The word legend is bandied about far too easily in modern football. Sometimes it’s deserved. Sometimes it’s a stretch. But every so often a player comes along that fully deserves to have that accolade bestowed upon him. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando is one such player.
The 40-year-old played his final professional match in Seattle on Wednesday night, hanging up his boots after a career that spanned just three clubs in 20 years and 553 overall MLS appearances.
It’s a career that saw him set a league record with 154 regular-season clean sheets, 10 of them coming this year, his fifth double-digit shutout season. He holds the overall record for appearances and minutes played, winning two MLS Cups (in 2004 and 2009), two Supporters Shields, three MLS Save of the Year awards, all of which while amazingly never winning the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Miami Fusion, D.C. United, and Real Salt Lake were the places he called home over the years, winning a MLS Cup with the latter two, but most will think of him for his exploits and time with RSL.
He spent 13 years in Utah, helping take RSL to the playoffs in 10 of those seasons. They hadn’t featured in the postseason before his arrival there in 2007, an acquisition from D.C. that initially saw him traded to New York Red Bulls, only to be traded back two weeks later and where he remained for the rest of his career.
Rimando is something of a rarity in the league. A top player, capped at international level, highly regarded by many, who not only chose to stay home in the US for his whole career despite having options to go overseas, but having two decades playing solely in MLS, over half of them with the one club.
“In my early years I was happy here,” Rimando told AFTN after the last match of the regular season here in Vancouver. “I was still young and coming and I got my opportunity here. When I got my chance to go abroad things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to.
“I was playing [here] and as a goalkeeper, as with any kind of a professional athlete, you want to be playing. That’s what I was going here. I made the right switches at the right time and found that Utah was my home.”
It wasn’t the way he would have hoped to have bowed out, a 2-0 loss in a Western Conference semi-final and it was an emotional evening for the veteran, especially in the latter stages when it became clear this was to be his final game.
But in typical Rimando fashion, he played his part in keeping Real Salt Lake firmly in the match till late on, making seven saves on the night.
“I think it will all sink in tomorrow or the next week or so,” Rimando told reporters after what was to be his final match. “I gave everything I had to this last game. That is all I could ask for.
“It has been special. Who would have a thought a 5-foot-10 kid from the 909 would have got 20 years in this league? To be appreciated the way I have been appreciated in the league this year – I said it before but, that is why I wanted to announce it early. Win, lose or draw.”
Rimando left RSL with a strong final season under his belt. A season in which he incredibly revealed after the Sounders loss that he was playing with a torn rotator cuff throughout, an injury which seemed to flare up in that Seattle match, along with a niggling knee injury.
He knows it will now take a few weeks for this finality of it all to sink in. He’ll miss the day to day routine, the banter with the lads in the locker room, the fans, and of course just the playing. But there’s also something he most definitely will not miss.
“The travel,” Rimando told us right away. “Being away from my kids, you know. I get to stick at home a little bit longer. Be with my kids and not miss the little day to day stuff. Obviously I’m going to miss a lot, but I won’t miss the travel.”
Rimando’s certainly seen a number of things change in the league these past 20 years. The quality of play and players has certainly increased, as has the respect the league is finally getting elsewhere in the world. There’s also the growth into new markets, and the rise in the fanbase and attendances.
“It’s the popularity of the sport,” Rimando feels is one of the biggest changes. “Through media, through television. The growth of the sport in the country and in Canada. You see what Toronto did in their first couple of years and that expanded here to Vancouver and in Montreal.
“You look at the growth of the league and seeing where the leagues come from. The money, the quality of the players that are coming over now. They’re not coming over when they’re past their prime. I think that everyone that’s coming now, they’ve got a couple of years underneath their belts, not just one or two back in the past.
“It’s more competitive for sure and I think a lot of people are watching now. Soccer in the US and in Canada are opening a lot of eyes to maybe some that haven’t given it interest in the past.”
A lot of growth and a lot of good to come in the game here these past two decades, but there’s still one thing that Rimando would dearly love to see change and that is the worth of the domestic player recognised and proper respect shown to them.
“I’d love to see the American player, the Canadian player get the same respect that these overseas players get that come over,” Rimando mused. “Guys that have proven themselves [should] get the same respect as the international players.”
It’s been a stellar career for Rimando. One that will hopefully see MLS name their Goalkeeper of the Year award after him, as ironic as that would be as he always missed out on winning it and was runner-up three times. It would not only be very fitting, but well deserved for what he has given the league.
Describing himself as “a banged-up old guy”, as to what the future holds in store now for Rimando, well he’s keeping his options open. For now he just wants to “relax, have time with my family, reflect on what this sport has given me” and get those shoulder and knee injuries sorted.
After the relaxing and recuperating, it’s clear he still wants to be involved in football. It could be coaching, it could be broadcasting, but whatever it is, I’m sure there will be no shortage of offers.
“I don’t know [what’s next],” Rimando told us. “I’ll put my hand in all the jars and see what I’m passionate about. I’ll hopefully stick around in the game a little bit and just see what the opportunities are and make my decision then.”