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Week 26: A look ahead at Real Salt Lake

This new series will take an in-depth look at our next opponent.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

Our greatest foes come to town for the third stage of the Rocky Mountain Cup. The RMC is perhaps a still attainable goal, but much like the Rapids playoff chances, they are pretty slim. With a 4-goal deficit, we’re in for a steep uphill battle for the Cup, but I think that we are still capable of getting those precious three points out of this game.

The rivalry between RSL and the good guys is a long and complicated one. The competition started in 2005, and as of last year, the overall record is 9—4… and not in our favor. The last time we won was in 2015, which came down to goal differential. The last time we won flat out was in 2013.

This year we’ve had a devastating 3-0 loss and an astonishing 2-2 draw (both in Rio Tinto), but the Rapids would need to score four more goals than RSL to take home the Cup. The last time the Rapids scored four goals in one game was back on April 10th, 2015, on a road game against FC Dallas. While I think it is high-time we get back to playing those kinds of games where we absolutely blow away our opponents, I don’t think this is going to be the game where we see that return to form.

So with the final showdown with RSL for 2018 just a few days away, how do we look against them?

First, let’s look at what RSL brings out onto the field. Much like the Rapids, Real Salt Lake has a few different formation options. In their last five games, they’ve played a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, and a 4-4-2. That being said, they tend to have the same players in each game. Their two designated players, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino, lead the attack alongside forward Joao Plata. Collectively, these three have provided 17 goals and 17 assists.

Their midfield is led by ex-Rapids player Kyle Beckerman and Croatian Damir Kreilach. Salt Lake’s defense consists primarily of Justen Glad, a homegrown player for RSL who has appeared in all 26 games and leads the team in minutes played with 2280, and Brooks Lennon, a solid starter who was signed by Liverpool in 2015 and has made many appearances with the USMNT U-20 team. Featuring in net is, of course, long-time USMNT goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Similarities continue with our own in goals for and against. We’ve scored 31 goals for 1.29 goals/game, while they have scored 36 for 1.38 goals/game, though we’ve played 25 games while they have played 26. We’ve allowed 42 goals against for 1.68 goals/game, they have allowed 44 goals for 1.69 goals/game. Our leading scorer was Dominique Badji with 7 goals, whereas their leading scorers, Albert Rusnak and Joao Plata have 7 goals each as well. While their goal scorers are more concentrated in the offense, we’ve proven capable of scoring from pretty much any position. Without a reliable striker, the Rapids have to rely on the strength of the overall team.

No doubt about it, this is going to be a tough match. The history with these two teams is long and often bloody, but I think victory can be achieved. Why? It comes down to a few points:

  1. The 4-4-2 has shown that we can play against teams way above our standings and walk away with points. Beating LA Galaxy at home and tying them on the road shows that we can fight with the best of them.
  2. RSL’s away record is pretty dreadful. They have only gotten points from four games out of 13. With home-field advantage, the Rapids need to capitalize on the fanbase. The 12th man is going to be crucial. When your rivals come to town, the fanbase needs to be as active as possible. RSL needs the sound of an active fanbase pumped in through speakers and near-max volume to get the crowd excited. Let’s show them how we can do that at DSGP without speakers.
  3. Lastly, it comes down to just a certain feeling. It’s hard to pin down, but between these last four games, you have seen a team that is more exciting to watch than they have been in years. Kellyn Acosta and Edgar Castillo are providing a much-needed creative spark, we’re actually starting to hold the majority possession, and the 4-4-2 diamond is bringing out the best of all of our players. Maybe it’s just me being foolishly hopeful, but I’ve got a good feeling coming in to this game. The team is changing, and we so want this game to go in our favor.

With this being the first chance most of our players have to fight our rival on our home turf, this can be a real sign to every Rapids fan that the changes that happened from 2017 till now are beginning to pay off. We’ve had a lot of low points and a lot of frustration as a fanbase, but a win against RSL would show us that there is something very bright to look forward to in 2019.