Major League Soccer: Tucson just part of MLS resurgence

2012-02-26T00:00:00Z Major League Soccer: Tucson just part of MLS resurgenceDave Ord Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando has been toiling between MLS goalposts for a dozen seasons.

But that must seem like a nanosecond when compared to the light years that America's top professional league has traveled in that time.

After just his second season, his Miami Fusion was disbanded along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. That left the league with just 10 teams and a lot of people wondering what the future held for the MLS.

Certainly no one on or off the field could have envisioned that 11 years later the league would be adding a 19th team and building quality fan bases across the country.

Nor could Rimando have expected to see 8,472 show up in Tucson, of all places, to watch a preseason, yes preseason, match. Rimando and Real Salt Lake lost 2-0 to the Los Angeles Galaxy at Kino Stadium on Saturday night in the opening match of a Desert Diamond Cup doubleheader.

In the nightcap, the New England Revolution defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-0 on a pair of goals by Kelyn Rowe.

The league "made some expansion moves to places where the clubs are now rising. A lot of the teams are making money now," Rimando said. "There's tons of stadiums around the country. So the league is on the rise."

While the league has flourished, Rimando has become one of its best goalkeepers ever. The 32-year-old has started 25 or more matches in nine of his 12 seasons.

One of his crowning moments came in the 2009 MLS Cup championship game when he saved two penalty shots in a shootout as Real Salt Lake defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy to win the title. He also won the MLS Cup with D.C. United in 2004.

Rimando faced the Galaxy on Saturday with a different result. After Real Salt Lake lost two players to red cards in the second half and Los Angeles brought in David Beckham as a substitute, the tide turned and the Galaxy picked up goals by Paolo Cardozo and Mike Magee in the final 10 minutes to win.

"When you go down two guys, it's pretty tough," Rimando said. "And then they bring some special players on to turn the game around."

Rimando may not have the marquee name of a Beckham, but it's clear he's still a prized performer. United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann must think so, naming Rimando to the national team roster for Wednesday's away game against Italy in Genoa.

"It's always an honor to get called up and represent your country, especially a game like Italy - former World Cup champs and a team that's been proven for a long time now," Rimando said. "To be involved in that game is something special."

It means an early wake-up call, a flight from Arizona to Italy and a busy week ahead.

"It's a big switch-up from being with your club here and then a different country, different weather and different competition," Rimando said.

But the usually unflappable Rimando will no doubt handle it just like a floating ball in the box, and then go back to the task at hand of preparing for the season with RSL.

"First, we need to take care of our injuries. We got a lot of injured guys. We need to get those guys healthy," Rimando said. "We're trying to get everybody on the same page defensively, offensively, how we want to go forward. That it all comes together in this last (preseason) trip with these games."

Rimando says he expects to be back for Saturday's final Desert Diamond Cup doubleheader.

And he has a way to make it even better in the future.

"It would good to have other teams come in, maybe from the Mexican League because sometimes you don't want to play a team three or four times before you play them in the regular season," Rimando said.

If you go

• What: Desert Diamond Cup

• Where: Kino Stadium

• When: Wednesday

• Who: Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution, 6 p.m.; L.A. Galaxy vs. N.Y. Red Bulls, 8 p.m.

• Tickets: fctucson.com

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