Soccer • Real can clinch third in MLS Western Conference with victory over Rapids on Friday
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Lehi • The last time Real Salt Lake played the Colorado Rapids, it was a milestone of sorts.
The 1-0 victory, on a late goal by Fabian Espindola, gave RSL a 4-0 start to the Major League Soccer season. It was also the start of what has come to be a season for the ages, one that has aged Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis by about 10 years.
Since that victory, Real has gone through the most extreme ups and downs including the current four-game losing streak.
Yet, should RSL win its final two games, including Friday's clash with Colorado (11-9-12) at Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the Rocky Mountain Cup, it will have the highest point total in the franchise's short history.
Real, sitting at third in the Western Conference, could conceivably finish the year with 57 points, one better than 2010.
"If we can finish with more points than we ever have, if we show up now and have a positive finish to this season, it wold be the most rewarding season that I've ever had," Kreis said. "Because this has been by far, not even close by a mile, the most difficult season we've had.
"I can't remember a year that has been like this one, I can't remember a year where we've had to face so much adversity. We've literally been through every scenario possible."
Thanks to injuries, suspensions and international call-ups, Kreis has used the same lineup in back-to-back games just twice, and even then it wasn't the team's strongest.
Now, just as star midfielder Javier Morales returns from an ankle injury that occurred in May, team MVP Kyle Beckerman is unavailable, suspended for the remainder of the regular season for a head-butt in the Chicago Fire loss.
"If you look at [the season] point-wise, if we get points the next two games, it could be [our] best season ever," RSL midfielder Andy Williams said. "It doesn't feel like that, just the way the games have played out. We lose in bunches. After the end of season, we can look at it and [say], 'Oh it was a good year.' It certainly doesn't feel like it now."
Yet RSL remains in a situation where the ultimate prize lurks on the horizon.
The Rocky Mountain Cup, which RSL has owned the past four years, is on the line Friday. But there is more to the game than the rivalry.
The Rapids are still holding on to a wild card spot, thanks to a 1-0 win against FC Dallas. A Colorado victory clinches a playoff spot for it. Meanwhile, Real has an opportunity to clinch third place.
"This is a great opportunity for us," RSL defender Nat Borchers said. "We need to get the starting 11 back in and playing together, that's for sure. We're still playing with some injuries, but we can't make excuses. We can play with what we have, which should be good enough."
Kreis believes RSL has learned from its roller-coaster season. Going into the playoffs on a high note is the challenge.
"We need to get points, there are no more excuses," Kreis said.
RSL at Colorado
P At Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo.
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM (Spanish)
Records • Colorado 11-9-12, RSL 15-11-6
All-time series • Colorado leads 8-6-7
Last meeting • RSL, 1-0 (April 13)
About the Rapids • With DC United's 2-1 loss at Vancouver on Wednesday night, the Rapids would clinch a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs with a victory.
About RSL • A victory would clinch third place in the Western Conference and a bye for the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.