Just being here for so long I think it means more to me because I have so many of them and I want to keep them here and trying to instill that in the new guys. —RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando on the Rocky Mountain Cup
SANDY — Now in his 12th season with Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando has played in what probably feels like countless Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry matches against Colorado.
To be specific, RSL’s veteran keeper has started 28 MLS matches against Colorado over the years and recorded 11 shutouts in the process. Those 11 shutouts are a big reason why RSL was won the Rocky Mountain Cup 9 of 11 seasons since Rimando has been with the club.
When asked this week ahead of Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Clash if any of those previous 28 meetings stood out, Rimando quickly highlighted the final meeting of 2017 — which was a rare loss to the Rapids.
“I guess the one that is fresh in my head is last year, them winning and us not making the playoffs,” said Rimando.
Real Salt Lake beat Colorado in the first two meetings last season to guarantee it would keep The Cup another season but losing that third game still resonates six months later. In the second-to-last game of the season, last October, RSL fell at Colorado 1-0 and ultimately missed the playoffs by one point.
As Real Salt Lake prepares to host Colorado Saturday (7 p.m., KMYU), Rimando believes the rivalry between the clubs is still strong.
“Just being here for so long I think it means more to me because I have so many of them and I want to keep them here and trying to instill that in the new guys,” said Rimando.
RSL’s keeper reminds new teammates that there will be some kicking, grabbing and scratching, “and at the end of the day it’s a trophy to win and we want to lift it.”
With two more Rocky Mountain Cup matches later this season nobody can claim The Cup on Saturday, but a win will go long way for either team.
Just one point separates Colorado and Real Salt Lake early this season as they occupy the sixth and seventh spot respectively in the Western Conference standings.
The Rapids are 2-0-2 over their past five matches since dropping the season opener at New England, while RSL’s erratic opening month produced a 4-0 loss at New York City FC last week.
With a “great” week of training under his team’s belt, coach Mike Petke is encouraged about a bounce-back performance from his squad. It will require patience.
Colorado plays with five defenders across the back and has only allowed five goals this season, the second-fewest in MLS behind only FC Dallas.
“It definitely changes in the way we press, definitely changes the way we want to funnel them towards. We’ve played teams that have done this. It creates a little bit different approach to the game, but not a ton,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake’s confidence has been rattled on the road recently, but it has won back-to-back home games against the New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps and is hoping to build on that momentum.
That won’t be easy with a banged-up defense that’s tied for last in MLS with 14 goals allowed. Marcelo Silva, Demar Phillips and Shawn Barry are all listed as questionable on the injury report, while David Horst has been ruled out with a knee injury.
The injuries will force Petke to get creative with his back four, which in the last four weeks has included midfielder Brooks Lennon starting as an outside back. Another midfielder could join Lennon on the backline this week.
Whoever gets the nod will have their hands full with speedy striker Dominique Badji, who has four goals this season in five games.
“Someone like Badji up front with his pace, he gets opportunities every game. If you give him four or five opportunities there’s a really good chance he’s at least going to put one of them away,” said Petke.
After Saturday four of Real Salt Lake's next five games are on the road, so picking up three points is important as the squad seeks some consistency.