The Colorado Rapids captured the Rocky Mountain Cup by beating Real Salt Lake 1-0 on a late goal from second-half substitute Fabrice Noel on Wednesday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Colorado held possession for much of the beginning and end of the match, but were rarely able to get opportunities in front of goal. The only Rapids shot on goal was when Noel beat RSL 'keeper D.J. Countess in the 87th minute.
Rapids head coach Fernando Clavijo knew that playing Salt Lake in Utah on the last day of the regular season would be difficult, but his team was determined to get the needed points.
"[It was a] difficult game," said Clavijo. "We knew it was going to be a hard game. Salt Lake -- last game of the year for them. You know they are going to put everything they had and they did. We needed to win. We needed to earn points to get into the playoffs. Sometimes you need to win not playing your perfect game."
The change in the game for the Rapids came with the infusion of young blood in the second half. Sasha Gotsmanov made his first professional appearance, coming in for Terry Cooke in the 69th minute, and Noel replaced Alain Nkong. Jeff Cunningham also came in, replacing Jean Philippe Peguero.
"We put in some rookie players and they made a difference," said Clavijo.
Gotsmanov and Noel caused havoc for the RSL defense racing down the flanks. Ultimately it was Noel who made the difference on the scoresheet. The Haitian was on the receiving end of a nicely weighted ball that slipped between the cracks in the Salt Lake defense. All alone with only Countess to beat, Noel placed his chance past the RSL 'keeper to give his team the win.
"Fabrice has been playing especially well the entire season, whenever he gets his opportunity," said Cunningham. "Tonight he made a great run and I just played the ball in his path. It was a good finish by him, because D.J. came out and made himself big -- it was good placement, a good finish on his part."
The victory also kept the Rapids in the hunt for third place in the Western Conference. They finished the night tied for third place, with the same number of points as the Los Angeles Galaxy, though the Galaxy still have their season finale to play, Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes at The Home Depot Center.
After the match Cunningham, along with his teammates, were presented the Rocky Mountain Cup by supporters from both teams who organized the competition. When he received the trophy Cunningham ran over to the RSL supporters corner to remind them what they could have had.
"Whenever you win a trophy it's a great feeling," said Cunningham. "The fans that were here to help support us in this, it was great to see them on the pitch with us tonight."
The Rocky Mountain Cup was organized by a group of fans called C10, from both Real Salt Lake and the Rapids. The supporters from both teams organized fundraisers and raised money to have a cup custom-made in Scotland and presented to the fans of the team which has a better head-to-head record during the regular season.
The victory Wednesday gave the Rapids a 3-1 advantage in the season series and the right to hold the Rocky Mountain Cup over the duration of next season.
An excited Jason Maxwell, the lead organizer for the Rapids supporters in C10, shared in the joy of the Rapids' first trophy along with the other Colorado supporters who made the trip to Salt Lake.
"It was great," said Maxwell. "We were nervous all game, and then Fabrice scored that goal and we knew it was over."
Scott McAllister is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.