Three Points: Rapids take Rocky Mountain Cup for first time in 5 years

After Real Salt Lake’s 4-1 battering of the Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park three weeks ago, everyone thought the 2020 Rocky Mountain Cup had been decided.

Real Salt Lake claimed the trophy on Twitter, and Rapids coach Robin Fraser conceded Friday that the Cup wasn’t at the front of his club’s mind.

It looked like the trophy would be won by the Claret-and-Cobalt for a fifth straight year.

Maybe the Rapids’ first goal in Saturday night’s stunning 5-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium should’ve been a sign everything was about to change.

It came just three minutes in, when forward Diego Rubio scored for the first time in 10 matches this season.

“After the first goal, it was a release,” Rubio said. “It was like 20 pounds off my back.”

Or maybe it was Rubio’s second score, seven minutes later, that reminded everyone that this was indeed a rivalry.

“As soon as we scored two it was like finally, we are playing the way we want,” Rubio said. “After two goals, especially on the road, we were calm.”

No doubt the third score woke up a sleeping Rapids Nation that hadn’t seen the club win since March 7.

It was Colorado native Sam Vines’ first career goal, coming four minutes into the second half off a wonderful juke and cross from Younes Namli.

“Without winning in six months, nobody was thinking about the Cup. We just wanted to score,” Rubio said.

Before they could even catch their breath in the Rocky Mountain air of Rio Tinto, the Rapids scored a fourth — six minutes later — that felt historic.

Braian Galván netted the first of his MLS career, with assists from Cole Bassett and Rubio. It put the Rapids ahead 4-0 and gave them a 5-4 edge on the Cup aggregate with 35 minutes to play.

All they needed to secure the Cup was their first clean sheet of the year — or a fifth road goal for just the second time in franchise history.

They did both.

Newly acquired William Yarbrough made his final stop in the 56th minute to record the club’s first shutout since Tim Howard retired.

And Bassett, the 19-year-old Coloradan, put the finishing touches on the Rapids’ first win over Real Salt Lake since 2017 with a fifth and final tally.

The goal came off rookie Jeremy Kelly’s first assist after he beat seven defenders.

“It was amazing,” an elated Rubio said postgame.

Up the ‘Pids?

The Rapids are now unbeaten in their last four matches and tied for the West’s final playoff spot.

Saturday’s increible 5-0 win — Colorado’s first at Rio Tinto — was the largest victory margin in club history.

“Tonight is the first night other people can see what we’re doing,” Fraser said. “I’ve seen this progress coming. I’ve seen an identity building. This is us validating the work we’ve been doing.”

The Rapids are now positive on goal differential and sit above powerhouse LAFC on the table.

“No question the team feels good about themselves. We have been pretty good for the last number of weeks and we’ve not really rewarded ourselves,” Fraser said. “It’s a feeling of satisfaction.”

Ruby, do you know what you’re doing to me?

Rubio had solid performances in 2020 but had yet to get on the scoresheet. Scoring two goals in 10 minutes Saturday, he broke through for a Rapids offense that badly needed production from its forwards.

“Diego was absolutely fantastic tonight,” Fraser said. “… I’m very happy for him, I think it was a very big moment for him.”

Rubio scored 11 goals in 2019, but had gone nine matches without one this season. With times tough, he turned to his father, Hugo, who spent eight years on the Chilean national team.

“I was trying everything. I talked to my father to find out why I was not scoring,” Rubio said. “I felt like I needed to be more in the box.”

Cup home in Commerce City

For just the fourth time in 14 years, the Rocky Mountain Cup belongs to the burgundy boys.

The Rapids’ six goals in this season’s two Cup matches represent the club’s largest scoring total in the series since it netted seven in 2006.