SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake players and coaches are quick to call Nick Rimando the best goalkeeper in MLS, so it might be easy to assume that Real Salt Lake's players and coaches would be anxious because, for the second match in a row, Rimando will not be in the net due to a knee injury he suffered in the US national team's friendly against Mexico on April 2.
But they are not and that's because they have Jeff Attinella in goal.
Attinella, Rimando's backup, inspired confidence with his stellar performance against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. He made eight saves to preserve a 0-0 tie and give RSL a hard-fought point on the road despite them missing several key players.
“I have access to the best MLS goalie that there is,” Attinella told reporters of Rimando, who has 110 clean sheets to his name and is just two away from tying the all-time MLS record. “[He] teaches me a lot as well, gives me pointers as we're going along. But I learn a ton just from watching him, seeing the way he leads. The way he is on the field and just his technique is unbelievable. There's a reason he's the best that there is in this league.”
With their No. 1 goalkeeper unavailable, Real Salt Lake feel positive about No. 2 going into Saturday's road trip to PPL Park to face the Philadelphia Union (4pm ET, MLS LIve). That's an added bonus for Attinella, who has played in just six league games since joining Salt Lake back in 2013.
“Jeff has the confidence of the team,” Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “That's huge for Jeff when he steps in the goal that he knows the guys in front of him are confident with him. His confidence is high right now, and we're going to ride it.”
Nat Borchers was in front of Attinella in Kansas City and fellow defender Chris Wingert was back in Utah, recovering from a groin injury and watching the game on TV. They both were equally impressed with the club's performance, which was made possible by Attinella's strong outing.
Wingert may once again be a spectator vs. the Union, and he is just one of a slew of RSL players recovering from injuries. Rimando and forward Robbie Findley are definitely out for Saturday's match against the Union, but RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters, “Everyone else is kind of on the fence.”
Even with so many players absent, Cassar is hoping Attinella won't have to fend off anywhere near as many shots on Saturday as he did last weekend. But if the 25-year-old netminder does, Cassar is optimistic Attinella will once again step up.
“Jeff's won a championship at the NASL level,” said Cassar. “He's proven that he can play big in big games. So it's really no surprise to us, that's for sure. But I think now the league's starting to see what Jeff's capable of.”