RSL fondly recall goal that ignited Rocky Mountain Cup, long playoff run

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran in 2016. This match, as part of the "MLS Classics: Remix" series, will air Tuesday at 4 pm ET with live commentary from Pablo Mastroeni, Nat Borchers, Ian Joy and Stephen Keel.

Real Salt Lake had belief, they just didn’t have any time.

RSL entered the final match of the 2008 regular season needing a win or a draw at the Colorado Rapids in order to qualify for the playoffs first time in club history. Heading into the 90th minute at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, it didn’t look like Salt Lake were going to make it.

The Rapids, who needed to win to pass RSL in the standings and make the playoffs themselves, were leading 1-0 on the back of a first-half goal from Conor Casey. If Colorado could hold on for a few more minutes, not only would they make the playoffs and end Salt Lake’s season early, but they’d also take back the Rocky Mountain Cup, which RSL had won for the first time the year before.

But RSL, who will host Colorado with the Rocky Mountain Cup on the line on Friday (8 pm ET; UniMás in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada), kept fighting, throwing numbers forward as the clocked ticked toward full-time. With Colorado firmly bunkered in, Salt Lake knew they weren’t likely to get a clear-cut opportunity. The best they could realistically do was flood the box with bodies, lump the ball into the area and hope for a good bounce.

They got that bounce in the 90th minute. After a couple hopeful balls in the box, defender Robbie Russell flicked a header towards goal. Midfielder Andy Williams latched onto it in the left side of the box, quickly turned and fired a shot toward goal. Goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul went down to his right in an attempt to block Williams’ shot, but the ball took a nasty deflection and rebounded to Yura Movsisyan at the back post.

Movsisyan made no mistake. The Armenian striker slammed his right-footed effort home from close-range to tie the game at 1-1 (watch video above), giving RSL their first-ever postseason berth and keeping the Rocky Mountain Cup on the Wasatch Front.

“It was a lot of emotions, everybody was just excited,” said Movsisyan, who returned to RSL this winter after spending six years in Europe. “We basically turned this club around and to make the playoffs, it was just an amazing feeling. I remember all the hype and everybody was just really, really excited. Sometimes you just need luck, and we got that luck at the end.”

The goal was by no means the prettiest, but it was one of the most significant in RSL’s young history. The strike – which Movsisyan ranked as one of the most important of his entire career – did more than get Salt Lake the result they needed to make the playoffs, it gave the team a newfound confidence that they carried into the postseason, through their MLS Cup-winning year in 2009 and beyond.

“I definitely think that that goal changed everything,” Movsisyan said. “I think that’s where the turnaround came with this club, that’s where we got the confidence that you know what, we can do this.”

“I think it’s probably a lack of belief for some clubs that start out and you go year-to-year and you’re just never making it. It’s probably like, ‘Man are we ever going to break through?’ But we broke through that year,” added RSL defender Chris Wingert, who played the first 73 minutes of the match. “I think it really spurred us on [in the playoffs], then the next year the same thing and then we started having really good regular seasons after that.”

The wild finish also helped shape the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry. The battles between Colorado and Salt Lake were always intense, but they got taken to a new level in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, when the Rapids and RSL met on the final day of the regular season.

Those four finales were rife with playoff and Rocky Mountain Cup implications, and all had some serious drama. RSL got a late goal from Robbie Findley in Denver to win their first Rocky Mountain Cup in 2007, Movsisyan had the late equalizer to put Salt Lake in the playoffs and keep Colorado out in 2008, RSL got a 3-0 win (and quite a bit of help from around the league) to qualify for the playoffs before going on to win MLS Cup in 2009 and Alvaro Saborio scored twice in second-half stoppage time to give RSL a 2-2 draw to steal the Rocky Mountain Cup before the Rapids went on to win the league title in 2010.

Though now-head coach and then-player Pablo Mastroeni – the lone 2016 Rapids holdout from the 2008 finale – doesn't recall that game, he did cite the 2010 season-ender as a particularly painful moment in the rivalry.

“The game I really remember was in 2010,” Mastroeni recalled to reporters at Rapids training ahead of the first Rocky Mountain Cup match of the year back in April. “I remember wrecking the locker room because we were up 2-0 and ended up drawing that game. But we ended up winning the MLS Cup. I mean, what cup do you want?

“I think we've just evolved into better teams, which helps a rivalry,” he continued. “The fact that we've both won MLS Cups strengthens that rivalry as well. I think our proximity is what makes us rivals. All of those things play a part in making a heated battle. Whether you're coaching this rivalry or playing in it, you want to get out there and beat these guys. It's always chippy.”

Both Movsisyan and Wingert also acknowledged ahead of that first Rocky Mountain match in April – a 1-0 win for RSL – the importance of that 2008 match, both in the context of RSL’s rise to prominence and in the way it ratcheted up the inter-mountain rivalry.

“We didn’t have quite have that Rocky Mountain Cup going, but I think that’s where things changed,” Movsisyan said. “That definitely started the rivalry [on a new level], and it went into a different phase. It went more serious and turned into a real rivalry.”

This article originally ran on April 8, 2016. It was updated on August 25, 2016.

Marco Cummings contributed to the reporting on this article.