SANDY — Nobody expects a drop-off.
Not Real Salt Lake coaches, not the players, not the fans — and realistically nobody else around MLS either.
Arguably the deepest team in MLS fully expects to absorb the six-week departure of Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio and not only survive but thrive.
“We have to keep going. It doesn’t matter. I know that we’re losing really important players in Kyle, Nick and Sabo, but right now the guys that are waiting for a chance, they have it, and they have to be ready to play Saturday,” said RSL midfielder Javier Morales.
Unbeaten Real Salt Lake expects those backups to excel, not just this Saturday against the visiting Colorado Rapids, but throughout the next six weeks until the Brazil contingent returns for a June 28 game at Chivas USA at the earliest.
Right now though, the focus is solely on the Rapids in the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Despite a 3-1 loss at home to Chivas USA last weekend, Colorado still sits in fifth place in the Western Conference through 10 games and is always a dangerous foe in the rivalry matchup.
“It’s a team we have to respect. They’re very dangerous. They’re a young team. They can play extremely well, but we feel we can also catch them when they’re a bit disorganized,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
Morales said RSL needs to be mindful of Colorado’s counterattack, but also its formation.
“They change formation almost every game so it’s going to be tough to know what to expect,” said Morales.
The RSL midfielder is coming off his first career hat trick in last week’s victory at Houston, which he joked finally got the monkey off his back.
“I had a little pressure from (my son) Santi. He watches Messi all the time, and said, ‘When are you going to score a hat trick like Messi?’ Finally I did it,” said Morales.
Without leading scorer Saborio or midfield engine Beckerman over the next stretch, Morales will be counted on to pick up some of the scoring slack, but he’s ready.
Colorado edged RSL in the season series last year (1-0-2) to capture the Rocky Mountain Cup for the first time since 2006. With two of three games at Rio Tinto Stadium this year, RSL is in position to retake the cup if it takes care of business at home.
Like his predecessor Jason Kreis, Cassar is stressing the importance of the Rocky Mountain Cup ahead of Saturday’s match.
“Being a first-year coach, I want to try and win as many trophies for the club, and I know it means a lot to the players, it’s a rivalry. It means a lot to the fans and it means a lot to the club,” he said.
The Rapids have never won at Rio Tinto Stadium with four losses and three draws. They’ve been up and down so far this year under first-year coach Pablo Mastroeni — public enemy No. 1 in RSL circles through the years.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company