Faces change, but Real Salt Lake-Colorado Rapids rivalry still burns hot

HERRIMAN, Utah – Even though the Colorado Rapids have only won three games in the Rocky Mountain Cup since 2013, all at home, what made the rivalry matchup great is still around, even if Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are all that’s left from the heated early days.

Thanks to keen interest from fans and the two clubs making the occasion a priority, Colorado-Salt Lake matches have been exciting games to suit up for, on either side. Tempers and celebrations have boiled over through the years and even if Colorado are languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference, there’s nothing to keep another feisty clash from unfolding when they meet again at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday (10 pm ET | TV and streaming info).

The rivalry dates back to RSL’s entry into MLS in 2005, and while the Rapids won the first three editions, the trophy has spent most of the time since in Salt Lake. After beating Colorado 3-0 at the RioT on April 21, RSL can win the Rocky Mountain Cup for the 10th time in the past 12 years with a win on Saturday.

“I know this game means a lot to the fans and the organization,” said Rimando, who has been in goal for all 10 of RSL’s Rocky Mountain Cup victories. “It’s something the players take special. It’s a big, big game on Saturday.”

Colorado are averaging less than a point a game this season and have only won once on the road under first-year head coach Anthony Hudson, who replaced rivalry mainstay Pablo Mastroeni in the offseason.

Hudson’s lack of RMC history won’t keep the Rapids from ratcheting up the intensity on Saturday.

“They’re a dangerous team,” Rimando said. “They have [Dominique] Badji [who will miss Saturday's match] up top, that’s a handful, creative players in the midfield, and there are some big boys on that team too, so set pieces will be a challenge for us.

“Colorado is always a tough game for us and both teams get up for it.”

The Rocky Mountain Cup has been no stranger to exciting finishes and unexpected results. Look no further than than the last matchup of 2017, where RSL took 29 shots and had 72 percent of possession, but couldn’t find an equalizer in a 1-0 loss before coming up one point shy a week later in their pursuit of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

That isn’t the only time the two clubs have kept one another out of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Memorably, a last-second Yura Movsisyan goal at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on the final day of the 2008 season won that year's Cup for RSL while also denying the Rapids a playoff berth.

Even with all the changes Colorado have gone through in the past 12 months, Salt Lake still value the rivalry, especially for the experience it provides their younger players who haven’t been tested in bigger playoff atmospheres yet.

“I love this rivalry. It’s a special game for me because I scored my MLS debut against them,” said RSL’s Brooks Lennon. “Any trophy that’s on the line, you want to win every year.”

Lennon scored the game-winning goal in the 88th minute of a 2-1 victory at Colorado in 2017. A similar result on Saturday would deliver RSL the cup in a rivalry that’s as new to him as it is old hat for Rimando.

“It still feels the same,” Rimando said of getting ready to play in the 34th Rocky Mountain Cup match of his career.

The Rapids’ recent results don’t matter much to RSL head coach Mike Petke, who won’t be on the sideline for the game after being suspended for his comments about officiating in last week’s loss to Minnesota United.

“They’re a challenging team and you never want to play a team that has not gotten the results they wanted, because they’re bound to break out of it at some point,” Petke said.