Real Salt Lake's win tonight over Houston Dynamo was memorable for many reasons — a spectacular Jordan Allen goal, for one, and some ankle-breaking skill from Burrito Martinez. But the moment that will live in memory, as well it should, is Nick Rimando's continued display of outstanding goalkeeping ability.
It seems like a regular occurrence that we're able to see Rimando make an outstanding save. Sometimes, his saves are better than others. Tonight's big save — with a ball slamming off his face — was one of those. But it wasn't the only save on the play.
It's certainly not the first time Rimando has made a save off his face, and it probably won't be the last. It's not even his first double-save of the season. His recovery time is great, and it's something we often get to forget because it seems rote at this point. But as you watch the video above, there are several aspects of this double-save that make it special.
First, Rimando spectacularly reaches out to push a ball on to the post, preventing a second Houston goal. That kind of reaching, tipping save is difficult enough, and if that's all we saw, it would be particularly praiseworthy.
Second, Rimando does incredibly to get back up after flinging himself to the ground — that reaction is exactly what you want out of your goalkeeper. He's able to get up enough to push off of the ground again, and there's simply no accounting for that. It's just spectacular.
Finally, Rimando is able to make himself big enough and stretch enough that his face is even in a position to be a target. That's where things really get wild for me — can any other goalkeeper in MLS make that second save in such quick succession? I don't think so.
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A word, finally, for the importance of a top-class goalkeeper on any team attempting to contend for titles: It's easy to look at Rimando's double save and wonder if we'd have been anywhere close to a win without him. There's certainly an argument there, but it's important to remember that he was making similarly spectacular saves (although probably not quite to this level) last year — but RSL wasn't winning games regardless.
A top goalkeeper can elevate a team from potential contenders to actual contenders, but they can't elevate a team from never-rans to contenders. Rimando's importance only has so much pull — and thankfully, this season, we're in a better position generally than in 2015.
But that shouldn't diminish the importance of someone like Nick Rimando. Every great championship-winning team (or certainly most) has had an outstanding goalkeeper at their back. That's doubly true of teams that open themselves up to such vulnerabilities by emphasizing attacking play.