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Sandy • Having been in the exact same situation himself, Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman is not about to begrudge the Colorado Rapids the MLS Cup championship they won last season, however much of a fluke others might have judged it.
But he's not quite ready to anoint them a dynasty, either.
Just like RSL a year ago, the Rapids enter the rivals' first meeting of the new Major League Soccer season at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night still aiming to convince skeptics that they're one of the top teams in the league. And Beckerman believes they still need to prove they belong in such hallowed company, just like RSL had to do.
"They won a championship, they had a good run," Beckerman said. "But let's see them do it over a season. Then we'll see if they're going to join the elite.
"We went out and won" a championship, the former Rapid added, "but they didn't put us in the elite because we won. It was after what we did last year and continue to do this year that now they're starting to say that we're in the elite at the top of this league. I think [the Rapids] still have some work to do. They definitely won the championship, but they still have work before they can be in the elite."
Certainly, RSL has made its case.
The team is riding a 17-game unbeaten streak in regular-season league games, and a 36-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions. It's also the only unbeaten team left in the league, has not lost to the Rapids in four straight meetings dating back nearly two years, and recently became the first MLS team to reach the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Snapping all those streaks would be a huge accomplishment for the Rapids, who are trying to make amends for a 3-0 loss last weekend at FC Dallas the team it beat in the MLS Cup final last season, after the Hoops eliminated RSL from the playoffs.
"We were beaten fair and square in that game and we all know we need to get back on track," coach Gary Smith told MLSSoccer.com. "There is no better occasion to do that than playing against Salt Lake and we will all need to be in the right mental place for that one. It's going to be a tough encounter and we will be ready for it."
The Rapids appear seriously shorthanded, though.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and forward Macoumba Kandji already have been ruled out of the game with injuries, and forward Conor Casey he had 13 goals and six assists last season is not expected to play because of a hamstring problem.
Not that RSL is anticipating a pushover, even though it has outscored opponents 10-2 at home this year.
Midfielder Will Johnson is serving a red-card suspension, for one thing, and players and coaches remember needing a trio of dramatic stoppage-time goals to rescue two draws against the Rapids last season.
"It's been a tough match for us, each and every game we've played against them, and it's going to be the case again," defender Chris Wingert said. "They have some big-time players on their team, and they showed they know how to put it all together and win a championship. We realize what a tough challenge it's going to be."
Coach Jason Kreis said he hopes his players enter every game with "a bit of a chip on our shoulders" about the disappointing end to last season kept RSL from getting a crack at the Rapids in the playoffs, and Beckerman said the team will be "looking to bring them down a peg, just like Dallas did last week."
All of that adds up to a big opportunity for both teams.
"It makes it an even more special game," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "We've won the last two MLS Cups between the two teams. It's always going to be a battle, whether we have a Cup or not. It's just one of those rivalries that every sport has. To play them in our home stadium first, for the Rocky Mountain Cup, it means something."
Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • KMYU 2.2 / Comcast 22 / Dish 12
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 3-0-0, Colorado 3-1-0
All-Time Series • Colorado leads 8-6-6
Last Meeting • RSL 2, Colorado 2 (Oct. 23, 2010)
About RSL • Riding a 17-game unbeaten streak in league play and a 36-game unbeaten streak in all competitions at home, it's unbeaten in its last four meetings with the Rapids. … Midfielder Javier Morales and forward Paulo Junior lead the team with two goals each in league play, with three assists combined. … Midfielder Will Johnson is out serving a red-card suspension, but would not have been available anyway after breaking his thumb in three places in a collision during a 2-0 win at New England last weekend.
About the Rapids • The defending champions have not won in Utah in nearly two years. … Forward Omar Cummings led the team with 14 goals last season, and is among three players forwards Caleb Folan and Jamie Smith are the others with two goals this season. … Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has been battling a groin injury, but is listed as probable.