Real Salt Lake: Josh Saunders gives RSL goalkeeper insurance
When it comes to a backup behind All-Star goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake is in good hands.
Josh Saunders, a two-time MLS Cup champion, signed with RSL in February and will make his third start of the season Saturday night at FC Dallas.
Asked about Saunders' role with Real Salt Lake, general manager Garth Lagerwey smiled and said, "That's one a heck of an insurance policy, isn't it?"
Considering the success Saunders enjoyed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, his availability and RSL's ability to sign him surprised everyone.
"I was flabbergasted," Lagerwey admitted.
With Saunders in goal, L.A. went 28-9-8 over the last two seasons and won back-to-back MLS championships. He allowed only one goal in two MLS Cup finals.
Early in the 2012 season, however, Sanders spent time in the league's substance abuse and behavioral health treatment program. Months later, after L.A. won its second straight title, the Galaxy did not re-sign him.
"You always have times in your career when it's time to move on when things aren't working out," Saunders said. "It wasn't a matter of me wanting to leave but, at that point, it was almost a necessity."
In Salt Lake, Lagerwey headed into the season with a muddled goalkeeper situation. Rimando was returning as the starter, of course, but RSL had only untested possibilities behind him.
"Honestly, we weren't going to spend money on a backup goalkeeper," Lagerwey said. "We were going to go young."
There was another piece to the puzzle, however.
With Rimando scheduled for extended duty with the U.S. national team in 2013, RSL's backup keeper was destined for a critical role.
"When we saw he was available, we did a double-take," Lagerwey said. "And when he jumped at the chance to join us, we said, 'Of course we're going to sign him.' "
Saunders quickly removed one possible obstacle to signing with Real Salt Lake. When Lagerwey requested he come to Utah for what amounted to a job interview, Saunders didn't hesitate.
"This is a guy that's played in three MSL Cup finals," Lagerwey said. "But he said, 'Yes, absolutely. I totally can't wait to do that. I know the off-the-field stuff matters.' "
Saunders also knew Rimando was cemented into the job as Real Salt Lake's No. 1 goalkeeper.
"I'm lucky to be here," he said. "... You always want to be on a winning team and you always want to be pushed. Obviously, Nick's been a top goalkeeper in this league for a long time, so you look at it as a challenge. If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best and train with the best."
Saunders made his first start for RSL on March 23 at Dallas. Real was missing 11 players because of call-ups and injuries and lost, 2-0, when Dallas scored twice in the final 20 minutes.
Last week, with Rimando gone again, Saunders made his second start against Philadelphia.
Real managed a 2-2 draw by scoring late in stoppage time, but Saunders enabled RSL to earn a point in the standings by stopping Sebastian Le Toux on a clean breakaway just moments earlier.
"We were pushing to get the [tying] goal and you can expose yourself when you're doing that," Saunders said. "... So it was my role to keep us in the game at that point."
As Le Toux raced forward, Saunders held his ground and made his critically important save: "I just sat there and put a little pressure on him. I didn't go down early and make it easy for him."
According to Lagerwey, Saunders' effort against Philadelphia underscores the value of having a talented 1-2 punch in goal.
"We're really, really happy with both goalkeepers," he said. "I think, arguably, this has been the finest year of Nick's career."
"He's been a faithful, enthusiastic and loyal soldier," Lagerwey said. "He's been there whenever we've needed him. He's been a great addition to the club from a character perspective and an on-the-field standpoint."
RSL at FC Dallas
P At FC Dallas Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Kickoff • 7 p.m. (MDT)
TV • CW30
Radio • ESPN 700-AM, 1600-AM
Records • Real Salt Lake 10-5-4, FC Dallas 8-4-7
Season series • Dallas FC, 1-0
Last meeting • Dallas FC, 2-0 (March 22)
About RSL • Undefeated in 10 consecutive matches. ... Third-highest scoring team in Major League Soccer (29 goals). ... Defender Lovel Palmer will not play due to a red card suspension. ... RSL has never won a league game in Dallas (0-8-2).
About Dallas • Only 0-3-3 in its last six matches. ... Comes off a 2-0 loss to the Galaxy in L.A. ... Hasn't won since a 3-0 victory at Houston on June 12. ... Forward Blas Perez has scored a team-high six goals. He had nine goals last season.