Rivalry Week - 2020 - Rocky Mountain Cup

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake: Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry full of drama

There’s no love lost between the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, who have been battling for Rocky Mountain Cup bragging rights and hardware every year since the latter joined MLS in 2005.

The cup is awarded by the Committee of 10, a group of fans from each club, and the winner goes to whichever team owns the most points in games played between the rivals. Aggregate and current holders are the two tie-breakers.

Roots of the Rivalry

The Rapids were one of 10 MLS originals in 1996, and are one of five to keep their inaugural name. Originally playing at Mile High Stadium, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, Colorado’s early years were highlighted by a trip to the 1997 MLS Cup and 1999 U.S. Open Cup finals.

But the club was somewhat geographically isolated, with the Kansas City Wiz (before their Sporting Kansas City rebrand) closest. That all changed in 2005 when RSL joined MLS alongside Chivas USA, sweeping in a dozen-plus years of considerable expansion.

Proximity tends to brew disdain, and the club’s capital cities were linked by the sprawling Rocky Mountains. The name was a natural fit, and they’ve since played 45 matches against each other. 

Memorable Moments

One would think rivals wouldn’t trade or exchange players too often, but the Rapids and RSL didn’t abide by that logic early on. Look no further than a 2007 trade that sent Kyle Beckerman to RSL and Medhi Ballouchy to the Rapids, plus how defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert departed Colorado for their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals around the same time.

Beckerman, now 38, is RSL’s captain and playing his 14th season with the club. The defensive midfielder helped steer in RSL’s stellar 2008-14 run, and Borchers and Wingert were fellow linchpins as the Utah-based club enjoyed great Concacaf Champions League and MLS success. Meanwhile, Ballouchy was traded from Colorado to the New York Red Bulls for Macoumba Kandji in 2010, the same year the Rapids won their only MLS Cup.

Kyle Beckerman celebrates as Real Salt Lake wins MLS Cup 2009 | Action Images

Stoppage-time heroics

As that trade played out, a consequential match took place on Oct. 25, 2008, the final day of that year’s regular season. A win for either club would guarantee a playoff spot and the Rocky Mountain Cup, but RSL just needed a draw to earn a postseason berth.

Colorado thought they were postseason dancing when Conor Casey scored an early goal, only for Yura Movsisyan to equalizer late in the 1-1 draw. In one fateful moment, RSL retained the cup as the previous winner, made the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time and denied Colorado a postseason berth. 

Colorado’s resurgence

Another vital moment came in 2013, when Colorado took back the Rocky Mountain Cup after failing to do so in six straight seasons. The Aug. 3 meeting was their third of the season, and a 2-2 draw brought the silverware back to Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Colorado had won the first two editions, but then it was all RSL until this moment.

RSL blowouts

As the Rocky Mountain Cup has heavily tilted to RSL in recent years, they’ve enjoyed several blowouts against their rivals. None was more lopsided than a 6-0 victory over Colorado on Aug, 25, 2018 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

RSL relied on five different goalscorers, with winger Jefferson Savarino netting twice and assisting once. Corey Baird also had a goal and two assists in coming off the bench. They led 2-0 at halftime and then drove the blade deeper with four second-half goals. Oof.

U.S. Open Cup

RSL holds a 21-13-11 all-time record in the Rocky Mountain, an 11-4 series edge and hasn’t lost since an Oct. 15, 2017 match. But these rivals have never met in the U.S. Open Cup.

Success for both clubs remains elusive in the historic tournament, though they’ve each finished as runner-up on one occasion. Colorado reached that stage in 1999, and RSL advanced that far in 2013.

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