COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado’s path to the playoffs may have gotten a little easier with D.C. United’s fall at Vancouver on Wednesday night, but that doesn’t mean the Rapids will approach their tilt against rivals Real Salt Lake any differently.
If the Rapids can defeat their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals on Friday night (10:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes), they’ll secure a spot in the playoffs. The game against RSL, with the added bonus of silverware on the line, makes the match one of the easier ones for head coach Gary Smith to prepare.
“When you are playing Salt Lake, everyone is going to be up for it,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “Trying to inspire people becomes an easier task.”
The defending champs will also enter the contest with perhaps an edge in the confidence department, as RSL have dropped their last four games and will have to play without captain Kyle Beckerman, who’s serving a suspension.
“He is a talisman for them and it may have a little effect, just as it would if we lost Pablo [Mastroeni],” Smith said of the RSL midfielder. “He’s a talented guy, but they have a lot of talented guys, including [Javier] Morales, on his way back. Four on the spin is not good news for them, but they will want to see signs their form has improved.”
Smith and his team’s preparations may have stumbled a little this morning with revelations of a fractious relationship between him and technical director Paul Bravo, but that has done very little to affect the team’s focus. News of the broken relationship isn’t anything new per se and Smith emphasized the fact he and his side won’t allow anything to detract from Friday’s game.
The Rapids coach said he is also planning to play the strongest team available even with two other games coming up over the next week – away to Santos Laguna in a must-win midweek CONCACAF Champions’ League match, and at Vancouver on Oct. 22 in the last game of the regular season.
Clarity is all important at a tense time of the year.
“When you get to this time of year, you just want things to become clearer,” he said. “We have a few games left in the regular season and we want to extend that. I’ll try and compartmentalize all that’s been going on and deal with that afterwards. A win tomorrow will go a long way to calming things down.”