By Greg Seltzer
As we all know, most derbies are local, with many others involving clubs with a short distance and long history between them. And then there's the burgeoning animosity between the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, one forged oddly enough by fair agreement.
With Major League Soccer reaching across a country as big as the United States and into Canada, with only one true local grudge match available, it's actually not a bad idea: courting the enemy.
When Real Salt Lake's franchise was announced for the 2005 MLS season, fans from Colorado and Utah formed "The Committee of 10" - a partnership group comprised of five annually elected fans from each side.
The group's first act was to create a challenge cup to be awarded to the season series winner each year. A contest was held to name it, and soon after the Rocky Mountain Cup was born.
Inspired by the excitement created around the soon-to-be rivalry, the Rapids and RSL followed suit. The clubs bridged the 373 miles between them, working with the C10 and each other for logistical and marketing purposes.
It was all so co-operative... until the teams finally met on the field. Expansion outfit RSL netted the first game in franchise history against Colorado, winning 1-0.
The Rapids would win the other three games that season, claiming the first Rocky Mountain Cup in Salt Lake on closing day by showing the new kids they still had a thing or two to learn.
It didn't take long for the animosity to grow. Soon, hardcore supporters were concocting chants that needled the other city or specific players.
Real Salt Lake dealt Clint Mathis to Colorado for Jeff Cunningham before the 2006 season. The forward would get rival revenge on the Rapids that August, notching two goals and a helper in a shaming 4-1 away triumph.
Nevertheless, the Mile High club would get the last laugh, winning a physical match 1-0 in Salt Lake on the season's final day to break a challenge tie and reclaim the Rocky Mountain Cup.
It wasn't just rough on the pitch, though, as RSL fans got a bit too wild, often throwing debris onto the field. Then, as the Rapids were celebrating after the victory, midfielder Pablo Mastroeni stuffed his jersey down his shorts and made taunting gestures at the home fans.
Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts charged the field, berating Mastroeni for the display. The midfielder would eventually apologize, but it has always been too little and too late to Real Salt Lake die-hards.
The following season, Colorado won the opener in Salt Lake and midfielder Kyle Beckerman made some provocative remarks to the press about RSL fan behavior during the closing day humdinger that closed the 2006 season.
The situation became a bit awkward when Beckerman was traded to Real Salt Lake for Mehdi Ballouchy in July of that 2007 term. He would become a huge fan favorite in Utah and was named captain before another closing day showdown to decide the Rocky Mountain Cup.
The pressure was on Colorado, who needed a win over their rivals at home to make the playoffs and just a draw to secure the Cup for another season.
Instead, Robbie Findley's 87th minute strike was the lone goal decider, the Rapids missed the postseason and RSL held the rivalry silver aloft for the first time, celebrating on the away field as had happened to them the year before.
Real Salt Lake then went about making habit of playing Colorado spoilers. In 2008, they again knocked the Rapids out of the playoffs with a final day draw in Denver earned through Yura Movsisyan's last gasp strike.
This time, the result not only gained RSL the Rocky Mountain Cup repeat on away goals and agonizingly snuffed Rapids postseason hopes in the waning moments, it earned them a first ever trip to the MLS playoffs.
While Colorado sat at home watching, Real made it to the conference title match by knocking off favored Chivas USA. Any jealousy then felt by the old hand over the new kids was nothing compared to what awaited in 2009.
Not only did RSL win another Rocky Mountain Cup (this time on aggregate, thanks to Movsisyan's late goal in a 3-0 final day home win), they again entered the playoffs at Colorado's pained expense.
This time, they opened the postseason by ousting Supporters Shield winners Columbus, and then won on penalties in Chicago to set up their first MLS Cup berth.
The Rapids - who've only been there once, a loss to D.C. United in the league's second season back in 1997, and have never won a piece of silver in any competition - were left to be envious spectators as their five-year old rivals topped the Los Angeles Galaxy to win an MLS crown before them.
The Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry may be young still, but it is certainly off to a great start. And with both teams reaching the playoffs in 2010, it has already become one of the MLS derbies worth marking the calendar.
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