Eleven minutes into the rematch of the 2013 MLS Cup final on Saturday, Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer broke past the Real Salt Lake defense and headed – all alone – towards the goal. It was a bad situation for RSL and one made worse because their ironman goalkeeper, Nick Rimando, was back in Utah nursing a knee injury.
In Rimando's place was backup Jeff Attinella, who hadn't gotten on the field in any of RSL's first four games of 2014 but came up big nonetheless to help his side pick up a hard-fought point.
“I just saw him coming,” Attinella told reporters after the scoreless draw in Kansas City. “I didn't know if he was onside or not, but everyone kept running. I was able to close him down. He opened up his hips a little bit, so I had a good feeling he was going to my left. [I was] just able to get a hand on it. I think it was still rolling to the goal, and we had three guys there ready to clear it.”
It was a key early block for the backup and helped him to build confidence en route to making nine saves in the match.. Several of those stops were of the rather spectacular variety – including a second stop on a Dwyer breakaway, frustrating the man who went public before the game with how much he “hates” RSL.
“Nobody can replace Nick Rimando, but I think that Jeff came in tonight and did a great job,” RSL defender Nat Borchers said in a television interview after the game. “He was just in the right spots. He made some great reaction saves. He was great with the ball at his feet.”
And Attinella got some help from Borchers, who cleared a ball off the goal line in the second half.
Attinella “was fantastic,” RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “He commanded his box. But we have a ton of confidence in Jeff.”
In 2013, Attinella made 14 saves in five appearances (including four starts). He was just five short of that total on Saturday, when RSL were outshot 20-4 overall and 9-1 in shots on goal.
Salt Lake pride themselves on their possession game, but had just 43 percent possession against Sporting KC and looked out of sync for much of the game. Cassar attributed that to the pressure SKC was applying.
But it's also true that for the fifth time in five games, Real put a different starting lineup on the field. And just five games into the season, the injuries continue to mount.
Before Wednesday's U.S. national team friendly against Mexico, Real Salt Lake knew that, because of a variety of injuries, they would be without forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley, midfielders Sebastian Velasquez, Jordan Allen and defender Chris Wingert.
But then Rimando came back from Arizona with a knee injury and defender Tony Beltran returned with an ankle sprain, and the Claret-and-Cobalt were down two more players.