MLS Rivalry Week backstories: Colorado vs. Real Salt Lake

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If we examine the back stories on how rivalries achieve their deliciously acrimonious state – real rivalries, that is, and not the manufactured ones fans tend to sniff out and disregard with extreme prejudice – they usually check the box on one or more of the elements you see in the box below.

Here we look at the Real Salt Lake-Colorado Rapids rivalry, and which boxes get checked on this clash of  Rocky Mountain clubs:

The teams meet at 6 p.m.ET Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

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The backstory:

Once more or less a rivalry of convenience, this bit of Mountain Time hostility has blossomed into a series with a genuine sense of Old West orneriness.

The Colorado Rapids-Real Salt Lake rivalry was once just about geography, about two teams with a bond as outsiders in a league where the Rocky Mountain teams struggled to catch their fair share of national media love. But it got to be something very different – and in a big hurry.

Now the Rocky Mountain Cup is truly one of the most fiercely contested pieces of rivalry-related hardware.

Personalities drove this one, and the most unlikely pair of them lit the fuse. Things were already hot when, after a contentious 2006 contest, Rapids captain and U.S. international Pablo Mastroeni got in a screaming match with then-RSL owner Dave Checketts. Checketts is a mellow fellow, so this was truly a bizarre scene, but a maddening and memorable one for supporters on either side.

“Everything really traces back to that point,” former RSL midfielder Andy Williams told MLSSoccer.com.

Next up in the construction of this one, a real multi-layered toxic brew:

A year after the Mastroeni-Checketts fussing fight, Kyle Beckerman ensconced himself as a rivalry centerpiece. Beckerman’s combative midfield ways were done back then in the name of the Colorado Rapids. So Beckerman took serious umbrage when RSL fans took umbrage about his fiery celebration. “They run their mouths the whole game,” Beckerman said. “If they don’t want us to celebrate, win the game.”

So the reaction was a little, uh, cool and awkward when Beckerman was traded later that year. To RSL!

The faithful from Rio Tinto embraced Beckerman soon enough, and he became a central figure in the club’s rise – all the way to a 2009 MLS title. (Not to be outdone, Colorado won in 2010.)

So Beckerman was an RSL man during the rivalry’s defining moment. The team’s met on the final match day of 2008, with a playoff spot guaranteed for a winner that day at Dicks Sporting Goods Park. Colorado had a 1-0 lead late. Make that, “very late.”

But a stoppage-time strike from RSL’s Yura Movsisyan was an absolute crusher for the Rapids. The 1-1 draw, a glorious moment no RSL fan of the time could possibly forget, clinched RSL’s first playoff berth (and Jason Kreis’ team hasn’t missed on playoff qualification since). The Rapids missed out on post-season play that year.

Saturday’s match:

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Colorado is eaten up with injuries to key performers; Mastroeni, Martin Rivero and Jaime Castrillo (a.k.a. the center of the park for Oscar Pareja’s team) are keeping each other company on the injury shelf. Not surprisingly, the team is 0-2.

Things look better for Beckerman and RSL, which opened with a win over terrific 2-0 win at San Jose and game close to getting a result a week later at RFK Stadium, where a second-half D.C. United goal made the difference. RSL is in semi-transition, having jettisoned three relatively pricey veterans in a painful, strategic salary cap-related maneuver.

MLS on NBC makes its 2013 debut when Arlo White and Kyle Martino call New York Red Bulls against D.C. United at 12:30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network carries two contests after that (Sporting KC vs. Chicago Fire, then Seattle vs. Portland). In between, “The Breakaway” will show goals from foursome of matches NBC is not carrying.

ProSoccerTalk’s series of Rivalry Week back stories:

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday