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RSL: Rivalry with Colorado takes on extra meaning

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Real Salt Lake midfielder Jonny Steele controls the ball against the Colorado Rapids during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Commerce City, Colo., Saturday, Aug., 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By Aaron Falk

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 02 2013 02:55PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:31PM

Sandy • It’s been a lopsided rivalry in recent years.

Real Salt Lake has kept the Rocky Mountain Cup out of the Colorado Rapids’ hands for the past six years after losing out on the first two cup battles.

RSL coaches and players have talked about the rivalry being important because it matters to their fans. But for the first time in some time, there’s something extra on the line when the two teams get together Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

"Over the past two years or so, we’ve done a lot of talking about the Rocky Mountain Cup and really tried to make it as important as possible," Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. "I think this year takes on a whole new meaning. I don’t think we’re going to have to talk about an extra piece of hardware on the line. I think we talk about first place in our conference. Should be an easy one to get the guys up for."

RSL enters the third and final leg of the series trailing Colorado. The Rapids held on for a 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium early in the season, then earned a victory in Colorado with backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin stopping an Alvaro Saborio penalty kick to preserve a 1-0 win.

RSL will retain possession of the Cup with a win Saturday. A loss or a draw means it will go to Colorado for the first time since 2006.

But more importantly, Salt Lake will be looking to prevent the Rapids from continuing to climb the table and grabbing a piece of first place in the West — or potentially in the league. RSL sits atop Major League Soccer with 37 points, one clear of Sporting Kansas City in the East and three clear of both Colorado and Portland in the West.

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, who looks to make his first appearance with the club in more than a month after returning from Gold Cup play, said this will be the most important matchup against the Rapids since the final game of the 2009 season, when RSL needed a win to make the MLS playoffs.

"But I think all these games right now are really important with how close everyone is in the standings," he said.

The Rapids have surged up the standings, thanks to a six-game unbeaten streak. Salt Lake, meanwhile, is looking to bury the memory of its first losing streak of the season — back-to-back heartbreakers against Kansas City and New York.

RSL defender Nat Borchers, who played for the Rapids from 2003 to 2005, never has beaten his former team in Colorado since joining RSL in 2008. Salt Lake has gone 0-4-3 in Colorado since then and hasn’t won at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since Oct. 20, 2007.

"But this is a year of firsts," he said. "We got our first win in Canada. We got our first win in Texas. Let’s get that first win in Colorado."

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk

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