COMMERCE CITY, CO - OCTOBER 14: Supporters of Real Salt Lake pass around the Rocky Mountain Cup as they retained it after playing to a 0-0 tie with the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on October 14, 2011 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake play the first of three games against each other this weekend for the right to win the fan created Rocky Mountain Cup.
It's Rocky Mountain Cup week, the first of three that we'll be having this season after two years of the balanced schedule gave us only two games between the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake to enjoy. People talk about the Cascadia rivalry between the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps as though it's the best in MLS - they certainly have a good claim to the title - but for years before those teams made the big leagues the Rapids/RSL rivalry turned into one of the best in the country.
At the center of the rivalry is the fan created Rocky Mountain Cup. For those of you just tuning in, the RMC goes to the team with the most points between the two teams in games played on the season. The Rapids won the first two cups after RSL was formed in 2005 but Salt Lake took it in 2007 and haven't looked back since, winning it back every single year.
Now that both teams have a 'real' trophy in their cabinets (RSL's MLS Cup in 2009, Colorado's MLS Cup in 2010) the RMC has taken a bit of a back-seat as the teams have made legitimate title contentions, though Salt Lake have had the better cup chances including a shot at the 2011 CCL. Still, the Rapids and Salt Lake have had some classics over the years and cup or no, the fierceness of the rivalry doesn't look to slow down any time soon.
Colorado actually has the advantage all time in the series with the record standing at 8-7-7 in favor of the Rapids, but they haven't won a game against RSL since 2009. Since 2010 the series has gone 0-1-3, with two of those ties being last second heart breakers for the Rapids out of winning positions.
Games in recent years against Salt Lake have always been tough, hard nosed affairs with RSL winning or forcing a late draw seemingly every time they played. Under Oscar Pareja's new system in Colorado, the teams have far more similar styles of play now based on possession and crisp, smooth passing. It's that system that has earned RSL the title of 'the Barcalona of MLS'. (Funny, since they stole their name from Barca's rivals Real Madrid. Also, Barca tend to win trophies so that title makes no sense.)
I've hypothesized that part of the reason why the Rapids couldn't beat Salt Lake but one time under Gary Smith was because Smith was focused on a hard nosed, start-and-stop, very wide style of play that clashed with RSL's style. Unfortunately, RSL had the talent advantage in pretty much every game and were able to beat the clashing styles. Trading Kyle Beckerman to Salt Lake still stands as possibly the dumbest trade in the history of MLS, too.
The Rapids will play two away games in Utah this season, giving RSL a much better chance of taking the trophy once again. Under the new regime and in a game against RSL though, we've already seen that anything can happen.