For the past two weeks, throughout the 2015 Desert Diamond Cup, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake have stayed at the same hotel in Tucson, Arizona.
From sharing the same elevator, swapping smiles and stories, the two sets of players will share the same field on Saturday night, and one can expect snapping and snarling. For this is the last match of preseason for both sides, with pride, places and prizes at stake. (WATCH LIVE).
Though not quite the Rocky Mountain Cup, the winner of the Desert Diamond Cup will walk away with silverware. As bitter rivals, there will obviously be bragging rights to bag, while with the start of the 2015 MLS season just days away individual players will also want to stake their claim in the respective elevens for opening weekend.
After more than two weeks on the road, during which time they have played five matches, the Colorado Rapids will return home on Sunday a fitter, sharper and more cohesive group. They will also be keen to return home triumphant and with a little something for the trophy cabinet.
Real Salt Lake swept the Rocky Mountain Cup in 2014, defeating the Rapids in each of their three matches, including a humbling 5-1 reversal at Rio Tinto in the last of the year’s meetings.
Jeff Cassar’s team finished third in the Western Conference last season, but lost in the playoff semifinals to eventual MLS Cup winners LA Galaxy. Held to a goalless draw at home, RSL were then beaten 5-0 in the return leg in California.
They have a 100 per cent record at the Desert Diamond Cup, having enjoyed wins over New England Revolution, FC Tucson and Sporting Kansas City. The most recent victory, against Sporting KC, was achieved minus the likes of Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales or Álvaro Saborío. Expect them to return on Saturday.
One player definitely missing will be the club’s leading scorer from 2014, Joao Plata. The Ecuador international fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during training at the end of January, sidelining him for up to four months.
During the offseason, RSL bid farewell to former Rapids’ defender Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers), as well as Ned Grabavoy, Sebastian Velasquez and Chris Wingert. The latter trio joined former RSL head coach Jason Kreis at NYCFC.
What They Say …
Rapids' Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni
“We’ve had a good camp to this point. I talked to the guys about making sure that we have the right mindset for this game. I know it’s a preseason game but it’s a warm-up game for the first game of the season. The mindset is to go out and attack this with everything that we have.
“It’s a great practice session, (though) with a little bit more on it because of the opponents and where we are in preseason, and we definitely want to end a great trip here in Tucson with a great performance.”