Herriman • Life as a backup goalie can be difficult. The starter gets the focus of the training sessions, all 90 minutes in games and the always-valuable experience.
The backup, however, trains just as hard as the starter and travels just as much. But when the whistle blows, that player is on the bench, watching intently from the sideline, waiting a turn.
Unless something happens to the starter, such as a national team call-up or an injury. Then, and likely only then, will the backup get a chance to showcase his or her skills. That’s what has happened to Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Andrew Putna.
The second-year player out of the University of Illinois-Chicago has started the past three games for RSL in the absence of veteran Nick Rimando, who’s been working his way back from a left knee injury he suffered in training a few weeks ago. During that stretch, Putna, 24, has collected six saves and conceded two goals. The club is 1-2-0 with him as the starter.
“I’ve seen somebody that’s had an opportunity kind of presented to him and he’s jumped at the opportunity, and he’s performed well,” goalkeeper coach Todd Hoffard said of Putna. “Obviously, with any young goalkeeper, you’re going to have a few bumps in the road and maybe make a mistake here and there, but they’ve been pretty minimal. I think he’s just excited for the opportunity.”
Rimando amped up his activity in training this week and appears to not be limited in any way. It remains unclear whether he will play Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. He is officially considered questionable for the Rapids game.
Even when Rimando plays, Putna’s approach doesn’t change. In his mind, he trains as if he will be named the starter every week. He has to, especially because there are not many goalkeepers on a Major League Soccer roster.
“The one thing about goalkeepers is since we’re such a small group, you really can’t hide,” Putna said earlier this week. “Everyone comes in and works hard every day. There’s not 25 other guys where sometimes players can get away with some other stuff.”
College: University of Illinois-Chicago
Drafted 48th overall in 2017
Appeared in six games over two seasons with the Real Monarchs
Putna made his 2019 debut in the road win over FC Cincinnati. And it just so happened that he flew back to Salt Lake City with a shutout under his belt.
Defender Nedum Onuoha said he has been impressed with Putna since he signed with the team last September. Other than the change in accents between Rimando and Putna, Onuoha has not experienced much of a difference with the Illinois-born keeper in front of the goal.
That’s a good thing.
"He’s very good at giving information the same way I would expect from a goalkeeper behind me,” Onuoha said. “So, in terms of a change, I think it’s a different face, but the standard remains the same.”
Putna said he has sought out veterans like Rimando, Onuoha and Kyle Beckerman to ask for advice on how to get his teammates to trust him while he’s out on the field. Putna believes it’s important to gain that trust as someone who is in charge of organizing the last line of defense.
“I’m still a younger guy on the team,” Putna said. "I want to be a leader for this team. My job requires me to be a leader. So I do try to lead as much as I can. That’s the biggest thing. As long as they have confidence in me back there, that’s what matters.”
Putna’s backup status means certain parts of his training regimen have to be done “behind the scenes,” Hoffard said, including work before and after training so he can be ready physically and mentally in the event he’s chosen to start on any given week.
“That’s always the biggest challenge with any reserve goalkeeper,” Hoffard said. “That No. 2 is always the one on the back burner, so to speak. It’s a matter of doing some extra work on the side if you need to make sure they’re getting the work that they need.”
Head coach Mike Petke has spoken positively about Putna filling in for Rimando, who will retire at season’s end. He said Putna also played well last season when Rimando got hurt during a game and he had to be thrust into the lineup.
“He has a great attitude, he’s learning, he’s getting experience,” Petke said. “It’s good to know that if something happens to Nick, that we have someone like him.”
Putna’s stint as a starter will soon end. When it does, there’s no telling when he’ll be called upon to play meaningful minutes for RSL. Until that happens, Putna will be ready, chomping at the chance to get his opportunity as the go-to goalkeeper.
“Me and Nick have a good relationship, but I come in every day trying to take his job. Really,” Putna said. “That’s the mentality I have. That’s the mentality every player really has here. Everyone’s coming in trying to prove themselves. … Even if you are the backup, you always strive for more.”
REAL SALT LAKE AT COLORADO RAPIDS
At Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Kickoff » Saturday 7 p.m. MDT
TV » KMYU
Radio » ESPN700
Last meeting » RSL 6, Colorado 0 (Aug. 25, 2018 Rio Tinto Stadium)
Records » RSL 3-6-1, Colorado 0-8-2
About Colorado » Kei Kamara leads team with seven goals. … Have not won a game yet this season. … Rapids have scored 14 goals, but conceded 27. … Conceded four goals three times this season. … Recently acquired winger Jonathan Lewis from New York City FC. … Organization fired head coach Anthony Hudson on May 1.
About RSL » Currently on a two-game losing streak. … Accrued just 10 point in first 10 games of the season. … Albert Rusnák leads team with four goals, two of which have come on penalties. ... Tony Beltran (knee) and Kyle Beckerman (hamstring) are out. ... Erik Holt (ankle), Everton Luiz (knee) and Nick Rimando (knee) are questionable.