Ever since breaking the all-time wins record in 2016, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando has been distancing himself from the competition in a way that approaches immortality. With his 200th win on Saturday, Rimando becomes the first goalkeeper in league history to reach that milestone, a full 20 wins clear of second-place Kevin Hartman.
Not only that, but he is so far beyond the next-highest active players, that it might be generations before anyone approaches his records.
Even Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei – currently third on the active list with 83 wins – readily acknowledges that Rimando’s records put him at a completely different level.
“I think he’s played a big role in helping this league grow. US goalkeepers have a decent reputation and I think he’s lead that. Guzan, Howard, Kasey … I think you’re talking about Rimando there too,” Frei said. “He’s been able to do it at a high standard for so long and that’s allowed him to get into these high numbers … it’s frustrating for the mere mortals.”
Although the closing quip may have been tongue-in-cheek for Frei, it says a lot about the illustrious career of the 38-year-old Rimando. With 200 wins, he is 114 ahead of Luis Robles of the New York Red Bulls – the next highest active player. His 139 shutouts are 79 ahead of Frei and 87 clear of Robles. His 1,563 saves are well over double the 728 Frei has amassed in his 10 MLS seasons.
Suddenly, Frei’s claims of immortality for Rimando’s records doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Since being drafted by the Miami Fusion out of UCLA in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft, he has climbed the ranks of the all-time greats in MLS using uncanny instinct, quickness and athletic ability to baffle opposing forwards. Would-be goalscorers have had shots picked out of the air with improbable leaps by the small-by-comparison Rimando, who has never let his 5-foot-9 frame be a deterrent to fighting his way to the top of the leaderboards.
“I think a lot of people had questions when he came into the league because he’s not the tallest guy,” said current LA Galaxy Head Coach Sigi Schmid, who recruited Rimando to UCLA and coached him – along with Tim Howard – on the U.S. U-20 National Team. “Nick’s athletic ability – his ability to read the game and play the game is something that was evident from the first time I saw him play.
Added longtime U.S. teammate Damarcus Beasley, “His quickness and thinking of where the forward is going to put the ball is second to none. There are little things he does to read the game. He can do it all, to be honest.”
His quickness and ability to read shots may hint at telepathy, but they may, in fact, come from his background as a forward. Growing up in Montclair, California, he would split his time between putting shots away on one end of the field and then keeping them out of the net on the other.
During his youth days, he regularly would face off with Carlos Bocanegra. Whether on the soccer field or football field, the two were fiercely competitive with each other, but later became teammates at UCLA and in the international circuit.
“We played against each other in high school and he was always trying to meg you or get you off your game any way you can,” said Bocanegra, now the Technical Director at Atlanta United. “He’s always trying to get one up on you. He’s a competitor with a good spirit. I really enjoyed being on his team and competing against him.”
Sheer ability alone didn’t land Rimando his records, though. It’s also taken resiliency, consistency and longevity. Currently in his 19th MLS season, he’s played for just three clubs – the Miami Fusion until they folded in 2001, D.C. United until a trade after the 2006 season and Real Salt Lake for the 12 seasons since. With Real Salt Lake, he has served as the starter with several backups that went on to great success around the league. From Josh Saunders and Chris Seitz to Tim Melia and Jeff Attinella, players have used competitive training sessions working with Rimando to springboard themselves to opportunities elsewhere and taken those chances like swiping shots out of the air.
Those same players also saw firsthand what has elevated Rimando to new heights.
“What makes Nick Rimando so special is the consistency he’s shown over the years. He’s constantly been one of the better goalies in the league every year and it’s an impressive feat,” said Sporting Kansas City’s Tim Melia, an RSL goalkeeper from 2010-2011. “He comes out to training every day and gives everything he has. He hates getting scored on whether it’s a 5v5 game or an important 11v11 match.
That mentality has been prevalent since his early days in MLS. With the Miami Fusion, he stepped in right away and earned the starting role, while also earning the starting nod. And whether it was backstopping the free-wheeling Fusion teams, building a legacy while winning his first championship in 2004 with D.C. United or putting Real Salt Lake on the map with his second MLS Cup title in 2009, he has left an indelible mark with each stop along the way.
“His work ethic and his commitment to the game and love for the game are the reasons for what he’s achieved. He’s been a great servant to the league and a great ambassador for the league as well,” said Preki, Rimando’s teammate with the Fusion and current assistant coach with Seattle Sounders FC. “He’s going to be remembered for a long time.”