A teenage Nick Rimando kicks the soccer ball around his house when he accidentally punts it into his family’s entertainment center. It slams into the glass doors, shattering them and showering the floor in little shards.
He’d already broken several lamps, so his parents weren’t entirely surprised. And his mom, Rose, was constantly telling him, “Not in the house. Not in the house.”
But growing up, Rimando couldn’t help it. Soccer was all he wanted to do. All he wanted to be.
“It was something we got over real quick,” said Marcus Rimando, Nick’s father. “It may make a future for him or something — which it happened to be.”
That incorrigible boy eventually became the greatest goalkeeper in Major League Soccer history. Now, Rimando — who will play his final regular season home game Sunday against Houston — is Real Salt Lake’s most iconic player, the holder of virtually every goalkeeping record in MLS, a two-time MLS Cup champion, and a U.S. Men’s National Team veteran.
At the end of the 2019 season, Rimando will say goodbye to an illustrious 20-year career during which he has evolved from college phenom to all-world shot stopper to legend. There were bumps along the way. He almost left MLS a couple of times, and, two offseasons ago, he almost left RSL.
But when Rimando looks back on his life in soccer, the milestones — his high school, college and club successes, the 2014 World Cup, his two MLS Cup trophies — don’t instantly leap to mind.
“There’s not just one moment,” Rimando said. “There can’t be one moment in 20 years.”
Small stature, big skills
When Ian Joy first started playing with Rimando after signing with RSL in 2008 as a free agent, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Joy stands at 5-foot-9 — the same height as Rimando — but he didn’t realize the goalkeeper was actually that short.
So when moments came in games where he’d be the last defender and get beat, only for Rimando to salvage the sequence with a save, it further cemented what Joy had previously seen from the outside: This guy was special.
Goalkeepers traditionally stand around 6 feet and taller. But Rimando’s shorter stature meant he could more easily develop catlike reflexes. He could use his seemingly innate ability to read the flight of the ball and stop it in its path.
“It was incredible to me that a guy his size could have such an impact,” Joy said. “I think his size helped him have the career he had. It certainly didn’t hold him back.”
Then there were Rimando’s feet. When practically anyone speaks about what they first noticed about him, they say he had elite ball-handling skills for a goalie.
When Bill Schwartz, Rimando’s former club coach in Southern California, first worked with the R.C. United Under-16 group of players that included Rimando, it was on a field with no goals. He had the kids run a basic drill and Rimando’s ball control stood out immediately.
“Honestly, I thought he might be a forward,” Schwartz said. “I had no idea at that time that he was a goalkeeper.”
Even when he was young, Rimando was the type of player willing to attend practice the morning after returning from the USMNT Under-17 World Cup in Ecuador. The type of player who dislocated his pinky finger in practice, got the trainer to pop it back in, and insisted on continuing.
Rimando took those traits to MLS, where many believe he introduced soccer to a new type of goalkeeper. Current RSL teammate Kyle Beckerman said Rimando started the trend of coaches looking for “possession-oriented” keepers and ended the stereotype that a player in that position had to be a certain height.
Another current teammate, Tony Beltran, who recently announced his own retirement, said Rimando’s career has that much more credibility due to his ability to excel with what were once a unique — and possibly undesired or undervalued — set of skills.
“He is the best goalkeeper of MLS history," Beltran said, “and he’s done it regardless of what anybody else thinks.”
Earlier this year, Rimando was in Dallas visiting his good friend Tad Bowler, whom he has known for almost 30 years. Before Bowler showed up at this hotel to meet him for dinner, Rimando cracked the door to this room and set a Styrofoam cup full of water on top of it, hoping that when Bowler entered, it would fall and drench him.
Even though the cup missed Bowler, the tale highlights Rimando’s frisky side, his ability to make others laugh and laugh at himself. Joy calls them Nick’s “annoying little pranks.” When together at RSL, Joy said Rimando would cut up socks, sneak things in players’ cars or pockets, and hide their shoes.
Eric Dugan, another of Rimando’s close friends, said those high jinks go all the way back to his youth.
“You had to be on your toes when you were around him," he said, “or else you’d end up on the wrong side of one his stupid jokes.”
One of Rimando’s favorite pranks, Dugan said, is to look over someone’s shoulder while in the middle of a conversation and pretend to wave at someone else. The person would stop and look, but there’s never anyone there.
Rimando’s humor and energy are galvanizing. Beltran recalled that during his rookie year, no matter the magnitude of the game, Rimando would juggle the ball around in the locker room before kickoff and challenge his teammates to hit it off the wall and into a nearby trash can.
“Nick has a tremendous amount of life in him,” Beltran said. “You see that in the way he plays. You see that in his personality, the way he interacts with his children. That plays into him being a jokester, that happy demeanor. It’s infectious to be around people like that.”
Joy, now a soccer analyst, said part of the reason for Rimando’s penchant for pranks is his hunger for the spotlight and ability to flourish within it.
“Nick plays to the crowd,” Joy said. “He’s like an artist. He’s like a musician who plays in front of a packed stadium. Or he’s like a movie actor who plays to the camera. He thrives on opportunity in front of an audience.”
Rimando said he always took pride in being the one teammates, coaches and fans counted on to come through when it mattered most.
“To be labeled that, it’s definitely a huge compliment because players shine and want to always be in big situations and big games,” Rimando said. “And when I’m in those situations, I always wanted to be the guy that the team trusted.”
Joy remembers contemplating something of a head-scratcher when he first met and trained with Rimando: “Why are you still in Major League Soccer?”
It’s a question many have posed throughout Rimando’s career. Joy, who played with several elite goalkeepers during his days with European teams, said that none of them was as good as Rimando. Former RSL teammate Nat Borchers said there’s no doubt in his mind Rimando would have been successful abroad as an American.
Even Rimando believed it at one point in his career. During his time with D.C. United, he said, he attempted to obtain a passport with an eye on playing in the Netherlands, but the plans fell through. He then pondered a move to Mexico, but “circumstances weren’t the best down there.”
So he made MLS work for him, and he has the accolades to show for it. Rimando holds the league record in wins, shutouts, saves, games played and minutes. He won titles with D.C. in 2005 and RSL in 2009, which was commemorated before Wednesday’s loss to the L.A. Galaxy.
Beckerman said Rimando takes pride in being a pioneer of MLS and helping the league grow in popularity. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who played with Rimando on the USMNT, concurred.
“He’s helped grow this league from day one,” Guzan said. “To see him ride off at the end of this year and have the legacy that he does in Salt Lake, he deserves nothing less.”
But staying with RSL almost didn’t happen. In the winter before the 2018 season, Rimando was a free agent and several cubs were vying for his services. He weighed his options, he said, and was “a signature away” from signing with LAFC. Rimando, who played three years at UCLA, is a Southern California native.
But again, Rimando went with what he knew, what he felt comfortable with, and that was staying in Salt Lake City with RSL — even though he acknowledged initially feeling skeptical about moving there after his time in D.C. It’s something else now.
“This is home for me,” Rimando said. “I’ve come to love this state, this city.”
Rimando, now 40, has grown deep roots in Utah. He is a part owner of Beer Bar and Bar X in downtown, and The Eating Establishment in Park City. He’s made good friends and business connections. His two children — son Jett, 11, and daughter Benny, 9 — love living here, he said.
Although he would have welcomed the challenge of competing in Europe or Mexico, he’s glad he stayed in MLS.
“For me, MLS was my league,” Rimando said. “MLS is who made me.”
When Rimando goes on vacation with his friends, he’s the one organizing, planning, ironing out the details. So when he contemplated retirement, he didn’t make his decision on a whim. It was years in the making.
“He’s not to really one to just go out and randomly do something,” Bowler said. “The thinks about it. He plans it out. He’s planned out his retirement for a little while [to] make sure he knew what he was doing.”
Bowler, the best man at Rimando’s wedding, said he and Rimando talked about his retirement periodically over the past couple of years and kicked around ideas about what he would do after his career was over. When he finally made the decision, he informed those closest to him about a month before his public announcement on Twitter.
Rimando knew it was time. His body told him. The last couple of years, he said he’s been physically able to play soccer only “through modern medicine.” After the season, he plans to schedule surgeries to repair some things he’s put off fixing.
Rimando also wants to hang out with his kids more. He wants to play with them, attend their games, be a normal dad.
And he believes it’s time to let the next generation of goalkeepers make a mark in the league, even though he knows he could play another one or two years.
“I feel it’s time to let them live out their dreams,” Rimando said.
For the past 20 years, his identity has been Nick Rimando: Soccer Player. But once the 2019 RSL season comes to a close — whenever that may be — the introspection and discovery will begin. Will he stay in soccer? If so, at what level? If not, how will he spend his time?
Rimando doesn’t know the answers to those questions yet. But he’s not rushing, either.
"I’m going to have to be patient and find what’s good for me and who I am,” Rimando said. “Obviously, I know the person I am. But this is going to be a big change for me.”
There will be nerves and challenges that come with the next stage of his life. Rimando knows that. He also knows that whatever he decides to do, he’ll need to feel passion for it, the same type of passion he feels for soccer. That will take some investigating, he said.
But Rimando is ready.
“I don’t think I’m going to be scared,” he said. “I think I’m more interested in what’s next and what that next step is going to be.”
RSL VS HOUSTON DYNAMO
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff » Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » RSL 1, Houston 1 (March 2)
Records » RSL 14-13-5 (47 points, fifth in West), Houston 11-17-4
About Houston » Eliminated from the 2019 playoffs. … Played RSL in its season opener. … Has won just two road games all season, and lost 14. … Lost four of its previous six games. … Concedes an average of 2.4 goals in away games.
About RSL » With a win, team will secure a spot in the playoffs. … Nick Rimando will play his final regular season game at Rio Tinto. … Club will honor Tony Beltran at halftime. … Winless in last three games. … Has not lost to Houston since 2017.