SANDY, Utah – If the game is on the line and your opponent is lining up to take a penalty kick, there probably aren’t many MLS goalkeepers you'd rather have in net than Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando.
“He's got a trick,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told reporters on Tuesday. “He's got a secret trick. He really does.”
Whatever it is, on Saturday night, it worked for the 20th time in the 61 penalties Rimando has faced in MLS regular-season matches. In the 93rd minute, he dove to his right to save a penalty kick by LA Galaxy star Robbie Keane and preserve Salt Lake's 1-0 win. It was just one of nine saves – several of the near-magical variety – Rimando made Saturday en route to MLS Player of the Week honors.
But only one came as the result of his seemingly preternatural ability to read opposing shooters.
“He's told me a couple times, kind of, but he still even keeps it kind of secret from me,” Beckerman said. “He knows different things. What shooters are kind of going to do.”
Rimando's anticipation has allowed him to hold opponents to a remarkably low 37.5 percent conversion rate (3 for 8) on regular-season penalty kicks from 2012-14, while the conversion rate against all other MLS goalkeepers over the same time period is 80.7 percent (121 for 150). Rimando acknowledged he has his own strategy for facing spot kicks but was predictably low-key about this particular stop.
“Every goalkeeper has their way of saving PKs, and I guess I have mine too,” he told reporters with just a hint of a smile.
Clearly, if he has a secret, he has no plans to divulge it. Rimando acknowledged that he knew Keane favors taking a stutter step during his run-up – a stutter designed to get the goalkeeper to make a move either left or right.
“If you watch him, he doesn't budge,” Beckerman said. “Keane's all about waiting for the goalie to kind of move a little and then he goes the other way. And Nick didn't budge.”
As far as Rimando is concerned, the save was just part of something far more important, as it allowed Real Salt Lake to start the season with a road win against one of its fellow contenders for Western Conference supremacy.
“Our goal is to get a shutout. We got that,” said the man who is just three shutouts away from tying the all-time MLS record of 112. “We also got three points, which is fantastic against a very good LA team.”
Rimando is looking ahead to Saturday's game at San Jose, but it's clear that when it comes to penalty kicks, December's shootout loss to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup final (the only playoff shootout Rimando has lost in four chances) still looms large in his mind.
“I'd much rather save a PK last year in the last game than the first game this year,” he said.