The 2021 version of the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry kicked off Saturday night as the Colorado Rapids made the trek across the mountains to visit Rio Tinto.
It wasn’t Colorado’s night, as Rapids keeper William Yarbrough conceded a gut-wrenching own goal just 14 minutes into the match. Real Salt Lake rubbed salt into the wound that the own goal created with two additional goals from strikers Bobby Wood (30th minute) and Rubio Rubin (76th minute), all while keeping the Rapids off the scoresheet for the third clean sheet of the season for The Claret and Cobalt.
Like so many other instances this season, Real Salt Lake found themselves with a lead heading into the second half and fans undoubtedly began to question if the team would be able to hang onto the lead given the struggles that the club had had in second halves throughout the season. But RSL displayed the killer instinct in the final half against the Rapids that had been missing in past games by not only keeping its lead, but adding to it with a third goal.
The win gave Real Salt Lake a three goal advantage in a Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry that will resume on Aug. 21 in Colorado. RSL also took away three points, moving its season total to 20 total points, good for seventh place in the Western Conference.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
Just 14 minutes into the game, a simple back-pass was played to Colorado’s Yarbrough who sat in front of his goal, but the pass was mishandled by the keeper and the ball crossed over the line by a few inches for a devastating own-goal. Although painful to watch, RSL players and coaches celebrated the goal nonetheless as the team got an early advantage against their heated rivals.
Perhaps it was raucous fans in the south end of Rio Tinto that stood a few yards from Yarbrough that caused the blunder? Whether that was the case or not, RSL head coach Freddy Juarez couldn’t say enough about the energy the fans brought to the rivalry match.
“The fans were amazing tonight,” Juarez said. “To see the ‘RioT’ packed and loud—the wave and all that—that adds a little extra when you need it as a player. We appreciated that from the fans and we’re glad we could get a shutout and get some goals for them.”
Wood gets his first goal
After getting the starting nod for the rivalry game, Wood put pressure on the Colorado backline early and often with multiple runs that put the newly-acquired striker in threatening positions. But a half hour into the game, Wood made a run that freed himself up for a 1-on-1 transition opportunity and created the space he needed to slot home his first goal in an RSL uniform.
Wood said the goal was a result of the hunger that he and his teammates had for a goal in the opening minutes.
“I think as a team we started off very hungry and that’s why I got those runs because we were so aggressive,” Wood said. “Today we came back and showed a good mentality and that’s all we really need to keep doing… If we keep that mentality we’ll get points.”
Ashtone Morgan saves the clean sheet
Making his first start in nearly two years, the 11-year MLS veteran Ashtone Morgan put his experience on display with an excellent performance at left-back for The Claret and Cobalt.
The vet made the most important defensive play of the game when a header from Colorado’s Auston Trusty was sailing towards goal, beyond the reach of RSL keeper David Ochoa, but Morgan was in position to aid his keeper and head the ball off the line, away from goal.
Morgan accredited his experience for why he was able to be such a steadying presence for the RSL back four—that helped the team record the third shutout in 14 games this season—throughout the rivalry match.
“Honestly it felt like the first day of school again,” Morgan said. “I had a lot of time all day to mentally prepare, but just being in the league for 11 seasons, I’ve done this before. I’ve played in a lot of derby matches over my career, so I used those experiences, enjoyed the moment, was vocal and helped out wherever I could. I’m glad we got the three points today.”