WASHINGTON – A familiar figure clad in unfamiliar colors paid a visit to the D.C. United locker room in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s overtime victory over Real Salt Lake in US Open Cup qualifying. Very rarely does a member of the opposing team’s squad venture into United’s inner sanctum, but this interloper looked quite comfortable despite his claret-and-cobalt shirt --and with good reason.
Nick Rimando spent five years in that locker room and, on Wednesday, the RSL netminder was warmly welcomed by former teammates like Santino Quaranta and Jaime Moreno who shared the field with him during his eventful stint with the Black-and-Red from 2002 to 2007.
“They’re good guys. It’s good to be back here, for sure,” said Rimando, who had already met up earlier in the week with D.C. assistant coach Ben Olsen, the man who performed his wedding ceremony in 2005. “Benny is still in touch. I went to dinner with him the other night, and Tino, and obviously Jaime. I keep in touch as much as I can with these guys – we have a lot of memories, you know?”
Indeed, Rimando kept the nets during some of United’s finest moments of the past decade, most notably their 2004 MLS Cup championship victory and the scintillating penalty-kick shootout win that preceded it in the Eastern Conference final, a one-for-the-ages clash with New England at RFK Stadium. He also became a cult hero to fans thanks to off-field shenanigans like volunteering to be hunted in a local radio station’s public water-gun fight.
Rimando moved West in 2007 after losing United’s starting job to Troy Perkins and, after facing down plenty of adversity during his first two years with Real, he is elated to return to the nation’s capital at the head of a title-winning side whose quality and confidence stands in stark contrast to the RSL side he joined three years ago.
“I paid my dues, on the bench and on the field, and rebounded in Utah,” said the 2009 MLS Cup MVP on Wednesday. “So it’s good to kind of flip that club over there and get a championship and, obviously, come back here with a better team than we had in the last couple of years and play against these guys.”
Real’s week-long, two-game visit to D.C. has given him an excellent chance to see old friends, though Saturday’s league contest may offer up slightly more hostile conditions. After giving way to his understudy Kyle Reynish in the USOC match, Rimando is likely to be back in the nets as Salt Lake seek to extend a five-game winning streak in MLS play with their first-ever victory at RFK.
But first, the Claret-and-Cobalt have the uncommon honor of a Friday appointment at the White House, where President Barack Obama will formally congratulate them on their MLS Cup triumph.
“Going to meet Barack, yup!” joked Rimando. “It’s going to be fun, a good experience. I think we earned it. When we won it here [at United], we didn’t do that, we didn’t get to go. This time, they’re kind of acknowledging the champion, which is good. It’ll be cool.”