Season openers are renowned for being sloppy. But when there are strong gales and a heavy downpour, as there were during the San Jose-Real Salt Lake match on Saturday, the match can veer into the absurd.
“It was crazy,” Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman told Salt Lake NBC affiliate KSL after the 1-0 victory. “The wind was nuts, the rain was coming at us from all angles and it just seemed to get worse as the night went on.”
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 0, Real Salt Lake 1
“The wind would blow the rain straight into your face and so you couldn’t see,” defender Tony Beltran said. “Then the wind was so powerful that you couldn’t clear the ball.”
In the first half, RSL were hesitant on the slippery surface as player after player lost his footing. The result was that San Jose enjoyed the better of possession and more promising chances against the usually potent visitors.
However, RSL also saw an advantage to the wet grass. Beckerman and others attempted several long-distance shots on the night, hoping to take advantage of the soft-footing that Quakes ‘keeper Jon Busch had to deal with. The strategy finally paid off with the RSL captain’s match-winning strike in the 65th minute.
“In these conditions,” Beltran explained, “if you’re a goalkeeper, there is nothing when the ball is coming at them and it skips off the ground – it picks up speed and it’s unpredictable, especially with the wind. So we knew that shots from distance would be particularly hard to deal with.”
Despite Beckerman’s game winner, the “man of the match” was goalkeeper Nick Rimando. He faced two point-blank opportunities in the first half, but both were easily dealt with as the attacking player’s didn’t make the most of the chances.
It was not so easy in the second half. Rimando was called upon to make a number of big saves. On one particular sequence he made two back-to-back saves off of solid strikes, from 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and Khari Stephenson. He also did well to knock down a fizzed shot from Sam Cronin just minutes later.
Rimando ended up with eight saves on the night, and numerous other grabs out of thin air to snuff out opportunities on crosses.
“Absolutely huge,” Beltran said. “I think that he keeps us in the game there. He’s a very special player.”
He also earned the praise of his coach, who valued the veteran’s presence as much as anything he did physically.
“Nick is a calm character,” said head coach Jason Kreis. “He’s seen so many things that there’s not much out there that troubles him.”
Under messy conditions, nothing could be more effective.