It has been five years since either the Colorado Rapids or Real Salt Lake watched a former player debut in the other teams' colors. But it could be happening again on Saturday when the two sides meet in Utah in the first of three Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup matches this year (4 p.m. MT, Altitude).
Former RSL players Atiba Harris and Nathan Sturgis joined the Rapids during the past offseason. In the season opener at Dallas, Harris became the 12th player who has appeared in matches for teams on both sides of the Rocky Mountains when he started for the Rapids. Sturgis was an unused sub and has yet to appear for Colorado.
Harris began his MLS career with RSL in 2006 and played 43 games for the Utah club over two seasons. Sturgis joined RSL in 2007 from LA and remained through the 2008 campaign. The Rapids acquired Harris from Vancouver and Sturgis from Houston in trades last December.
For the first eight years of the rivalry, it was mostly Colorado supplying RSL with players. Of the first 12 that once played for either Colorado or Salt Lake and then switched sides, eight made their RMC debuts for the Rapids and four first played for RSL. Also, eight of the players were traded from one team to the other, though none since 2007.
A history of exchanges:
The first former Rapids player to go to Salt Lake was defender Jeff Stewart. Stewart was drafted by Colorado in the second round of the 2002 SuperDraft and played 31 games in his first year and half before going down with a torn ACL. After missing most of 2003 and all of the 2004 season, Chivas USA selected Stewart with the last pick in the MLS Expansion Draft on November 19, 2004. Chivas then traded Stewart to RSL for an international slot. Stewart couldn't over the injury and never played again.
The first trade between the two sides happened in January 2005 - before RSL even played a match - when the Rapids traded Jordan Cila to Salt Lake for a draft pick. In April 2005, Colorado also traded RSL the rights to Seth Trembly for a 2006 supplemental pick.
The Rapids then acquired a permanent international slot in exchange for the rights to midfielder Adolfo Gregorio in June 2005. Colorado had drafted Gregorio in the second round of the 2004 SuperDraft, but he never join the club. Instead, he signed with Darlington FC in England before returning to the U.S. in 2005, where the Rapids maintained his MLS rights. Gregorio only made six appearence in MLS - all for RSL - including one 70 minute start against Colorado as the Rapids defeated Salt Lake 2-0 on Sept. 21, 2005.
On December 12, 2005, the two rivals made their first blockbuster trade - though it would not be the biggest - when Colorado acquired former U.S. World Cup forward Clint Mathis in exchange for Jeff Cunningham, who had led the Rapids in goals in 2005.
The trades continued in August of 2006, this time the Rapids acquiring forward Melvin Tarley.
But the exchanges that trumped all previous ones happened in July 2007, when Colorado sent RSL Chris Wingert for two draft picks and three days later traded Kyle Beckerman for Mehdi Ballouchy. Beckerman has never lost the Rocky Mountain Cup, winning it his first two years with Colorado and keeping it in Salt Lake since he joined the team.
In 2008, Nat Borchers, who began his career with Colorado in 2003 before leaving to play at Norway's Odd Grenland, returned to MLS and joined RSL through the allocation process. Mathis also returned to Salt Lake in 2008 after the Rapids had traded him to RBNY the previous year.
Making the rivalry more intense was when Beckerman, Borchers, and Wingert all started for RSL as they won MLS Cup 2009.
Colorado got their redemption the following year, trading Ballouchy to NY for Mac Kandji. Kandji became a Rapids hero when he tore his ACL in overtime of MLS Cup 2010 on the own-goal that gave Colorado 2-1 lead and first club title.
Other than Borchers, Harris, and Sturgis, the only players who have played for both sides that were not acquired in trades between the two teams were Ritchie Kotschau and Scott Garlick, who played for Columbus and Dallas, respectively, before joining the Utah side.
Since 2008, no player that once played for either of the two Rocky Mountain Cup teams has debuted for the other.