In what has been a turbulent 2017 season, the Rocky Mountain Cup and postseason hopes have long been out of the Colorado Rapids' grasp. But Sunday night’s match with rivals Real Salt Lake had perhaps even greater implications as the Rapids played for their fans, jobs and personal pride.
It all came to a head with a 1-0 victory, as Colorado earned the added consolations of bragging rights by placing a dent in the playoff hopes of their rivals.
“Tim Howard gave a great speech before the game about giving to the fans and that we honored their patience, their support and their loyalty throughout the season,” said Rapids interim head coach Steve Cooke. “I couldn’t be happier that we were able to get them the three points tonight.”
After taking the early 1-0 lead on a Joshua Gatt goal in the 3rd minute, Colorado spent the remainder of the match playing vintage Rapids defense, weathering a constant barrage from an RSL attack which out-possessed Colorado nearly 2-to-1 and outshot the Rapids, 30-2 (Yes, 30-2). It was indicative of a win-at-all-cost mentality.
“We came out before the game and told ourselves: ‘We got to go out there with the mentality to win this game, regardless of what it takes,” said Rapids defender Kortne Ford. “That’s what we did tonight.”
Even though the Rocky Mountain Cup landed in the hands of Salt Lake well before Sunday, the rivalry remained very much alive in the Rapids locker room.
“I don’t like losing at any time at anything,” Cooke said. “That goes without saying. Especially when you know someone is trying to get bragging rights over you.”
For Rapids coaches and players, the RSL matches are always marked on the calendar as must-win, no matter what the circumstances.
“That rivalry is important,” Cooke said. “I’m really, really pleased that we could raise the level of intensity and fight tonight. When you play these rivalry games, it’s not always going to be the most beautiful game. We came out with a determination, a focus, and a looseness as well when they maybe felt a bit of pressure from nerves.”
Continuing to build momentum, the Rapids hope to cause even more havoc in the playoff race as the regular season comes to a close on Decision Day presented by AT&T.
“It’s just about pride at this point,” Ford said. “When you’re on a team that’s not going to make the playoffs, the focus turns to how many teams you can [impact heading into] the playoffs. That’s what we’re looking to do next week at Seattle as well.”