The accolades and records that come with a 20-year career in Major League Soccer are nice, but what Nick Rimando holds most dear is the very fact that he made it as far as he did.
“I was that kid that had a lot of doubters. I was a kid that was the 5-10 goalkeeper that wasn’t supposed to be in Major League Soccer, but never gave up,” he said. “I was that kid, I didn’t give up. I fought for everything I have, I fought for every contract, I fought for my position on every team.”
Rimando announced at the start of the season that this would be his last in MLS. It is simply time for him to step away, heal his body and move on to the next phase, he said.
[ WATCH: Marsch reacts to Liverpool-Salzburg ]
But first he’s hoping for one more run in the playoffs.
The 40-year-old goalkeeper is playing out his final MLS season with Real Salt Lake, where he’s been since 2007. Currently fifth in the Western Conference standings, RSL plays its final regular-season match Sunday – a day the league calls Decision Day because it shapes the playoffs – against the Whitecaps.
Real Salt Lake clinched a spot in the postseason last weekend with a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Rimando made three saves in his final regular season match at Rio Tinto Stadium. Fans feted him with a special tifo in his honor.
“He’s a true warrior, a great professional, deserves everything he’s gotten,” interim head coach Freddy Juarez said. “It’s given the team an identity because of the style of play he has. It’s allowed Real Salt Lake, for the most part, to always be a possession-based team, because of Nick’s style of play. Everything he’s gotten, he deserves.”
Rimando’s MLS career started with the now-defunct Miami Fusion. He spent five seasons with D.C. United, winning an MLS Cup title with the team in 2004. He won another league championship with RSL in 2009.
Rimando holds league goalkeeper records with 513 appearances and more than 46,000 minutes played. He’s had 222 wins, 1,701 saves and 153 shutouts over the course of his career, also records.
“It’s very tough to be a player let alone a goalkeeper in this league. There’s only one spot per goalkeeper out of the 11. So I think the amount of games I’ve played, with the ability to stay healthy, stay consistent, go through numerous coaches and still be on the playing field, I think I like that mark the most,” he said.
Salt Lake has seen some upheaval this season. The team fired coach Mike Petke in August after he was suspended for three games and fined by MLS for offensive language and confrontational misconduct directed at officials following a Leagues Cup match. The team also suspended the coach and asked him to undergo anger management training before he was eventually let go.
RSL went 4-4-1 following Petke’s dismissal, securing its 10th playoff berth in the last 12 seasons. It is still possible that Rimando hasn’t seen the last of Rio Tinto this season.
“I think we have potential to do well in the playoffs,” he said. “My teammates know it’s my last year but I don’t want to play that extra bit for me. That’s why I’ve kind of held out with the interviews, I’ve kind of held out on making this last year about me. I wanted it to be about the team, I wanted it to be about our group and winning.”
Rimando is not the only high-profile player hanging up his cleats following this season. Fellow goalkeeper Tim Howard is also retiring after four years with the Colorado Rapids. DeMarcus Beasley, who has been with the Houston Dynamo since 2014, has also announced that this season will be his last.
Rimando doesn’t know what his next career move is. First, he’ll need surgery to address the toll the game has taken on his body. But he said it’s time for the next generation of goalkeepers to live their dreams.
“I played a long time, 20 years, and I was once that kid that wanted that opportunity, wanted that chance, and got it. At 40, I feel I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my career. I feel like I’ve experienced so many great things and I think this next generation deserves that as well,” he said.
Asked what he’s proudest of, Rimando’s thoughts immediately turn to his kids, Benny and Jett, who were fixtures at RSL matches and even flanked their father at his final regular-season pregame news conference and the postgame celebration of his career last weekend.
“I think my favorite part of MLS right now is watching my kids enjoy it,” he said. “Them looking at me the way they do after a game or before a game, when people come up to me during dinner, or whatnot, to see their faces, to see their smiles and see how proud they are of me, that’s got to be up there with my favorite part.”