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Rimando and Beckerman, close friends over 20-year career, hoping to lead RSL to one final MLS Cup

HERRIMAN, Utah -- The first time Nick Rimando crossed paths with Kyle Beckerman, the goalkeeper felt compelled to engage in something of a rescue operation.

It was the summer of 2000, and Beckerman was a teenage rookie who had just signed on with the Miami Fusion after starring for the U.S. under-17 national team. He was living with the late Doug Hamilton, Miami's general manager at the time.

"It was like kind of still living at home, but at somebody else's house," Beckerman said in an exclusive interview with ESPN at Real Salt Lake's training facility.

Rimando, who was also in his first professional season, caught wind of the arrangement and decided to intervene.

"We had a place to live with [former Fusion midfielder] Martin Machon. We had an extra bedroom," Rimando said. "I told him, 'Get out of there, man, you're more than welcome to come stay with us.' It was really easy. [Beckerman] fit right in. Just an easy kid, eager to play, eager to prove himself in a new environment. We had all of these veterans, so we had that bond of being the young kids on the team."

Beckerman was grateful for the invitation.

"Just having a guy who was a bit older, having gone to college and me coming from high school, it was good to have somebody to have different things to do with, and just a more experienced person," he said.

It's a connection that is now in its 20th season. It survived not only the Fusion folding in 2001, but multiple trades as well. The two eventually were reunited in 2007 with Real Salt Lake, where they're now club icons. It's seen them share incredible highs, including the 2009 MLS Cup title, as well as trip to the 2014 World Cup with the U.S. men's national team. There have been disappointments as well, including the near-miss that was RSL's run to the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final.

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Yet the relationship is about to change.

Rimando is set to retire at season's end. With the MLS Cup playoffs set to begin this weekend, his final game could come as early as Saturday, when RSL hosts the Portland Timbers in Round 1 of the Western Conference playoffs (10 p.m. ET, watch live on ESPNEWS). At best, it will conclude at the MLS Cup final on Nov. 10. Regardless, his career has less than a month to run.

While Beckerman has been noncommittal about his plans, he seems likely to soldier on. Combined with the retirement of defender Tony Beltran on Sept. 13, Rimando's pending departure will make Beckerman the final link to RSL's glory days of the late 2000s and early 2010s. For now, he and Rimando are ready for one last title push.

"We're good teammates. We're tight," Rimando said of Beckerman. "In the beginning, when you're single, we're out in Miami, going out to dinner all the time. Then you get a girlfriend, you get a wife, kind of do your separate things. Then you have kids and you're throwing a lot of things up in the air. We're definitely not hanging out as much because we've got a lot on our tables, both sides. It never takes away the teammates and friends that we are when we're on the road or on the field or in the locker room."


The two RSL mainstays have also seen their careers span a period that's made the league they entered in 2000 barely recognizable today. Rimando recalled that on the day he was drafted by the Fusion, he was picked up by a team administrator and taken to a hotel "where nobody was staying."

"I remember seeing a Miami Subs across the street. I was like, 'I guess I'll go there for dinner,'" he said. "That's changed a lot."

The team trained at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which at the time was the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles. The training gear consisted of all-cotton T-shirts. By the end of the season, Rimando's had stretched down to his knees. When that vision is set against the palatial digs of RSL's training facility, opened in 2018, or even the investment in players made by recent expansion teams like LAFC and Atlanta United, the contrast is jarring. Yet it was still professional soccer, and it proved an important baptism for both players even though their experiences couldn't have been more different.

Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman look on during Real Salt Lake's preseason camp.
The friendship between Nick Rimando, left, and Kyle Beckerman spans 20 years of MLS play.

The Fusion were managed by current beIN Sports broadcaster Ray Hudson, and the roster was full of veterans such as Preki, Chris Henderson, Ian Bishop and Alex Pineda Chacon, as well as a young Pablo Mastroeni.

"It was a pretty much a pirate ship, that Miami Fusion team," Hudson said. "There was a few Blackbeards, you would say."

In the wake of an injury to starting keeper Jeff Cassar, Rimando quickly won Hudson over and was the starter for much of his time in Miami.

"[Rimando's] ability with the ball at his feet, he had what I called a sidewinder. It was a f---in' weapon for us, that he would launch it out of his hands," Hudson said. "You didn't see that s---. It was like maybe you'd see in Mexico. We would be laughing on the bench. It didn't always work out, but I'd just throw my hand up and blow him a kiss sort of thing. His agility, his speed off the line, Iker Casillas-like, a Keylor Navas type, jackrabbit quick. He was f---in' monumental."

Beckerman wasn't as fortunate, a victim of an utterly stacked midfield as well as a broken ankle he sustained while on loan. But despite a lack of playing time, he still values his stint in Miami in that he learned plenty from the team's veterans.

The Fusion folding after the 2001 season -- a year in which they did win the Supporters' Shield -- meant Rimando and Beckerman were among those snapped up by clubs around the league. Rimando ended up with D.C. United, where he won an MLS Cup in 2004. Beckerman was sent to the Colorado Rapids, where he became a regular alongside his old Fusion teammate Mastroeni.

That they both ended up in Salt Lake came as a result of two of the more noteworthy trades in MLS history. Rimando was actually traded three times in three months, first from D.C. to Real Salt Lake in late 2006, as a throw-in on the deal that brought Freddy Adu to RSL. Then he was shipped to the New York Red Bulls the following February. But when nominal RSL starter Scott Garlick abruptly retired, RSL was forced to scramble, and reacquired Rimando just two weeks after he'd been shipped East. He got word as he was getting his physical with the Red Bulls, though he had other things on his mind.

"My car had gotten broken into the night before in New York. I was like, 'Get us out of here,'" Rimando said.

The 2007 trade that brought Beckerman to Salt Lake is one of the most lopsided in MLS history, a deal that saw him swapped straight up for Mehdi Ballouchy. What made the deal odd was that it was swung by John Ellinger, who had been fired as RSL manager just weeks before but was asked by owner Dave Checketts to stay on as acting GM.

Adding another layer of oddity, manager Jason Kreis wasn't sure he even wanted Beckerman. He loved Ballouchy's skill on the ball. And Kreis and Beckerman had gotten into a verbal altercation during a preseason game the previous February.

"Beckerman was running his mouth as he often does, goading me a lot," Kreis said. "I was of course a veteran, experienced player, towards the end of my career. I didn't take too kindly to that. We got into it a little bit. It's kind of incredible that not even six months later we were trading to bring him here with me as the head coach."

For Kreis, any doubts that RSL got the better of the deal quickly evaporated. "His mentality in the training increased the level of competitiveness and the level of intensity in the sessions from day one," Kreis said of Beckerman. "He was a turnkey figure for us right away."

Given the slick passing game Kreis wanted to implement, he soon discovered that in Rimando, he had the ideal goalkeeper to implement that plan.

"With a guy like Nick Rimando in the goal, you always felt like you had an extra player on the field," Kreis said. "So much so that I told the guys, 'Look, give the ball back to him. If you feel like you're under any sort of pressure, you always have the outlet to go backwards to Nick, and he'll pick out the next pass.'"

Other key players like Nat Borchers, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola soon arrived, turning RSL into a league power. But Rimando and Beckerman were the pillars even as the team was eventually broken up, bit by bit.

"They were incredible to manage and very, very strong leaders," Kreis said of the pair.

Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman lift the Eastern Conference trophy en route to Real Salt Lake's MLS Cup win in 2009.
Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman led Real Salt Lake to an MLS Cup win in 2009.

Asked to pick out memories of the other, Beckerman and Rimando gravitate toward RSL's 2009 title, as well as the World Cup. Beckerman recalled how he missed his penalty in the shootout that decided the 2009 MLS Cup final.

"I was like, 'We're going to be all right. We've got Nick,'" he said.

But Beckerman tends not to get nostalgic about past accomplishments. He said he still hasn't watched any of the games he played in at the 2014 World Cup. Rather, his impulse is to look forward. When asked about his future plans, Beckerman quipped, "I think we have tomorrow off."

Beckerman also brought up a 2007 double-save Rimando made against the Rapids to secure that year's Rocky Mountain Cup and admitted that the thought of not having Rimando in goal next season will be "weird."

"It will take a while to get used to, I'm sure," Beckerman said, although he doesn't expect this season to be the final time he'll ever see the longtime RSL keeper. "We've had a lot of laughs. I'm sure it will continue."

With the end of his career in sight, Rimando is quicker to recall moments, both on and off the field. The tension in the U.S. camp ahead of the final World Cup roster announcement in 2014 sprang to mind, especially considering both he and Beckerman survived. The day-to-day sticks in the memory as well, and yet Rimando couldn't help but think back on what took place in his rookie season.

"I'm just happy for Kyle, because I saw him when he was on a futon with nothing, just hanging out, living out of a bag. 'Hey, whatever.' Just a chill kid. 'I'll do laundry later,'" Rimando said. "And this guy who has grown up to have this career that he has, beautiful wife, son, and that's what I'm most happy about for him. His career has spoken for itself."

So has Rimando's. In terms of what he'll remember the most, he said, "Longevity, playing 20 years, the friendships, they all stand out."

One more than most.

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