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Sandy • Nick Rimando pleaded his case. He barked. And referee Allen Chapman barked back. The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper kept at it, telling the official that the foul called on him in the 29th minute of Saturday's 2017 season opener at Rio Tinto Stadium was suspect.
The two went at it as Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco, who drew the foul on Rimando after a swift counterattack, waited for the whistle. Two seconds before Chapman signaled Giovinco, Rimando held his right hand up to his eye. The 37-year-old shot-stopper adjusted back a couple of feet onto his line on the north-side goal in the 31st minute and did what he's done 28 times before: Swallowed whole a penalty-kick attempt, and looked to have called his own shot.
"[Chapman] has the final say," Rimando said postgame. "That's that."
RSL's keeper had the most important say in the 2017 opener against TFC, a foul-filled scoreless draw. According to Opta, Rimando has snagged 10 penalty saves since 2010 in MLS; no other goalkeeper in the league has saved more than six in that span. Facing the high-powered attack of Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, RSL's defense stood up to the test.
"A shutout is very important for the group," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "Obviously we want three points at home."
RSL's new-look attack featuring offseason signing Albert Rusnák and new right-sided starter Jordan Allen took time to find a rhythm. Toronto FC's high pressure forced RSL into turnovers early. As Cassar said, "the first 20 minutes were rough for us."
But after Rimando's PK stop, RSL settled in and started creating.
"I'm never surprised," right back Tony Beltran said. "Every time a PK is given up, my thought is, 'Get ready for the rebound because Nick is going to save it.' Feels like nine out of 10 times, that thought is right. Credit to him."
While RSL managed 17 shots Saturday, Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin was faced to make three saves, none of them stressful. The best chance of the day came in the 78th minute as RSL captain Kyle Beckerman lofted a pass over the Toronto backline onto the foot of Joao Plata. The RSL forward tried to dip it into in the back of the net, but put too much on it as the shot sailed over the crossbar.
The front four, with Rusnák commanding the offensive flow in the absence of Javier Morales, remains a work in progress. Cassar said the final product must still be fine-tuned. The necessary quality in the attacking third wasn't there Saturday against the reigning Eastern Conference champs, but Cassar remains confident.
"You can see where the potential is," he said.
In the meantime, it never hurts having Rimando there as last line of defense. RSL assistant coach Daryl Shore supplies Rimando and the RSL goalkeepers with tape on each club's likely penalty takers and where their tendencies lie.
"Guess the right way with it this time," Rimando said, "and hopefully next time [Giovinco] has another PK it's luck again."
R RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando makes 29th career PK save to preserve scoreless draw.
• Midfielder Albert Rusnák goes full 90 minutes in his club debut.
• RSL hits the road next weekend at Chicago on Saturday.