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Sandy • Nick Rimando has always told Jurgen Klinsmann that he's always a phone call away. So last week, the U.S. men's national team coach took the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper up on it.
A few days before the U.S. faced Ecuador in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals in Seattle Thursday night, Klinsmann asked Rimando if he'd be willing to be a guest goalkeeper coach of sorts to provide support and insight for the team's three goalkeepers especially if the knockout round match reached penalty kicks.
Rimando's reputation on penalties is not lost on anyone in U.S. Soccer, so when Rimando said yes, U.S. goalkeeper coach Russell Payne immediately sent over video of the Ecuadorian team. That's when Rimando got to work, studying each player's shots and attacking tendencies.
But first, Rimando who became a USMNT regular under Klinsmann the last five years wanted to run the idea by some teammates. He told Klinsmann he didn't want to disrupt the team's vibe by jetting in for less than 24 hours and catching players off guard. If he was going to show up, it was contingent on making an impact, which Rimando said, was clear from the start.
He called Kyle Beckerman, Fabian Johnson, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. All said yes.
"Once I got in there," Rimando said, "I felt right at home."
After training Thursday at America First Field in Sandy, Rimando boarded a flight to Seattle and got to CenturyLink Field in time to be on the U.S. bench. It was there that RSL and MLS fans alike saw glimpses of Rimando on the bench, wondering what the league's all-time shutouts leader was doing in downtown Seattle. It was new for him, he said. His credential had a three-letter acronym on it: COA. It stood for coach.
"First time I've had that," said Rimando, who turned 37 on Friday. "Definitely weird, but it was a good experience."
After catching the first flight out back to Salt Lake City, Rimando returned to training Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium ahead of RSL's Western Conference clash against the Portland Timbers Saturday night in Sandy.
That begs the question: Can Rimando do it again?
The U.S. beat Ecuador 2-1 Tuesday night in Seattle, advancing to the Copa America semifinal round for the first time since 1995. That next round is where the U.S. likely meets Lionel Messi and star-studded Argentina, who face Venezuela Saturday, in Houston on June 21 at NRG Stadium.
Like he did before the Ecuador match, Klinsmann has already asked RSL coach Jeff Cassar if Rimando could make the quick trip to Houston, which is a day before RSL's home match against the New York Red Bulls on June 22. Cassar said he hasn't responded to Klinsmann's request yet. Cassar will sit down with general manager Craig Waibel and discuss the possibility of allowing Rimando another trip to be a guest coach with the U.S.
"We've always got to do what's going to be best for us, as well as helping out the national team," Cassar said.
Rimando said a possible trip to Houston for the semifinal is currently "up in the air right now." He plans on looking at flights in case RSL gives him the greenlight. Meanwhile, Cassar said backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella will factor into this stretch of five games in 14 days not once, but probably twice. Could be a clue dropped by Cassar, could not.
Regardless, Rimando's unique Tuesday night was a memorable one. With several longtime teammates and friends, he was a link in the circular chain at CenturyLink Field hopping up and down, celebrating this still-momentous run by U.S. Soccer.
"When your national team coach thinks of you, that you can bring something to the team, if it's not on the bench, it's in the locker room or maybe for some advice or some support, it says a lot about what he thinks about me," he said.