SANDY, Utah – The rivalry between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids may have cooled a bit in recent years, but RSL are as determined as ever to reclaim the Rocky Mountain Cup.
After winning the trophy that symbolizes supremacy in the rivalry for six consecutive years, RSL lost it to Colorado in 2013. And getting it back is not something that's important just to the fans.
“Being a first-year coach, I want to try to win as many trophies for the club [as we can],” RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters ahead of Saturday’s matchup at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week). “And I know it means a lot to the players. It's a rivalry. It means a lot to the fans. It means a lot to the club, too.”
Salt Lake's players – at least the ones who have been around for a few years – don't minimize the importance of the Rocky Mountain rivalry.
“Rivalries are important,” said defender Tony Beltran. “Let's be honest. And any competition that we're in, we want to win. That's the mentality of this team. So of course it's important.”
Just maybe not as important as it once was.
In years past, RSL fans would have identified the Rapids as their chief rivals. In 2014, they might be more likely to point to LA, Portland, Seattle or even Sporting Kansas City, with whom they have fought heated battles throughout the past few regular seasons and playoffs.
“The fact is that we have played some significant, meaningful matches against LA, Portland,” Beltran said. “Those teams have done well the last couple of years, so that's the reason for it.”
From 2006 to 2010, the Rocky Mountain Cup produced dramatic, often season-changing results.
In 2006, after Colorado eked out a 1-0 win in Utah – the clubs' fourth meeting that year – then-Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni, now the team’s head coach, crudely taunted the crowd. Then-RSL owner Dave Checketts confronted him, and the two had to be separated.
The next year, after Colorado won the sides' first encounter in Salt Lake City, then-Rapids midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who now captains the team on the other side of the rivalry, defended Mastroeni's behavior the previous year and said the animosity “comes from the fans.”
“They run their mouths the whole game,” he said at the time. “If they don't want us to celebrate, win the game.”
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From 2007 to 2009, late RSL dramatics highlighted the rivalry, and Salt Lake results knocked Colorado out of the playoffs each year.
RSL retained the Rocky Mountain Cup in 2010 after 1-1 and 2-2 ties, with all three Real goals scored in stoppage time, including a penalty kick in the 95th minute of the season finale. And controversy returned as some RSL players infuriated Rapids fans with a few ill-timed hand gestures, the last time such late drama has occurred in the series.
For the past three seasons, however, RSL's big-stake games have been played against other teams. And Salt Lake and Colorado have yet to meet in the playoffs.
“I think it's just circumstantial,” Beltran said. “Maybe if we're playing Colorado in some of those playoff games, it would be even more intense.”