The Czech national team came at the US soccer team in waves, one after the other, hoping for the proverbial dam to break. But when you have Nick Rimando preventing you from scoring, well, you can hope all you want for a breakthrough goal--it isn't going to happen.
Already up 1-0 thanks to a goal from an Alejandro Bedoya rebound and slot-in in the 39th minute, the Americans continued to press the initiative--but so did the Czechs. Playing at home in front of about 12,000 in the Generali Arena on Wed, Sept. 3, the home team went on the attack--and Rimando had plenty of work to do between the posts.
Rimando's 45 minutes in goal on Wednesday were never easy. After being subbed in for goalkeeper Brad Guzan to start the second half of the US soccer team's international friendly in Prague, Rimando soon found himself under siege.
In the 60th minute the Czechs played a searching ball behind the US defense, leading to a 1-on-1 opportunity inside the six yard box, forcing the Real Salt Lake keeper to make a kick save to keep the game scoreless.
Four minutes later, the hi-jinks continued in the US back line as a poor clearance by an American defender led to a ping-ponged ball in front of goal--which the US defense cleared towards the far corner of the 18.
On this play, Rimando was challenged, this time a bit further from goal as he leapt to parry a well-struck Czech half-volley wide of the near post. The ball had eyes for inside Rimando's near post, but the RSL star's athleticism proved too much for even this rocket shot.
Wearing the No. 22 shirt symbolizing that he was the last man selected perhaps, it was Rimando, the team player with all these tattoos and a slight chip on his shoulder that you'd never see who was keeping the US rock solid with a clean sheet--and keeping the US defenders calm under extreme pressure.
If Rimando continued playing the way he was for the Americans, he would have his second clean sheet in as many games. But the Czechs were hardly done peppering the US goal after the 65th minute.
Rimando would have to make a few more brilliant saves before this game was in the books, however. The initial buildup to the dramatic climax came in the 78th, when a Czech no-look chip from the far right flank sailed over a US defender's head, resulting in a shot that floated over the far post.
The chippy little move by the Czechs forced Rimando to give his defender the evil eye--followed by a thumbs-up signaling the defender understood the mistake that was made.
The Czechs were getting fancy--but you already know what Rimando can do if you're a Real Salt Lake fan. The US found itself under attack one minute later on the other side of the field, as a through ball whizzed low, past a backpedaling American defender to the left corner.
The Czech player deftly chipped the ball over the six yard box, floating it past every American and into the path of an onrushing Czech teammate. Rimando was out of position on this play--but the onrushing attacker got under the chipped ball instead of ripping into it full-on, sending the ball skyward into the cheap seats instead of the net.
The Czech player, knowing full well he just blew an opportunity to tie the game, buried his head in his hands. It was not his day.
No, this day belonged to Rimando. At times, the RSL keeper was the best player on the field, especially in the 84th minute. The Czechs, realizing they could now pull apart the left side of the Americans back line, sent another chipped ball into a forward.
He collected the ball on a dead run, dribbling with pace into the 18, towards the end line. Just as he reached the end line though, he cut the ball back into the opposite corner of the six yard box. As the US defense scrambled to find its bearings, a Czech attacker collected the bouncing ball and side-footed a half-volley chance.
Rimando punched the ball away with vigor back towards the attacker who just pounced on the first opportunity. Luckily for Rimando, the attacker had nothing left in his arsenal, sending the ball into the stands at Generali Arena.
After a few high fives, Rimando implored his team to keep fighting and keep up the intensity. It's a scene you've seen a hundred times if you watch Real Salt Lake games--but you got the feeling that some of the shell shocked American players in all-white might have been seeing his attention to detail for the first time.
It showed up again in the 88th, as the battle to retain a clean sheet went on for Rimando and the US soccer team. The Czechs sent a long diagonal ball, which was mishit by an American player--bouncing off his head backwards and into the path of an onrunning attacker.
To be honest, the Bad News Bears allowed fewer chances in the last 20 minutes of action than the Americans did--but as a Czech attacker came down the middle towards the penalty spot, Rimando turned into a figure resembling a spider. His legs bowed and his arms got big, trying to cut off as much space as possible for what appeared to be an easy goal.
Just as the Czech attacker collected the ball and shot, Rimando kick slid into the ball the Czech player was shooting, causing the ball to spray harmlessly away from the goal. If Rimando doesn't splay his legs out towards that ball, it's probably an easy nutmeg for a Czech goal and a tie game.
Instead of blowing up at his defense that nearly blew the clean sheet though, Rimando showed poise beyond his years, holding up four fingers--which represented the four players he needed back to help him if another situation like that should ever happen.
With a young team still learning how to play at a world-class level, keeping his young charges calm, cool, and collected was what Rimando had to do to keep the peace--and his clean sheet.
“I think being up, away they were going to throw guys forward. At times it felt like they had four, five guys up front and dumping balls. We need to have a little bit more of a mature effort at the end," Rimando said post-game. "Keep the ball, possess it and not invite the pressure as much. But, we dealt with it and got the shutout.”