While Real Salt Lake struggles back home without them, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in Brazil living out their childhood dreams with the U.S. national team.
“It’s been so much fun,” said Beckerman, one of the unsung heroes for the United States in group play. “So far it’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Rimando, meanwhile, said being part of the World Cup in soccer-crazed Brazil is an experience he’ll never forget.
“This is a soccer country. You can just feel it in the air that the World Cup is here,” said Rimando, who said he’s reminded of that fact whenever Brazil plays because the country becomes a ghost town.
A day before the United States faces Belgium in a Round of 16 match in Salvador, the RSL duo caught up with members of the Salt Lake City media on a conference call to discuss everything from Beckerman’s growing cult status with women across the country to Rimando’s role as third-string 'keeper.
The underlying theme throughout: They don’t want the whirlwind ride to end, and are anxious to keep it going against slight-favorite Belgium on Tuesday at 2 p.m. MDT.
“As for us, we still have that underdog feel. Teams go in as favorites against us, but I think these teams are realizing it’s going to be a fight, it’s going to be a tough game. It’s not going to be a rollover. They have to respect us,” said Beckerman.
Beckerman, in particular, has earned the respect of the world with his efficiency in midfield, something RSL fans have grown accustomed to over the past eight years. Rimando has had a front row seat for every one of those seasons, and isn’t surprised by Beckerman’s ascension up the ladder of must-start players for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“It’s special to see him on the field here on the biggest stage, to show his qualities against the best players and succeed at it. I think he’s had a great World Cup so far. He’s been a big part of why we’re moving on to the next stage,” said Rimando.
While Beckerman’s importance in Brazil has been obvious as he’s played all 270 minutes, Rimando has served a much more subtle role as the third-string 'keeper.
Amid snippets of airtime during frantic goal celebrations with Klinsmann, Rimando has filled the role of jovial, behind-the-scenes guy for the past month perfectly.
“This third spot is no joke really, always putting in the work. Guys are constantly needing extra work, on the field, after practice, shots, crosses, and that’s me stepping in and being available,” said Rimando.
“It’s keeping the morale high. It’s being positive, kind of just making sure everybody is moving in the right direction and nobody’s ever down if they’re not playing, or down about a result or a bad practice. Keeping morale up and keeping smiles on faces.”
Like soccer fans back home, Beckerman and Rimando have been watching a lot of soccer too. Unlike fans back home though, it’s been work-related research.
“The more games we watch the better. It just kind of gives you an idea what’s going on, what’s happening, maybe prepares us a little bit more how refing’s going to be, how the games are going with the heat. If you see a team playing where you’re going to play it kind of gets you a heads-up,” said Beckerman.
Like the rest of the world, the U.S. players have been impressed by how well their fellow CONCACAF teams have fared.
“So far we’ve been showing really well for the region. Mexico played toe to toe with one of the favorites of the tournament. Costa Rica’s doing really well,” said Beckerman. “I think it shows well for all of us, and now it’s our turn to hold the flag up for CONCACAF. I think it’s awesome for our region. It’s going to go a long way for individual players and possible extra slot for World Cups in the future.”
To keep the wild ride going another week, Beckerman will need to be at his best on Tuesday to help the U.S. avoid Mexico’s fate and instead join Costa Rica as surprise quarterfinalists.
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.