Better late than never, RSL's Nick Rimando makes it to World Cup
It was four years ago that close to 200 friends gathered in Las Vegas. Nick Rimando was part of the large group that figured renting a house outside the world's biggest party town was the perfect spot for the world's biggest party the World Cup. Rimando wore a jersey to the festivities. Actually, everybody did.
On the back of his U.S. men's national team shirt was the No. 3. The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper and his friends huddled around TVs in the house, to the 2010 tournament in South Africa. They were all there to support their old Southern California cohort, Carlos Bocanegra, a center back who'd become a fixture with the U.S. men's national team. Rimando and Bocanegra played together at UCLA from 1997 to 1999.
It was just seven months after Rimando helped propel RSL to the 2009 MLS Cup title. During that championship run, he stopped penalty kick after penalty kick. In Chicago, he stopped them to help lead his team past the Fire and to the championship game. In Seattle against David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the L.A. Galaxy, Rimando stopped them again.
But here was Rimando, in Vegas instead of Capetown, wearing a replica USA jersey instead of the real thing. In 2010, making a U.S. World Cup roster seemed like a long way away for the RSL keeper, perhaps even out of reach.
Former D.C. United coach Bruce Arena had a plethora of talented goalkeepers like Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tony Meola at his disposal when he coached the U.S. men's team in 2002 and 2006. Team USA successor Bob Bradley chose Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann in 2010.
It was hard "to get a sniff," Rimando said. "When things aren't broken, don't fix it. Those coaches [had] been around for a while, they've had their players, and I wasn't one of them. I took that in stride and I was fine with that, but I also knew I could play at that level. I knew I had what it took. I just needed my chance."
That chance would finally come, when Rimando least expected it.
From Rose Bowl to Recife
The buzz in the air was palpable and Nick Rimando could sense it. He and the other teen members of the U.S. U-14 national team weaved through the packed Pasedena streets around the Rose Bowl. The Montclair, Calif., native was in his own backyard, on his way to watch a 1994 World Cup match: U.S. vs. Colombia. Rimando and his buddies were part of the 93,689 packed into the historic stadium when the Americans beat the Colombians, 2-1.
"That's when the U.S. really fell in love with soccer," Rimando said.
Twenty years later, the memory of being at that game remains. Twenty years later, Rimando is on the pitch, preparing with his U.S. teammates for Monday's World Cup opener against Ghana.
Rimando will be on the bench in Brazil. He's the third goalkeeper, part of the 23-man U.S. roster assigned to Group G, the so-called "Group of Death" that includes Portugal and Germany, in addition to Ghana.
Rimando turns 35 on Tuesday, the day after the Americans' opener in Natal, Brazil. For a guy who has been cutting his teeth in MLS since 2000, it will be hard to top this birthday.
"You play â¦ for the love of this sport," he said. "Obviously I do it to take care of my family, but the World Cup is an accomplishment in its own and something that I can always tell my kids or my grandkids. That tournament [Brazil] is going to be around forever."
Rimando's role with the U.S. throughout World Cup qualifying, the training camp, the three international friendlies and on into Brazil will be to help prepare the others, while assuring the coaching staff and himself that he'll be ready if disaster strikes the U.S. goalkeeper corps.
"He's as good of a goalkeeper this league has seen in its history," said D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, Rimando's longtime friend and former teammate. "I know he'll do a great job if he's called upon, but most likely if he's not called upon, he's going to do a great job to be a perfect guy around that team. He's going to have the right tone."
Right coach, right time
It was always a question Rimando thought deserved an answer to.
Every coach has their preferences, but whether it was his lack of height (5-foot-9), his injury history or something else, Rimando wondered why his national team aspirations continually fizzled for seven long years.
His first cap came in November 2002 against El Salvador, back when he was 22. But it took until his mid-30s to really get noticed. And the guy who noticed him was Jurgen Klinsmann, hired as U.S. national team boss in 2011.
For Rimando, Klinsmann's elevation to the top post changed everything.
Quickly becoming a favorite of the new coach because of his agility and professionalism, Rimando received multiple call-ups to the national team. And he made the most of his opportunity.
The RSL goalkeeper put on a clinic in a start against Panama in January 2012 and eventually helped lead the U.S. to a CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament title in 2013, going 6-0-0 and registering two shutouts. It was, as is the case for many international players, simply a case of Rimando bringing his RSL form to the national team level. Without the brick-by-brick ascension of RSL, Klinsmann probably wouldn't have noticed the undersized goalkeeper in Utah.
"I think I fit his role of what [Klinsmann] wants, on the field and off," Rimando said. "I've made it clear and he's made it clear of my role, and I'm taking that in with every stride.
"The second part of that is we have a lot of good goalkeepers in this league and in this country and coming up. I've been in this league for a while now, there's a lot of competition. Tons of competition. Goalkeepers go up and they go down, they go up and they go down, but with the consistency of my play and the consistency of Real Salt Lake Jurgen sees, when I go into campÂ he knows what he gets from me."
An organization man
Rimando's role is to keep the back line, no matter who's playing in front of him, organized and on the same page.
The transition from club team to national squad also brings intrigue. MLS stars typically see Rimando as the last line of defense in league play, but can lean upon him for his expertise on how to expose other goalkeepers with the national team.
"It's an easy transition for me to go in and try to get these guys to score, or in training, get the best out of them," he said. "I want them to have the chance to score and do well."
Olsen said Rimando's personality and attitude in the locker room are "infectious." The former U.S. men's World Cup midfielder who also married Rimando and wife Jacqui says his close friend should play an integral part of keeping things loose ahead of the three monumental group-stage matches. After Ghana, the U.S. faces Portugal and then Germany.
"He has a real good feel, I think, for what the team needs," whether it's "to be serious or for him to be loose," Olsen said. "He's a prankster, a guy in the locker room organizing social events, cutting up someone's tie, putting salt in someone's underwear; he was always leading that charge. But when you knew it was time to go to work, he was there. He is vital to teams obviously on the field and in his ability as a goalkeeper, but his presence in the locker room is very special."
The opportunity Rimando thought was long gone will now play out over the course of the next few weeks. And he expects his group of friends to gather somewhere and watch, just like 2010. Only this time, the jersey number worn by everyone will probably be Rimando's.
Twitter: @chriskamrani Rimando's long road to Brazil
Age • 34
Position • Goalkeeper
Hometown • Claremont, Calif.
Pro career • Real Salt Lake (2007-present), D.C. United (2002-2006), Miami Fusion (2000-2001). Has 111 career regular-season MLS shutouts, sits one shutout away from tying all-time record (112, Kevin Hartman). Has 1,253 saves and has logged over 32,000 minutes in his 15-year MLS career.
International career • Named to official 23-man U.S. roster for 2014 World Cup in Brazil on May 22. Collected 10-0-1 record in 11 caps with USMNT first team, his 10 wins are tied for fifth on the all-time goalkeeper victories list (Brad Guzan), went 6-0-0 during 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, including two shutouts. Made senior international debut on Nov. 17, 2002, combining with Tim Howard for 2-0 shutout win over El Salvador.
Transactions • Acquired in trade along with Freddy Adu from D.C. United for goalkeeper Jay Nolly on Dec. 11, 2006. Traded to New York Red Bulls on Feb. 9, 2007, for future considerations before being reacquired by RSL on Feb. 23, 2007, for a 2008 MLS SuperDraft pick.
Games played • Started 244 matches across all competitions for RSL, logging 21,825 minutes with the club.
Slugger Puig gives Rimando a shoutout
O RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando got a high-profile shoutout Friday night from Dodgers star Yasiel Puig, who posted a photo on Twitter of himself in a Rimando jersey while wishing the goalie and the Americans good luck. See the photos on Puig's Twitter feed. > bit.ly/rimandopuig