Rocky Mountain Cup on the Line: Salt Lake vs Colorado by Chris Brown
Major League Soccer’s rivalry week continues on Saturday night when Colorado Rapids travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on their closest geographical rivals, Real Salt Lake with the Rocky Mountain Cup on the line.
The two sides already met in April this season and Real came from behind to score two goals in the final ten minutes to deliver Colorado their first home, regular season loss since the 2015 season. After that loss things began to unravel quickly for a Rapids side that has changed drastically in both personnel and playing style.
Neither side had been enjoying a very successful campaign in 2017 but Real’s recent results have begun to improve. Since the beginning of July Real have lost just once, 3-1 against Vancouver, and over that eight match run since the 4th of July Real have put up some impressive offensive displays.
Mike Petke’s men scored six against LA Galaxy, four against Portland and in their most recent match scored four against San Jose Earthquakes.
If RSL’s recent form has shown signs of improvement Colorado’s recent run has been the exact opposite.
The Rapids have gone seven straight games without a win and despite sacking Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni two weeks ago, the results and offensive output have remained stagnant.
Interim Head Coach Steve Cooke has shifted the Rapid formation into a 4-3-3, away from Mastroeni’s conservative 4-2-3-1 formation, and though Colorado has looked more dangerous and direct in attack, their play in the final third has continued to be poor.
Despite creating plenty of scoring opportunities in their last two matches against D.C. United and Portland Timbers Colorado has only been able to score once and even that goal was the result of an interception high up field and not the result of improved build up play.
The last 15 minutes of Colorado’s last match, a 2-1 loss to Portland at midweek, may have been the most disheartening of the season for Rapids Supporters. Colorado looked clearly frustrated and though being just a goal down, the team seemed to know that the match was a lost cause and the lack of hustle, the lack of invention and the lack of pressing seemed to suggest that the team had given up on the result well before the final whistle.
Hopefully Saturday night’s rivalry match, with the Rocky Mountain Cup on the line, will galvanize Steve Cooke’s men.
Both teams have played twice already this week and squad rotation will continue during this congested stretch of the schedule.
Kyle Beckerman will be in the stands on Saturday night as he serves a one match ban for yellow card accumulation. Beckerman usually plays very well against Colorado, his former team, and his absence in midfield will be missed.
Colorado was heavily rotated on Wednesday and some familiar faces should be back on the pitch Saturday night. Shkelzen Gashi, Marlon Hairston, Nana Boetang, Dominique Badji and Axel Sjoberg should be back on the field for Colorado and there’s a chance that new player Designated Player Stefan Aigner might finally make his debut for the Burgundy Boys.
Colorado know they’ll have to contain Yuri Movsisyan and Joao Plata to find any success, but the play of midfielder Albert Rusnak has quietly been a highlight of RSL’s 2017 campaign. Rusnak has ten assists on the season, four more than any of his teammates, and it’s that supply line that may do the most damage for a Rapids defense that has been fooled time and time again by clever build-up play this campaign.
Colorado has leaked goals from counter attacks this campaign and if Rusnak can distribute on the counter with a few options to pick out, expect Tim Howard to have his hands full.
Real have one hand on the Rocky Mountain Cup already, having won the first leg of the match up 2-1 in Denver, it would take an impressive performance against the run of recent results for Colorado to turn the tie and lift the Cup for the first time since 2015, hopefully Saturday night’s encounter is an exciting one full of the heart, grit and fire that fans have come to expect from RSL vs Colorado.
Real Salt Lake