Rivalries are the cornerstone of any good sports team. Teams are playing for more than trophies or championships. It's about honor and pride, bringing the best for the crest.
And for Real Salt Lake there may be no greater rival than Sporting Kansas City.
The long-standing rivalry picked up public wind following a heartbreaking defeat on penalties in the 2013 MLS Cup final.
But it goes back further.
Prior to the start of the 2011 season on March 8, Real Salt Lake was tied 2-2 in a preseason match in Arizona when all-out war broke out. Sporting Kansas City Roger Espinoza reportedly went in studs up on RSL midfielder Javier Morales and the ensuing moments saw both benches clear and the game was called.
From then on, the physical, gritty, aggressive rivalry was born.
There are countless memories in the decade since, but for former RSL player and current Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran, it's an early-season match in 2016 that holds the fondest memory.
“There were a number of injuries and suspensions in the first team, and because of this the lineup was very much a B squad,” Beltran said. “The day before the game, we flew in and trained at KC’s sporting complex, and I’ll never forget, during training they played the audio feed from the 2013 MLS Cup Final over the loudspeakers. We beat them 2-1 the next day. It was one of the most rewarding wins of my career.”
The first goal came from an unproven defender in only his seventh start for Real Salt Lake. 19-year-old Justen Glad ran onto a cross and headed in his first goal in Major League Soccer. The second of the match was hit from distance by former midfielder and current Team Scout, Luke Mulholland.
“It was always a battle, myself and Kyle [Beckerman] always had to scrape it out of their midfield guys,” he said. “I feel like Kansas City has been one of the most consistent MLS teams since I joined the league. There is always just an extra edge to it.”
The matches between the two sides are known for their physicality and heightened emotions, chances are there will be countless fouls, maybe even a few cards.
Back in 2017 Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber called RSL the team he “hates the most,” this coming two years after he referred to the club as “snobby”, embodying the role as the villain for Real Salt Lake fans and it has continued on ever since, with new players filling the role each year.
The past two years have been a back and forth between the two sides, with RSL winning both matches in 2019 and Sporting winning both regular-season games in 2020.
With a 7-3-2 record at Rio Tinto Stadium and the combination of the first home game in nearly six months the home opener is guaranteed to be every bit as exciting as the last, not to mention, the last time the boys suited up at the RioT they fell 2-0 to their rivals, intensifying the need for redemption.
“They’ve always been a rival and it will always be a rival going forward,” RSL defender Donny Toia said.