SANDY — Last weekend's top-of-the-table clash between Real Salt Lake and San Jose had all the makings of a great match. It obviously fizzled as San Jose rolled to the 5-0 victory, capitalizing on a second-half red card to Kyle Beckerman.
Long before that red card changed the entire complexion of the match, RSL's players just didn't seem all that into it.
"We came out flat, we had a number of guys that weren't up for it. I think everybody on the team could've played better. I think that was Jason (Kreis') biggest concern, we came out flat in such a big game," said midfielder Will Johnson.
If RSL can come out flat with first place in the Western Conference at stake, it makes you wonder what to expect at Rio Tinto Stadium tonight against reeling Colorado.
Realistically, though, it's hard to imagine RSL not getting up for a match against the rival Rapids — especially when a victory clinches the Rocky Mountain Cup for the sixth straight season.
"I'd like to think with the experience, the leadership and the veterans in this group, we'll always have enough to push us over the top," said Johnson.
When Real Salt Lake and Colorado get together, it's usually a playoff-type atmosphere. That should again be the case for the 8 p.m. kickoff, but for different reasons as both teams are hungry to claw out of their recent rut.
Coach Kreis' team is 1-4-1 in its last six matches, and now sits seven points behind West-leading San Jose. Colorado, meanwhile, has lost four straight and six of its last seven to fall into seventh place in the West and 21 points behind San Jose.
"Tough team in a tough stretch of their own. They're going to come out fighting like crazy, it's going to be a dogfight. That's what derbys are anyway, and this one even more so due to the current form of the two teams," said Johnson.
In such an important match for both teams, both will be missing arguably their most important midfielder. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman is suspended because of last weekend's red card against San Jose, while Colorado's Jared Larentowicz is suspended because of yellow-card accumulation.
This is the second of two meetings between the teams this year, with Salt Lake prevailing 2-0 back on April 7 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Public enemy No. 1 in the Utah soccer community, Pablo Mastroeni, is out for Colorado because of lingering issues related to headaches. His presence has often helped fuel the rivalry, but regardless of who's on the field, Kreis said the passion of the rivalry is still there.
"There's just something about wearing the two shirts, the proximity to each other, the fan bases and how important it is to them. It doesn't matter, I don't think, whether they have two or three new players or four or five new players, it's still Colorado vs. Real Salt Lake and it still means something to us," said Kreis.
Incredibly, the all-time series is all square at 8-8-7. Real Salt Lake, however, is 6-2-5 in the 13 matches since Beckerman was acquired in a trade from Colorado.
Even though Beckerman is unavailable, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy and Tony Beltran are all probable for RSL a week after they sat out the San Jose match.
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