Carson, Calif. • Jeff Cassar stood tall in the coach’s office inside the visitors’ locker room, sweating like he’d just stood on the line staring at Robbie Keane with the minutes dwindling away. The former goalkeeper and first-year head coach laughed when thinking of ways to describe the fellow keeper he’s watched make play after play for the last seven years.
And how to appropriately summarize what he saw.
Before Nick Rimando leapt to ensure three points in Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 season-opening win over rival L.A. Galaxy at the StubHub Center, he stayed on his line as long as could, knowing the Galaxy striker stutter-steps when approaching the ball.
Keane did. Rimando read it and stuffed the stoppage-time penalty attempt by the Galaxy captain.
“That’s Nick,” said Cassar, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead after his first win as RSL head coach. “He’s that guy.”
Real Salt Lake found a way to keep its now-lengthy regular-season opening winning streak — which has reached five — very much alive with its victory over the Galaxy. Forward Joao Plata delivered the first fatal blow in the 80th minute when he found himself one-on-one with Jaime Penedo, a situation in which the 22-year-old Ecuadorian was calm and slotted the game-winner by the Galaxy goalkeeper.
The ball, originally played in by substitute Cole Grossman, found the foot of Kyle Beckerman, whose pass to Plata rolled through the Galaxy defense, leaving Plata there to easily finish the job.
“He deserved that goal,” said midfielder Javier Morales of Plata. “He worked hard tonight.”
While Plata’s goal gave RSL its launching-off point to continue its season-opening streak and a shot at a full three points, it was Rimando’s save that cemented the win over the Galaxy.
“I knew I was going to get some shots,” Rimando said. “Today was one of those days where I felt the ball was bigger than it is.”
The penalty-kick save, a specific skill Rimando continues to be known for throughout professional and international soccer, came off a controversial foul called when substitute forward Rob Friend went down in the box in the final minutes of the match.
Faced with saving the day once again, Rimando was modest and said preserving the result didn’t come down to him, adding, “In that moment … felt like they wanted to take the game away a little bit.”
But then he remembered Keane’s stutter-steps, made the save and was eventually engulfed by teammates when the final whistle blew.
“I just stood my ground,” Rimando said. “I know [Keane] likes to look up and see where the goalkeeper goes, so I just stayed up as long as I could and reacted to the shot.”
RSL didn’t have as many point-blank opportunities as L.A. — Rimando faced 14 shots, six of which were on goal — but it had a goal disallowed in the 75th minute of play when MLS rookie Luke Mulholland, making his MLS debut, ran onto a mess inside the Galaxy box after Plata found forward Alvaro Saborio. Mulholland poked it into the back of the net, but the sideline official whistled it off.
But it didn’t matter. RSL weathered the storms it knew it had to. And thanks to a valiant defensive effort, a goal from its young forward and a Rimando penalty save, the 2014 season has three points to it.
“What I’m really most excited about,” Cassar said, “is the fight that the team had.”