Findely and Wingert are the biggest absences. Khari Stephenson was probably not brought from Supporters Shield winners San Jose to warm the bench, but who can be certain? David Viana has the potential to be a difference maker in MLS. But probably not this weekend.
With home advantage, Rapids know that another home game elapsing without breaking the goose egg in the win column heaps more pressure on them. Their Rocky rivals however failed to beat them in Utah and a draw would be a worse result for the Rapids than it would be a good one for them.
Their confidence should be mile high, the Rapids must have some self doubt around the camp.
Saturday’s match will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network with a kick off time off 4.30 in Cascadia. Chris Penso is the man with the whistle.