As if fighting for a franchise-first playoff berth weren't enough, tonight's game against the Colorado Rapids could also determine the Rocky Mountain Cup for Real Salt Lake.
With only three games this season against RSL's primary rival, and with the Rapids taking the first game, 2-0 in Colorado back in May, a win by the visiting squad would clinch the Cup for Colorado for the third time in the four years of its existence.
Of course, that will be easier said than done. No visiting team has escaped Rice-Eccles Stadium with a win this season (6-0-5).
"I am not sure why that is," said coach Jason Kreis of the team's different play at home compared to on the road (1-8-1). "Whether it is just being more comfortable, an attitude or just playing with more confidence. Obviously, we love the way they have performed at home, and wish we could take it with us on the road. But there is something different isn't there?"
While the coaches or players will never admit it, Real may have caught a break with playing Colorado at this time of the season. The Rapids are struggling, having dropped three of its last four by being shutout.
First, the team is in the midst of a coaching change. Gary Smith took over on an interim basis before the Rapids last game for the departed Fernando Clavijo. Second, Colorado has been hit hard with the injury bug. Former RSL player Mehdi Ballouchy will miss the game with a concussion, and Terry Cooke, Greg Dalby, Justin Hughes, Ugo Ihemelu, Pablo Mastroeni are all out with various nicks and dings. But according to Kreis, it wouldn't matter if Colorado were at full strength or on the longest winning streak in history.
"We are at a point where we don't really have to make any adjustments to the teams coming in," he said. "I think when we are at home we just go out and play our style of game and let the other team make adjustments to us. I don't mean that in a conceded way, but I think we have proven this year that when we play our game at home, we are going to be pretty tough to beat."
Anytime these two clubs get together the intensity is ratcheted up, but a win for RSL would keep the team alone in second place in the west (27 points). A loss presents the chance it could drop all the way out of the playoff race into a four-way tie for third place."At this point we just need a win," said defender Nat Borchers. "Sure we want to beat Colorado, but we want the three points against anyone right now."