The Colorado Rapids can seal a second consecutive postseason appearance under coach Robin Fraser when they play a Real Salt Lake side fighting for its own playoff hopes on Saturday night at Sandy, Utah.
The third-place Rapids (14-5-9, 51 points) enter the weekend only a point back of second-place Sporting Kansas City, and in all likelihood already have earned enough points to reach the postseason.
But three more points would guarantee the eighth-place Vancouver Whitecaps, the first team beneath the playoff line, can't catch Colorado in their remaining games.
It also would seal a Rocky Mountain Cup crown, the annual trophy contested between these two Mountain Time Zone rivals over three games.
"It's a huge task to go there and beat them knowing that the Rocky Mountain Cup is on the line, and knowing they're trying to get into the playoffs and secure a playoff spot, as are we," Fraser said. "It's just, there are a lot of emotions going into this game and you expect it to be a pretty tense affair."
The Rapids will be without defender Danny Wilson after he was sent off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in a 3-1 win at Minnesota United last weekend.
Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake (11-11-6, 39 points) is looking to cap one of the more resilient seasons in recent memory with its own return to the playoffs after missing out in 2020.
In 2021, the Claret-and-Cobalt have endured a partial league takeover of the club's operations and the unexpected exit of former manager Freddy Juarez.
Yet they've maintained a hold on a playoff spot for the moment, primarily based on their home performance. They've won their past six at Rio Tinto Stadium, beginning with a 3-0 victory over Saturday's opponents back on July 24.
At the time, former Rapids player and coach Pablo Mastroeni was Juarez's assistant. Now he's the interim head coach against his former club, where he spent parts of 16 years between playing and coaching.
"There's so many storylines. There's all these different variables that go into this game," Mastroeni admitted. "I think for me, it's the same thing I ask the players. It's, 'Control the controllables.' I think for me, it's, 'How do we go about how do we dial back that mentality that we had in the games that we were really good?'"
--Field Level Media