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One of the first text messages Carlos Bocanegra sent once his flight itinerary was finalized went to Nick Rimando. The Atlanta United technical director wanted to make it a high priority to carve out some quality time with one of his oldest pals once he landed in Salt Lake City. So Bocanegra let Rimando know.

They'll be in opposition for a couple hours Saturday evening. Rimando, still laced up, still between the posts, aiming to push Real Salt Lake to a third straight win. Conversely, Bocanegra will be suited up, seated in a box somewhere inside Rio Tinto Stadium, hoping the MLS expansion franchise he's pieced together can leave Sandy with points in hand.

Before that, it'll be reminiscing. After the final whistle is blown, it'll be more of the same.

"We go way back," Rimando said.

They do. Way, way back.

So far back that their friendship began before either legally could drive a car. Their friendship is in its third decade now, having evolved from the earliest days on the same youth club team in Southern California to facing off against each other in high school football and soccer to eventually three years at UCLA together where they won a national championship in 1997.

Both now 37, Rimando and Bocanegra are separated by just 24 days.

When they weren't high-rising talents on the club level, they were rivals. Rimando attended Montclair High, while Bocanegra went to Alta Loma. Bocanegra said one of his earlier memories is of Rimando, a linebacker at Montclair, laying out Alta Loma's running back. Rimando hasn't forgotten it, either.

"Big hit in that game," he said.

It was by accident that Sigi Schmid stumbled upon a left-footed midfielder at Alta Loma High. The former UCLA coach who eventually went on to coach the L.A. Galaxy, Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders wanted to see Rimando in net for Montclair. But someone wrongly informed Schmid that Rimando was at Alta Loma that afternoon.

There was no Rimando in goal. Montclair actually was playing in Riverside that day. He instead stayed and watched Bocanegra in what he described as "the inland empire" of soccer in the late 1990s.

"Because I went to the wrong high school game to try and watch Nick," Schmid said laughing, "it gave me a much better idea of Carlos."

Their paths eventually would diverge.

Bocanegra left MLS and played 10 seasons overseas for Fulham (England), Rennes, Saint-Étienne (France), Rangers (Scotland) and Racing Santander (Spain). He captained the U.S. men's national team from 2007 to 2013, making 110 national-team appearances. Rimando bounced around MLS, won an MLS Cup with D.C. United before settling in Salt Lake, where he won another title and set several league records the last few seasons. Rimando made his first World Cup squad in 2014.

It hasn't been just Rimando and Bocanegra cheering on each other over the last 20-plus years. There's a group of as many as 25 friends from their club team years that have remained tight-knit. When Bocanegra was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Rimando and the group rented a house in Las Vegas, each one of them sporting a Bocanegra jersey during games.

"It was amazing," Bocanegra said. "We were fortunate. For whatever reason, we had a bunch of good players and we became really good friends and stayed in touch."

Before the era of the mass text, it was email. Wherever Bocanegra was in Europe, he'd fill in the boys on how life was getting on. Each friend would supply his own update, as well. When someone figured out how to include the entire circle on one ongoing text chain, the phones never really stopped sounding.

"At least 100 to 200 messages a week dinging off the hook," Rimando said, "so we keep in touch. There's a lot of people that are jealous of what we have."

"Even if you can't speak to people," Bocanegra added, "you kind of know what's going on and follow from afar and chime in here or there. I think with our friendship group, it's been pretty special."

Texts would pour in every Saturday morning wishing Rimando and Bocanegra luck. When Bocanegra retired at the conclusion of the 2014 season, he officially was out of the game only a few months before being hired as Atlanta's technical director, where he oversees soccer operations, including youth developing and the club's worldwide scouting network.

Schmid even admitted that he tried hard to get Bocanegra as an assistant coach in Seattle before the former Bruin took the gig in Atlanta.

"Being able to have these two years to walk before I ran, so to speak, getting into the club, I've been able to learn a lot," he said. "I've been able to evaluate, listen and been able to formulate my opinions being in this million-mile race."

Rimando recalls Bocanegra's final years at now-defunct Chivas USA. The RSL goalkeeper said his longtime friend wouldn't drive home right after training sessions. He instead would shadow former president Nelson Rodriguez — now heading the Chicago Fire's makeover — to study the ins-and-outs of life as a front-office executive.

"He's somebody that was a go-getter," Rimando said, "somebody that aways had his eye on something and went out and got it."

The texts once again will roll in Saturday morning. The "old 909 crew" will wish Rimando good luck between the posts. Then they'll do the same for the impressive first-year squad Bocanegra has pieced together in Atlanta. It's Rimando, however, who is the last of that old Arsenal FC club era in Southern California still walking out of a stadium tunnel every weekend.

"Well," Bocanegra said, "he's holding onto the dream for us."

Twitter: @chriskamrani —

Atlanta United at Real Salt Lake

P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy

Kickoff • 7:30 p.m.

TV • KMYU Radio • 700 AM

Records • RSL 2-3-2, Atlanta 2-2-2

About Atlanta • In its final match of a four-game road trip, Atlanta heads to Utah for its first-ever meeting with RSL. … Atlanta is 0-1-2 in its three games away from Bobby Dodd Stadium. … Atlanta successfully appealed the red card given to center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who will be available to play vs. RSL on Saturday night. … Forward Josef Martinez remains out with a left quad injury. … Due to construction delays, Atlanta won't play its first home game inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium until Sept. 9. … Atlanta's 14 goals in six games is tied for second-most in MLS.

About RSL • RSL is riding back-to-back wins for the first time since August 2016. … It's 2-1 win at Colorado last week was its first road win since last July. … Midfielder Luke Mulholland had his 100th career MLS appearance in the win at Colorado last weekend. … Forwards Joao Plata (quad) and Jordan Allen (quad) and midfielder Sunday Stephen (hamstring) returned to training this week. … Forward Yura Movsisyan has scored in four of his last five outings. … RSL has scored five goals in two games while conceding just one under new coach Mike Petke.