The rest of the MLS finally learned what the Cascadia rivalry was all about this year. But before the Pacific Northwest redefined what a North American derby could look like, the Rocky Mountain Cup was as good and as hotly contested as any.
Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids first starting playing for the cup in 2005, the year RSL entered MLS. Since then, one win separates the two teams and they have each scored the exact same number of goals against one another in their 21 meetings.
The fans don't like one another, the players don't seem to like one another and the front offices sure don't seem to have any love lost either.
Like all good rivalries, there are just enough differences between the two teams to make the similarities irrelevant. Both teams have won a MLS Cup without spending big money on star players. Both teams have seemed to thrive on outsiders' doubts and a us-vs.-the world mentality.
Their differences are mostly in their chosen styles of play. While RSL is at their best when the ball is flowing through the midfield and getting to the feet of their forwards, the Rapids are a much more direct team. It's probably unfair to call the Rapids a dirty team, but they are undeniably physical.
Jason Kreis and Gary Smith are also similar yet very different. Kreis is rising star in the coaching ranks, who seems at ease when talking to the media. He has benefitted from what seems to be a perfectly symbiotic relationship with the front office. Smith is perfectly willing to speak his mind, but it's often in response to various criticisms. Just this week, he went on record as saying his relationship with GM Paul Bravo had reached the point where one of them had to go.
Friday's meeting between these two teams may not be a do-or-die affair the way some of their previous meetings have been, but it will have playoff implications. The Rapids can clinch a spot in the playoffs, while RSL can bolster their playoff seeding.
Unfortunately, the game comes at a time in which neither team is in top form. RSL, who once looked poised to make a run at the Supporters' Shield after winning five in a row, have now lost four straight and have been outscored 12-2 over that span. They will also be without midfielder Kyle Beckerman after he was suspended for the final two games of the regular season. RSL will have Javier Morales back, maybe even in a starting role, but he is still working himself into full fitness after missing most of the season with a broken ankle.
The Rapids have not been much better recently, although reading Smith's statements you'd think one win salvaged the season. Even including that victory over FC Dallas on Oct. 1, the team is 1-3-2 and have scored just five goals since Aug. 13. Part of the problem seems to have been tired legs, as the Rapids' slide has coincided with their starting CONCACAF Champions League play. The good news for them is that they have had nearly two full weeks of rest.
Friday's match may not be a classic, but it could very well be a bellwether game for both. Time is running out for either team to get back into the form that has seen them win the last two MLS Cups.