SEATTLE — Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando lay face-down on the turf inside CenturyLink Field, writhing in pain and yelling for medical attention.
Up until the 67th minute, when he collided with Seattle midfielder Christian Tiffert and suffered a broken nose and laceration, Rimando had been nothing short of tremendous against the Seattle Sounders in the opening leg of RSL’s Western Conference Semifinal series.
He made two back-to-back saves on back-to-back corner kicks near the end of the first half, and he followed those saves by standing tall as the Sounders, just like the body of water they’re named after, started coming at Salt Lake in waves to begin the second half.
However, when Rimando crumbled to the turf as a result of his collision with Tiffert, there was seemingly no way he could continue with a broken nose and a cut on his right eyebrow that would ultimately require three stitches to close.
Adding maybe the biggest legend yet to his postseason career, Rimando pulled himself off the turf and kept going.
Rimando helped spur RSL to a 0-0 draw with Seattle Friday night in front of 38,356 fans.
RSL coach Jason Kreis didn’t try to hold back on what he thought of Rimando’s performance afterward.
“I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey,” said Kreis.
The RSL coach and his staff didn’t think there was any way Rimando would be able to continue, but after Salt Lake’s medical staff stopped the bleeding on his eyebrow, Kreis and Co. looked on in disbelief as their goalkeeper played with a broken nose for the last 16 minutes of normal time, plus eight minutes of stoppage time.
“That shows how absolutely committed he is to this team and this effort,” Kreis said.
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy echoed those sentiments.
“It’s just pretty unreal,” said Grabavoy. “Nick’s a battler. There’s no question he’s the best goalkeeper in the league, in my eyes.”
Rimando’s effort highlighted the overall effort by RSL.
“Unbelievable effort they put forth tonight,” Kreis said of his players. “They showed just a real desire to be committed and to stay together. It’s fantastic. We had a lot of individual performances that were just incredible. I walk away feeling so proud of my team. They defined the word ‘together’ for me tonight.”
Seattle had indeed been coming at RSL up until Rimando went down, but for what ultimately turned out to be 24 minutes of soccer, Salt Lake kept its cool, kept its composure and kept Seattle from scoring a goal.
“There was a point when Jason said, ‘OK, let’s switch up the formation a little bit and lock this thing up and keep it 0-0, go back home from a tie,’” said Grabavoy.
To that end, Friday’s mission was accomplished. And now RSL turns its attention to its next mission — trying to beat Seattle at home this coming Thursday and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year.
“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played with a lot of guts and we battled,” said Rimando. “We didn’t come in here just to tie, but we knew at the end of the game it was good enough. And know we’ve got to really go at them and get those three points on Thursday.”
Thursday’s match will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium before what should be another sold-out crowd.
And RSL will do so with a goalkeeper that will be just six days removed from a broken nose. After they had walked off the field Friday night, Rimando let his coach know what he thought of his newly disfigured nose.
“He told me,” related Kreis, “that his nose now looks like mine.”
Asked what he thought of that assessment, Kreis laughed. “Probably right,” he said.
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