Kragthorpe: Rimando bigger than ever for RSL
A highly technical soccer term describes the way 5-foot-10 Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake came out of the net Wednesday and created an obstacle for Monterrey star Humberto Suazo, trying to score on a breakaway.
Raising his arms and widening his body, Rimando "made himself big," said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
The bold strategy worked. Suazo missed the shot. And there could be no better way to summarize Rimando's impact as RSL's goalkeeper.
Made himself big? I'd say so. Ever since arriving in 2007 and becoming the team MVP during a tough season, Rimando has anchored the rebuilding of RSL that led to a Major League Soccer championship in '09 and positioned the team for a bid to the FIFA Club World Cup.
All that remains is Wednesday's second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium. This thought is irresistible, if not realistic: If Rimando shuts out Monterrey, RSL advances.
That's asking a lot, after Rimando's outstanding work was necessary just to hold Monterrey to two goals in a first-leg tie in Mexico. Yet even a 1-1 draw would be sufficient for RSL, based on the format that values road goals, and it all adds up to Rimando's importance being bigger than ever.
That's fine with him. Possessing the confidence an elite goalkeeper needs, Rimando is comfortable as a team leader and face of the franchise. Other than maybe Kyle Beckerman, Rimando is the most recognizable RSL player. Established in Salt Lake City with his wife, Jacqui, and two young children, Rimando likes to interact with fans through social media.
Via Twitter, he's promoting a "Red Out" in the stands for Wednesday's game. Meanwhile, he'll be wearing black, in a distinguishing goalkeeper's uniform, and trying to keep Suazo and his teammates out of the net.
"In the back of our minds, we know 0-0 is good enough, but we want to get some goals," Rimando said after a weekend practice in Lehi. "We can't just sit back and play defense the whole game. That's not our game, that's not our strategy and it never will be, because we don't play good that way."
So Real will play aggressively, which means Monterrey will have counter-attacking opportunities and Rimando will have to come through just as he did in Mexico, where one of Monterrey's goals came via a penalty kick. "That's my job," he said. "As good of a team as they are, they're going to get those chances."
Now in his 12th MLS season, Rimando thrives in moments like this. "It's about hunger, when you reach Nick's stage," said coach Jason Kreis, and Rimando has it. His level of confidence is higher than ever, he responds to big games, and the players in front of him feed off him.
"It's not just the saves, it's the communication, it's the demeanor," Borchers said. "A lot of those things kind of play into the way we play defense."
In the MLS Cup victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, Rimando's save of Edson Buddle's penalty kick ultimately made him the MVP, once Robbie Russell delivered the winning kick. Rimando followed that performance with a brilliant 2010 season, recording 14 shutouts and a 0.67 goals-against average, doing everything but being named Goalkeeper of the Year, which was an injustice.
Rimando is playing well in both MLS and Champions League games this spring, and he will be vital Wednesday. Asked jokingly if he's seeing Suazo in his sleep, Rimando responded intently, "Not at all. He's a fantastic player â¦ but we've got to concentrate on ourselves right now. When we do that, we play well."
And this is one more time for RSL to rise up. One more time for Nick Rimando to make himself big.
Nick Rimando file
Age • 31
College • UCLA
Family • Wife, Jacqui; son, Jett Nicholas; daughter, Benny Rose
Contract status • Signed through 2013
MLS titles • D.C. United ('04), RSL ('09)
Awards • RSL team MVP ('07), MLS Cup MVP ('09), MLS All-Star ('10)
Twitter • @NickRimando (4,709 followers)