Saturday Rocky Mountain Cup Preview

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Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB

Editorial – The first edition of the 2018 Rocky Mountain Cup takes place tomorrow as Real Salt Lake host Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium. This season had both teams coming in looking to improve upon missing the playoffs in 2017. There are some new faces to this rivalry as well.

Saturday Rocky Mountain Cup Preview

Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids
2018 MLS Regular Season
Rio Tinto Stadium
April 21, 2018 – 7:00 PM MST

After a disappointing start to the year in CONCACAF Champions League play, the Rapids are now unbeaten in four games and are slowly getting healthy and fit. On the other side, RSL have been a bit Jekyll and Hyde, having won their last two home games by close margins and getting blown out their last two away games.

RSL seeking stability and identity:

There’s no doubt Mike Petke is a capable MLS coach when it comes to motivating his players and creating a good locker room feel. RSL are certainly a better team than they were last year: they’re actually healthy and have added a few pieces in recent years to help replace the aging core.

But Petke’s never been a tactical genius and the Claret and Cobalt have had issues this year at the back, especially with gap control on runs originating from a wide position. The injury to Tony Beltran hasn’t helped that and the young defensive core seems to be in a rut. This weekend will be a test for them going up against the Rapids 3-5-2 and their wing backs. If Salt Lake can correct their issues, they’ll have a good chance at getting a result. If they don’t, they could be in for another slog, a la their 5-1 loss to Los Angeles FC

Rapids finding themselves and looking to end a streak:

The Rocky Mountain Cup has been a tail of streaks. The trophy started in 2005 when RSL joined MLS. The Rapids took home the Cup those first three years, but have won it just once since. In the 13 year history of the derby, RSL have won the season series nine times. Furthermore, Colorado Rapids have never won a competitive match at Rio Tinto Stadium (13 matches), which opened in 2008.

The Rapids are finding their form though and hungry to end this trend. Anthony Hudson has said the team is 2-3 matches away from really hitting their stride. He’s been happy with the progress made individually and collectively over the last month. If April is a trend, the Rapids stand a good chance to get a win tomorrow and win their first Rocky Mountain Cup since 2015.

Injuries and fitness to play a key role:

The medical staffs on both sides have had a busy start to the 2018 season. The Pids were dropping like flies just a few weeks ago and are just now starting to get healthy. Still, defenders Kortne Ford and Marlon Hairston are out for this match. On a positive note, Yannick Boli and Shkelzen Gashi got their first caps of the season last weekend. Along with Stefan Aigner, it looks like they’ll be available for selection.

On the other side, lower leg issues are plaguing Salt Lake. Luke Mulholland and Demar Phillips are both questionable. Beltran and Jordan Allen aren’t coming back anytime soon. Marcelo Silva’s status is also in doubt for this weekend. Depending on who is able to play, Saturday’s Starting XI could be a patchwork team for Petke and company.

Prediction:

All things must come to an end and I say RSL’s unbeaten streak against Colorado at the RioT will tomorrow. They’re playing well and have some tactical nuances RSL hasn’t seen this year. The Burgundy and Blue will win 1-0 and should be favored to win the Rocky Mountain Cup this season.

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