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Player Profiles, #1: Nick Rimando remains the MLS gold standard

He's number one in our hearts and number one on the field: Nick Rimando takes the top spot in our 2014 player profiles. Surprised? Never.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Claret-and-Cobalt's most veteran player, Rimando had a career year during the 2014 campaign that also saw him make history. Being the gold standard for goalkeepers once again in the MLS, he was also able to represent the United States in the World Cup.

The league once again, however, snubbed the Wall of the Wasatch and gave the Goalkeeper of the Year award to Bill Hamid. Still, if we know anything about Nick Rimando it is that success is not measured by awards but hby ard-work and talent.

The Montclair, Calif., native began his professional career by attending UCLA to play NCAA soccer. Under the guidance of Sigi Schmid, the freshman Rimando was given the opportunity to tend the net as the Bruins went on to win the College Cup in 1997. After another outstanding season his sophomore year, Rimando was signed to a Project-40 (development) contact with MLS.

During his debut MLS season with the Miami Fusion in 2000, Rimando was able to wrestle away the starting goalkeeper position from future RSL goalkeeping coach and now head coach Jeff Cassar. He would appear in 22 matches as a rookie and 25 as a sophomore and maintain a save percentage of 70 and 77 percent, respectfully. His outstanding sophomore performance would lead the Fusion to capture the 2001 MLS Supporters' Shield.

When the Fusion contracted after the 2001 season, Rimando was once again employed by Ray Hudson - the last head coach of the Miami Fusion - in D.C. For United, Rimando played every match in 2002 and missed only the last three matches of the 2003 season due to injury. Rimando lost the first-choice backstop position to Troy Perkins during most of the 2004 season, but regained if for the playoffs which saw D.C. lift their fourth MLS Cup. He would regain his consistent starter's status in 2005 but would once again lose it to Perkins in 2006 - playing only two matches the entire season.

Rimando continued this roller coaster ride into the offseason when he was traded along with Freddy Adu to Real Salt Lake. RSL would then trade him to the I-5 rivals of his previous team, the New York Red Bulls, who then traded him back to the Claret-and-Cobalt following the sudden retirement of RSL's first-choice keeper Scott Garlick.

After his professional struggles to find his form and a new home, Rimando became the first-choice backstop for RSL during the 2007 season. Despite doing a great job between the sticks, RSL struggled during Rimando's first year with the club. Still, Rimando led the league with 146 saves in 27 matches with highlight reel saves against New England and Toronto FC which were both held to 0-0 draws. His pure athleticism and hard-work was rewarded at the end of the season when he was named RSL's Most Valuable Player.

During 2008, Real Salt Lake's history of building up downtrodden players and rejuvenating them continued with Nick Rimando. Rimando emerged as one of the top goalkeepers in the league with Real Salt Lake, now under the reigns of former teammate Jason Kreis. His strong performances between the pipes won Rimando the MLS Player of the Month award in July and carried his team to the Western Conference Final during the postseason.

In 2009, Rimando propelled his team even further in the postseason. In the Eastern Conference Final against the Chicago Fire, the Claret-and-Cobalt battled to a scoreless draw after 120 minutes of regulation during which Rimando came up with several huge saves. Rimando then added three penalty saves propelling RSL to its first ever MLS Final. Rimando found himself again facing a shootout in the MLS Cup championship match, and once again he delivered. He again made three huge saves that lifted Real Salt Lake to a victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. His efforts made history as he was awarded the MLS Cup MVP - the second ever goalkeeper to earn the honor after Tony Meola in 2000.

Driven by Rimando's defensive prowess, the Claret-and-Cobalt took to the pitch in 2010 with a new found confidence and emerged as arguably the greatest defensive team in MLS history - setting a league high of a +25 goal differential. RSL set an MLS record for fewest goals in a single season - 20 in 30 matches - with Rimando in-between the pipes. Rimando also set the club's records for most shutouts in a single season (14) and the longest shutout streak (568 minutes). Despite yet another stellar season, Rimando was spurned by the league again, losing the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award to L.A. Galaxy's Donovan Ricketts

For the next three years, Rimando consistently ranked amongst the best goalkeepers in the MLS. He consistently played 2,000 or more minutes for RSL each season and maintained a 70 percent or better save percentage.

The Wall of the Wasatch had one of the best seasons of his career in 2014. The MLS and CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year candidate posted a 13-4-7 league record and registered seven shutouts despite missing 10 matches due to international duty and illness. His excellent run of form allowed RSL to tie the best start in league history with no loses in their first 13 matches. RSL continued to struggle without Rimando, however, going just 2-4-4 without the veteran in net. The Claret-and-Cobalt allowed 1.04 goals per match with Rimando, compared to a 1.4 goals against average without him.

Responsible for 73 save percentage and routinely coming up with physics defying save after save, Rimando is, now "statistically," the best goalkeeper in the history of Major League Soccer — something we, as RSL fans, have known for a long time. Rimando surpassed Kevin Harman's league leading 112 shutouts on August 9, 2014 against his former club D.C. United with a 3-0 win.

Playing like we have come to expect here in Salt Lake, Rimando excelled for the United States National Team as well. The U.S. International extended his 10-0-0 unbeaten record by adding two ties for his time with the National Team in 2014. While not appearing in the 2014 World Cup, Rimando is more motivated than ever to keep performing well as he looks to secure the starting role for the USMNT as Tim Howard takes his sabbatical from international duty.

Despite once again being overlooked for Goalkeeper of the Year, the veteran netminder ended the 2014 season with several nods from league officials. The Emmy nominated MLS Insider released a feature about Nick Rimando titled Cold-Blooded Penalty Killer. Inspired by his first Player of the Week awards in 2014, where Rimando dove to his right to save a penalty kick by L.A. Galaxy star Robbie Keane in the 93rd minute during the first match of the season - the feature exposes Rimando's talent for reading shots to the much deserved spotlight of the league. Rimando would go on to win another Player of the Week accolade in week seven after a three-save performance in Portland for the Claret-and-Cobalt's 1-0 victory.

With Rimando leading the league with 115 clean-sheets, the Claret-and-Cobalt can continue to expect more of the same from the Wall of the Wasatch in 2015. Rimando's honed athleticism and pure talent for reading the ball has helped him remain consistent as fellow rivals like Perkins and Ricketts struggle to remain in form — both not returning to their 2014 teams for the 2015 season. As Nick Rimando remains the Gold Standard for goalkeepers in the MLS, look to RSL to reap the benefits.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2014 season and previewing the 2015 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.