Nick Rimando has been outstanding for Real Salt Lake all year. He leads the league in shutouts and save percentage, and RSL have only allowed 16 goals in league play all year. Rimando has 10 clean sheets in 22 career games against the Rapids, so history is on the side of the SoCal native against Colorado.
Matt Pickens has been very respectable in goal for the Rapids, with a goals-allowed-average of 1.04 on the season. RSL have struggled to score lately, and Pickens will hope for more of the same as he is nursing a slight groin injury.
RSL have been downright stingy at home: a paltry six goals conceded. Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave should be able to deal with Conor Casey’s size, but they will have trouble with the pace of Cummings and Macoumba Kandji.
The Rapids’ back line has been supremely solid of late, apart from a couple of three-goal shellings at the hands of the Red Bulls and Crew. They’ve posted four clean sheets in their last seven games. Marvell Wynne can provide an attacking threat down the wing, but Robbie Findley’s pace should keep him from venturing forward often, as center back Drew Moor will need the cover.
Will Johnson netted a brace for RSL against Árabe Unido, and might provide the team a few more options going forward—particularly with Javier Morales out injured. But the core remains Kyle Beckerman, who has the necessary engine to get into the attack from a deep position, though not the extraordinary creativity of his usual partner, Morales.
Recent acquisition Brian Mullan looked good in his debut for the Rapids, threatening on the right flank and opening space for the strikers. The key, though, is the central pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz, who have gelled into one of the stingiest and most cohesive units in MLS.
Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola have had blistering seasons for the reigning MLS Cup holders, but Findley has been frustrating. While he has pace and can use it to devastating effect, his finishing has been dubious—the World Cup veteran has a mere five goals on the season. It remains to be seen who will get the start up top, with both Espíndola and Findley carrying knocks.
Rapids manager Gary Smith has a lot of good problems when making his starting decision at striker. Leading scorer Casey and Omar Cummings are aggressive and have proven that they can run down opposing defenses. Cummings, in particular, has been on good form with five goals in his last four games. But word out of Colorado is that Kandji could get his first start for the Rapids, which might push the Jamaican speedster to the flank.
A grueling schedule between CCL and MLS play has several RSL players are nursing minor bumps and bruises. Recent acquisition Paulo Junior missed the team’s match against Árabe Unido with a hamstring strain. But RSL are one of MLS’ deepest sides, with the likes of Jean Alexandre, Andy Williams and Chris Schuler all able to contribute if necessary.
The options for Gary Smith are few these days, but he does have Wells Thompson to bring on. He notched his first goal for the club last week and has shown renewed confidence since coming over from New England. Up top, though, the only options are rookie Andre Akpan and second-year striker Quincy Amarikwa, who have just one career goal between them.
RSL look set to advance out of the CCL group stages, meaning a tough schedule only looks to get tougher for Jason Kreis & Co. But Kreis has done well at keeping his team focused and making sure that his auxiliary players perform when called upon in big situations. Saturday’s match surely qualifies as a big situation.
Smith has sounded excited about his team’s recent acquisitions, and has thrust them into impact roles early on. But Smith can’t conduct too many experiments with his selections; Colorado still have work to do if they hope to make the playoffs, and a Rocky Mountain Cup tie is not an ideal testing ground for a new system.