Rivalry Week

Real Salt Lake find "X factor" in epic Rocky Mountain Cup win


Rivalry games just hit different.

In front of a raucous sold-out crowd at America First Field on Saturday night, Real Salt Lake showed repeated resilience to win an eight-goal thriller, 5-3, over the Colorado Rapids in the latest installment of the Rocky Mountain Cup.

Avenging their last league loss in early March against Colorado, RSL have since gone on a 10-match unbeaten streak while establishing a four-point lead atop the Western Conference.

“This is one of the most emotional games that I’ve experienced probably since Damir [Kreilach]’s last touch to get us into the playoffs in 2021,” head coach Pablo Mastroeni said after the Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire showdown.

“I haven’t felt that type of energy from the group with a steely mindset to stay in it when we weren’t at our best.”

On such a meaningful night, Mastroeni felt a combination of home-field advantage and strong player mentality spurred RSL to victory.

“We talk about mental fortitude all the time… Whether we're playing great or we're not playing well, whether we're winning or we're behind, the people in this room have incredible mindsets. And credit to the fans who really pushed the group forward,” Mastroeni said.

“That's what the home field is all about. It all culminated in this moment tonight, which was a special moment against our biggest rivals on a day where it could have definitely gone pear-shaped. But again, speaking to the resiliency, the guy's mindset was really the X factor tonight.”

This resiliency was rooted in Salt Lake’s Colombian connection, with Cristian Arango and Andrés Gómez both notching a brace to help erase Djordje Mihailovic’s would-be winner. Then late in second-half stoppage time, Anderson Julio put the cherry on top of a memorable derby win.

“I think that’s what made this game so special; the eruption after the goals. You felt it in your soul,” Mastroeni said. “And if I feel it on the sidelines – imagine what the players who have battled three games in a week, who are tired, who are below, who are losing the game. The energy that that brings to them was spectacular tonight.”

With opponents paying special attention to Arango, space has opened for Gómez. As evidenced by RSL’s winner, Mastroeni is taking full advantage of his array of attacking talent to get the best out of everyone.

“Everything that you’re seeing this year is what [Gómez] was doing last year in training, where the difficulty was understanding how to achieve the same thing with real pressure. And there’s always a moment in a player’s career, where that switch goes off when you think you can start doing it again and again,” Mastroeni outlined. “I think Chicho having the kind of year he’s having has definitely attracted a lot of attention his way. Andrés is doing a good job of reaping the benefits of that.”

It doesn’t hurt that Arango has promised to pay Gómez $80 for each assist his fellow countryman provides him this season. However, it was Gómez’s rebuttal two matches ago, promising Arango $100 for each assist he provides, which was being collected at full-time on Saturday.

“You can talk about the tactics all you want. At the end of the day, football comes down to the little individual battles on the field. When you have a group of guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win a game,” Mastroeni explained.

“That you can't coach. That is the guys in the locker room committing to one another to be better than they were the game before. For me, I think that's the greatest takeaway from this game, especially a derby in any sport there's heightened emotion. When you can tilt the field to your advantage and you have 25,000 fans going nuts, it's a great moment, especially coming from behind and winning the game in the fashion that we did.”