Regardless of how disappointing Real Salt Lake’s playoff draw with Western Conference rival Sporting Kansas City was late Sunday night at Rio Tinto Stadium — the final count: RSL 1, Sporting 1 — there were reasons the game was worth watching, two in particular.
1) Kyle Beckerman, and 2) Nick Rimando.
For a young RSL outfit, other players might have been more impactful on this occasion, but none has had a bigger impact for RSL. Especially interesting here was the fact that SKC has struggled of late against the two vets. Over the previous 12 RSL-SKC games, Sporting was a mere 1-6-5, including six consecutive league games at Rio Tinto without a victory.
Make it 1-6-6 and seven now. Still, RSL gave up a weighted road goal to SKC, as the teams head for Kansas City.
Back to Kyle and Nick, here’s the thing: Who knows how much longer these old guys/RSL icons will continue playing, how many more playoff games they’ll suit up for? Their excellence might not be everything it once was, and this is the cruel world of professional sports, not anybody’s continuing sentimental toast to past glory. But in these two cases, you have to wonder what RSL would be and would have been without them.
Not what it is and not what it was.
Watching them now, in the twilight of their careers, in the West’s semifinals at Rio Tinto, is like watching great performers sing their last few songs, like watching Sinatra at The Sands, like Springsteen at The Stone Pony, and it’s more than worth the time, the attention and the appreciation to give.
Nicholas Paul Rimando is 39 years old. Kyle Robert Beckerman is 36.
Rimando has played in 382 games for RSL. Beckerman 373. They are the only two players to have competed in every MLS Cup playoff game for which RSL has qualified, every minute.
Rimando is the best goalkeeper in MLS history. Given the man’s dimensions — 5-foot-9, 184 pounds — that assertion is that much more remarkable. Many keepers are built like an octopus. Rimando is built like a Cattle dog. But his command of the box, his shot-stopping have combined to boost him to the top of MLS’ all-time keeper list.
On Sunday night, Rimando made diving saves, tipped rising shots over the crossbar, stopped bang-bang SKC rockets in the second half, but couldn’t prevent one SKC goal.
Beckerman, with or without the dreads, has been the face of the franchise pretty much since RSL acquired him in a trade in July, 2007. Every season, he’s the team’s leader, its heart and soul, having anchored the club throughout. He’s not the equal of his past, but he remains the primary connection between Real and its fans.
On Sunday night, Beckerman steadied the attack, chipped a would-be assist that wasn’t finished, played technical defense … did what Beckerman does.
And so it is that the dynamic duo will plow through what’s left of their careers, straight through to sundown. Nobody knows how much longer they will ply their trades. Not even themselves.
That’s why seeing them on the pitch together in a meaningful playoff setting on Sunday night at Rio Tinto, where their legends were made, now with or without success, was memorable.
Real already has surprised, lasting as long as they have in this postseason, prompting coach Mike Petke to proclaim after Thursday night’s win over favored Los Angeles FC: “You’ve got to love sports.”
You’ve got to love the people who play sports.
Beating LAFC was a big deal. Now, having completed the first of two legs against Sporting KC, awaiting the aggregate score after the second leg to move on or to close down the season, it’s worth underscoring what everybody knows: Even with the emergence of the club’s young players, appreciation for RSL’s longtime mainstays is fitting and proper.
Win or lose, these guys have earned it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.