This winter, well before he announced his intention to retire after a 20th season, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando was in Washington reconnecting with D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen, who happens to be a former teammate, a close friend and the person who officiated his wedding.
On a whim, Rimando decided to fly into the city with his son, Jett, to see Mumford & Sons with Olsen and his eldest son, Oscar, at Capital One Arena.
“Oscar’s first show,” Olsen said. “Nicky is crazy. He’ll jump on a plane and cross the country for a concert.”
The visitors crashed at Olsen’s townhouse in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington and headed home the next day.
Although it has been more than 14 years since he helped United win its most recent MLS Cup and a dozen-plus since he last played for D.C. (before becoming a footnote in a trade involving teenager Freddy Adu), Rimando has kept ties to Washington, mainly through his longtime buddy.
On Saturday night at Audi Field, they will cross paths on soccer grounds one last time, unless both teams advance to the Nov. 10 final. Rimando’s first visit to the new stadium comes after almost two decades manning the RFK Stadium nets for the deceased Miami Fusion, United for five seasons and Real Salt Lake since 2007.
“I was just thinking about how long it’s been since I was with D.C.,” he said before the team traveled east. “A lot of memories: Ben, my agent [Lyle Yorks], M Street, DC101, checking to see who is playing at the 9:30 Club."
Rimando said he does not want to talk at length about his career until the season winds down in the fall. He did not, however, hesitate to reminisce about the 2004 D.C. squad that caught fire late in the campaign, beat New England in an epic conference final — Rimando’s celebratory jig after stopping Clint Dempsey in a penalty-kick tiebreaker was among many highlights — and defeated Kansas City in the title match.
“A lot of warm feelings about the old-school generation of MLS and what it has turned into,” he said, “now that the players I used to play with are coaching.”
Another 2004 teammate, Mike Petke, is his head coach in Utah.
“I felt lucky to play to 30,” said Olsen, 41. “God, another decade?”
Since leaving United, Rimando has become MLS’s king in victories, shutouts, saves, penalty-kick saves, matches played, starts and minutes played (43,906, or 732 hours, or a month without interruption). And that does not include 37 playoff appearances.
He won the league title again in 2009, beating David Beckham and the LA Galaxy in the final. He also earned 22 caps for the U.S. national team and a spot on the 2014 World Cup squad.
It’s an impressive march for someone who was doubted because of his size — 5-foot-10 is small for a goalkeeper ― and who tore a knee ligament on Giants Stadium’s artificial turf in 2003.
Two years after the 2004 heroics, Rimando lost the D.C. starting job to Troy Perkins. With his stock falling, he was shipped along with Adu to Real Salt Lake for another backup goalie, Jay Nolly, and a ton of financial considerations.
“It was bittersweet leaving, but it was time to go,” Rimando said. “The rest is history with what we’ve achieved in Salt Lake and the memories we’ve made.”
Not right away, however. Shortly after acquiring him, Salt Lake traded him to the New York Red Bulls, then reacquired him when its top-choice goalie retired.
Olsen said: “I don’t have any real personal relationships with anyone playing anymore, mostly because of the age factor. And Nicky just keeps on ticking. And ticking at a high level. It’s been a lot of fun to watch. It’s nice to see him break records and become a legend in that area and elevate soccer in Salt Lake.”
There, Rimando is known as the “Wall of the Wasatch,” a nod to the mountain range overlooking Salt Lake Valley. He started at least 24 regular season matches in each of his previous 12 seasons with the team.
Olsen is not the only D.C. figure with long ties to Rimando. In 2007, as a rookie goalkeeper from the University of Maryland, Chris Seitz arrived at Salt Lake around the same time as Rimando. They were teammates for three seasons.
“He was still a young guy looking to prove himself with a new club,” said Seitz, now 32 and in his first season with United, backing up Bill Hamid.
“He’s smart and very true to himself, staying inside the bubble of what works for him. You are not going to see him out there fishing for crosses. He is a shot-stopper and probably the best in the league."
Rimando’s last swing through the District (for soccer, anyway) creates an awkward situation. Olsen has brainstormed ideas about how to honor him and how to beat him.
“He is a big part of D.C. United, so he is certainly worth honoring,” Olsen said. “But how do you do that?”
Memories of 2004 joy rekindling this week, Rimando sees great promise with the D.C. organization and with his buddy in charge.
“What’s been going on with the stadium, with the players they brought in and with what Ben’s been doing with the team," he said, "I don’t see it being too much longer until the next championship.”
Real Salt Lake at D.C. United
Where: Audi Field.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Live streams: FloSports, ESPN+. Both are digital subscription services. ESPN+ is blacked out in the D.C. area.
Records: Salt Lake 1-0-1, four points; D.C. 1-0-1, four points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; D Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; MF Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez; F Wayne Rooney.
Salt Lake probable starters: GK Nick Rimando; D Brooks Lennon, Marcelo Silva, Nedum Onuoha, Aaron Herrera; MF Jefferson Savarino, Everton Luiz, Kyle Beckerman, Damir Kreilach, Albert Rusnak; F Corey Baird.