Under a cloud of smoke from pregame fireworks, Real Salt Lake veterans Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman stood together and gave their teammates a pep talk. They riffed off each other like only a pair going on 11 consecutive seasons together can do, leading RSL to a dramatic late draw at Los Angeles last weekend to remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
“Especially for young guys like me and Danny [Acosta] and Brooks [Lennon],” 20-year-old center back Justen Glad said, “we’re all looking at them — still being molded as players — and we’re picking up habits from them. … And then on the field I’ve got Nick behind me, giving me solid advice, Becks in front of me kind of being a stopper in a sense, and it’s awesome to be able to play with them.”
One of the subplots in RSL’s playoff push is that Beckerman and Rimando are in the final season of their contracts, and RSL likely won’t prevent the two from entering free agency. The team will hash out negotiations as the season winds down, RSL general manager Craig Waibel said.
“With regards to specifically Nick and Kyle, we’ll make every effort to keep them, there’s no question,” Waibel told the Tribune, “but good players have good decisions to make. That’s what happens when you’re good.”
Over the course of their careers, Beckerman and Rimando have become synonymous with Real Salt Lake. Originally Miami Fusion teammates in 2000-2001, they reunited in Utah six years later. The pair helped Real Salt Lake to the 2009 MLS Cup and are two of four holdovers from that team along with Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert.
Rimando and Beckerman led RSL back to MLS Cup in 2013, losing in penalty kicks to Sporting Kansas City, and both were part of the U.S. 2014 World Cup squad with Beckerman playing all three group-stage games.
“We were lucky enough to cross paths again after the Miami thing, and then to find ourselves here with kind of — this blank canvas really, to build the foundation for this club going forward,” Beckerman said.
According to figures published by the MLS Players Union, Rimando is set to earn $470,000 in guaranteed compensation this season, and Beckerman $825,000. Only Designated Players Yura Movsisyan and Albert Rusnák make more than Beckerman at RSL.
“Well, for me the history hasn’t been the greatest here with contract situations for some guys, and I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement,” Beckerman told the Tribune. “But we’ve got two games left and I still have yet to get an offer. So I’m prepared for the worst, but I’m hopeful that everything will turn out good.”
Lingering in fans’ memories is how RSL handled negotiations with another franchise legend last offseason. After 10 years with RSL, Javier Morales abruptly left the franchise, saying he was stunned when the team did not pick up his 2017 option.
“The club has to continue to make decisions to try and continue to improve the team around these guys,” Waibel said, “because — having played and having lived this — what Nick and Kyle are owed from the organization in my opinion is the ability to win a championship. They’ve done so much for the organization.”
If the team were to lose both Beckerman and Rimando to free agency, the fan base would likely revolt. The two continue to perform at a high level despite their ages, which will certainly factor into negotiations.
But there’s a catch.
“To make the opportunity of staying to win a championship, there’s going to have to be sacrifices on both ends,” Waibel said. “But at the same time, that’s part of the process in MLS because it’s not as simple as asking for more money.”
Even with RSL’s second-half surge, the front office has work to do in the offseason. The team added attacking midfielder Albert Rusnák in January and used the summer transfer window to sign center back Marcelo Silva, but Real Salt Lake could benefit from further strengthening the spine of the lineup. Those positions up the center of the field also tend to be the most expensive to fill.
The pair served as the heroes in RSL’s 1-1 draw at L.A. last weekend. Beckerman scored the equalizer in the final minute of stoppage time, and Rimando made six saves to give 10-man RSL a boost.
“We were a man down for 75 minutes, and for us to get the goal in stoppage time shows we didn’t give up,” Petke said after the match. “Our captain, who leads this team on a daily basis, unbelievable to get that [goal]. It shows what he means to this club and it shows who he is. For Nick Rimando to keep us in this game, down a man, for the amount of shots he faced and the difficult saves he had to make, it was a joy to watch.”
It’s now up to the front office, Beckerman and Rimando to see if they can agree on how much that’s worth.