Saturday, July 9, 2005

For much of this season, goals have been hard to come by for D.C. United. The team has scored three or more goals only five times, making the defense even more vital.

That’s where goalkeeper Nick Rimando comes in. He missed most of 2003 with a torn ACL, then parts of last season with a torn meniscus. But he returned in 2004 to star in the playoffs as United won its fourth Major League Soccer title. And this season he has been even better.

Rimando has recorded six shutouts in 14 appearances, tied for second in MLS. United (6-5-4 overall) has allowed just 19 goals, second fewest in the Eastern Conference.

In United’s 1-0 victory at Columbus last Saturday, he made two diving stops, including one on a penalty kick. While the attack struggled to find chances, Rimando’s saves essentially won the match.

With Rimando (1.29 goals-against average) in net, opponents frequently become frustrated, making errors and opening up chances for United. Nothing is more frustrating for opponents than taking a great shot only to see Rimando dive to make an even better save.

“That’s what the coaches want to see their goalkeeper do,” Rimando said. “Hopefully, I can make those big saves and help the team to victory. The whole team feeds off it. It’s almost bad for the other team because now we’re on our toes. Great players make those big saves or big shots every time they have a chance.”

United values Rimando’s leadership even more this year. The young defensive unit can relax and focus more easily, knowing if an opponent breaks through, Rimando probably will stop him.

Rookie Bobby Boswell has played every minute for United at the crucial center defensive position and feels he has developed more quickly because Rimando plays behind him.

“He’s got my back even when I don’t play my best,” Boswell said. “If I don’t play my best, he’ll let me know. He’s real honest. It’s excellent to have him back there.”

Rimando, 26, has been in MLS since 2000, when he became the youngest player to appear for the Miami Fusion. He won 15 games the next year, setting a franchise mark. When that team folded, United took Rimando third overall in the MLS allocation draft Jan. 11, 2002.

That season Rimando played every minute of United’s season. In 2003, he played the first 2,318 minutes to bring his streak to 6,016 — 50 short of the league record — until he tore the ACL in the 78th minute of a win over the MetroStars.

“Nick had a tough time [during the 2003 and 2004 seasons],” coach Peter Nowak said. “Through the tough times, you see the leadership. He’s a leader on this team. Right now, there’s no question Nicky’s the one that belongs in goal.”

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