Kansas City, Mo. • At first glance, Nick Rimando saw a nervous 18-year-old kid thrust into the unfortunate situation of living with his club’s general manager. He didn’t know Kyle Beckerman. He didn’t know what kind of soccer player he was or his disposition.
But Rimando thought about how awkward he’d feel if he was brand new to a Major League Soccer team and suddenly crashing with the boss. So his first reaction was to extend a hand, introduce himself and invite Beckerman to pack his bags and stay somewhere else, with guys somewhat similar to his own age.
As a rookie goalkeeper fresh out of UCLA with the now-defunct Miami Fusion 13 years ago, Rimando told the kid from Maryland — brand new to the club after signing through the Nike Project-40 program for young soccer players — there was extra room.
“Maybe Nick felt for me,” Beckerman said. “We just hit it off like that.”
Seems like eons ago to the pair, now the two iconic foundations of a professional soccer team in the Salt Lake Valley. Their trails to Real Salt Lake wound around the country, around different clubs and individual trials they never expected. The two will emerge from the tunnel Saturday at Sporting Park in the MLS Cup, their fourth final together in their respective years with RSL.
Several moving parts — players, coaches, front office folk — have contributed to RSL’s rapid rise in MLS, but Beckerman and Rimando have expounded upon their talent under the regime of coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey, whom the pair played with in Miami in 2000.
“It’s kind of hard to personally put that into context because I know them to be pretty awesome people,” Lagerwey said, describing what the pair means to the club. “Extremely hard workers, and of course, they’re really talented. On some level, you can’t overcomplicate this stuff. If somebody works hard, and they’re really good, it’s going to work out.”
But there was a time when neither Beckerman nor Rimando imagined he’d escape his own professional perils. Beckerman was drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the 2002 MLS Dispersal Draft, while Rimando eventually found his way to D.C. United, where he went on to win an MLS Cup title.
Beckerman’s road to potentially a spot on next summer’s World Cup team in Brazil stagnated in Colorado. He said he felt lost in the Denver area. Kreis, who in the latter stages of his career moved from striker to midfield, recounts facing his now captain as taxing.
“He was particularly annoying because he talks on the field,” Kreis said about Beckerman, “and that is the type of competitor that’ll talk a bit to you.”
The inconsistencies in Colorado began to wear a bit on Beckerman. A friend noticed.
“In the beginning stages of this league, there were a lot of people who came to this league from Europe or South American who played [Beckerman’s] position,” Rimando said, “but Kyle was 10 times better than a guy. But because he wasn’t from Europe or other countries, he wasn’t getting credit.”
Rimando suffered a torn ACL in 2003 after winning the league title with D.C., a game Lagerwey called during his time as a TV broadcaster on the East Coast. Competition between Rimando and young goalkeeper Troy Perkins stayed fierce for some time before Rimando was left figuring out who would give him a shot in 2006. Real Salt Lake offered a chance. Beckerman was shipped from over the Rockies to RSL later that season.
One of the first phone calls made was to Rimando.
“My first thought was, ‘Man, they only have one win,’” Beckerman said. “But it got a little easier to take.”
The duo has excelled and marketed themselves both locally and nationally with their talent and style of play in the years since the reunion. Rimando has a locally brewed beer named after him. Beckerman, true to RSL’s regal motto, is known as RSL’s lion, further illustrated by his trademark dreadlocks.
“I think he was born to lead,” Rimando said. “I’ve been under his wing as my captain for a while now, and this year in particular, he stands out. I’ve never seen him lead the way he is this year. There’s something about this year that’s really driving him.”
Beckerman respectfully disagreed with one of his closest friends, deferring the attention and compliment to Rimando.
“People expect Nick to be at the highest level,” Beckerman said. “That’s why he gets picked over Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI and stuff, because he’s so steady and constantly plays at a high level.”
While their paths to Utah started in Southern Florida a decade ago, getting back together and being part of a club’s core is considered one of their finest accomplishments. The successes of RSL has allowed them to be in the discussion for Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23 in Brazil next summer, and of course, their second MLS Cup appearance — and perhaps another title — together.
Beckerman & Rimando
Age • 31
Position • Holding midfielder and team captain
Career • Miami Fusion, 2000-2001; Colorado Rapids, 2002-2007, Real Salt Lake, 2007-present. Has 33 career caps with the U.S. men’s national team.
Acquired • July 16, 2007 in trade that sent Mehdi Ballouchy to Colorado.
Age • 34
Position • Goalkeeper
Career • Miami Fusion, 2000-2001; D.C. United, 2002-2006; Real Salt Lake, 2007-present. Has 12 career caps with the United States men’s national team.
Acquired • Dec. 11, 2006 in a trade that sent Freddy Adu and Rimando to RSL.