After winning the MLS Cup in November last year, Nick Rimando responded to countless interview questions about his ability to save penalty kicks. However, in one sense, PKs are the easy part of the game. Nobody between you and the ball, and only three choices: dive right, dive left or hold your ground.
The real challenge for a goalkeeper in soccer is dealing with situations during the run of play. A ‘keeper is expected to be decisive, and create a fortress around the goal, but there's plenty going on to keep this from happening.
On opening day in San Jose, Rimando faced the challenge of a strong glare from the sun at a low angle, in the diminutive Buck Shaw Stadium. He also faced a slippery surface, which saw him lose his footing on a clearance out near the edge of the box. The botched clearance could have cost Real Salt Lake a goal as an opposing player gathered it just outside of the area, with a wide open goal awaiting as Rimando scrambled to his feet.
However, Rimando dismissed the notion of focusing on the particular nuances that occur with each match, insisting that the keys for a ‘keeper are much simpler.
“Staying in the game and keeping the guys organized in front of me is what’s most important,” he shared with MLSsoccer.com this past week. “Staying in the game” means keeping that intense focus on what is happening around you. “If you lose that focus even for a second,” Rimando explained, “the result can be a disaster.”
There is literally a laundry list of things that can challenge that focus in this league: altitude, humidity, blinding sun, muddy surface, wet and slippery surface, small pitch, wide pitch and all of the action and interference going on in front of and around a ‘keeper. These can all play a role in leading to a so-called disaster if a ‘keeper allows them to do so.
Another challenge has emerged this season as well, said Rimando: “These balls do crazy things nowadays, and you’ve got to be prepared for anything.”
One area of focus for a ‘keeper is the free kick. “There are a lot of aspects that come into play," explained Rimando, "where it’s at, does the ball have time to go up and come down and how many on the wall.”
For Rimando, his approach to constructing the wall has evolved over time. “The last few years," he said, "I’ve noticed that less is more, because you get to see more of the ball.”
However, taking all of these factors into account, it’s all really very simple: Take control of everything you can, and be solid in your approach, then let the chips fall where they may.
“For me, you’ve got to react," he said. "You can’t get beat to your post, and you’ve got to let the wall do their job. If they do their job and it goes in, then you’ve got to give credit to the kicker.”