Denver is a little over 1100 miles from Vancouver. That's quite a gap for sports teams to develop strong rivalries against each other. But when you're tied in the standings - and are about to face each other three times over the final nine games of the regular season - each of the matches will have the feel of a playoff series in the fight to even reach the post-season.
On Saturday the Colorado Rapids host the Vancouver Whitecaps at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (7:30 p.m. MT, BUY TICKETS). The two teams - currently tied for second place in the Western Conference with 36 points apiece -will also close out the season with a home-and-away series in late October.
"It's a direct rival. They have the same amount of points as we do, so it has all the elements to be a clasico because of the objectives that each team has to reach the playoffs," Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja told ColoradoRapids.com Thursday.
The Rapids and Whitecaps have met five times in the two years since the Canadian team joined MLS. In 2011, Colorado won both matches - including the season finale in Vancouver which secured the Rapids a direct berth in the playoffs, as opposed to the wild card spot. Last year, the Whitecaps won the first two meetings before the teams drew 2-2 at BC Place in late September.
With the Whitecaps having two games in hand, and the Rapids having next week off, the importance of obtaining the three points on Saturday is obviously not lost on Colorado.
"We can neither avoid nor hide the importance of this game, we all know it," Pareja said. "That brings a normal pressure to everyone, but it's a good pressure. It's actually beyond pressure. It's the responsibility that we have and feel in facing Vancouver with all those elements. We have to win."
The top five teams in each conference will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Heading into the weekend, only six points separates the Rapids and Whitecaps from eight place San Jose.
Vancouver will return Colorado on October 19 and the teams will close out the season in Canada on October 27.