New boss, same heroics: Nick Rimando dazzles Jeff Cassar in his Real Salt Lake coaching debut
For the first time since 2007, Real Salt Lake took to the field with a new head coach. But the beginning of the Jeff Cassar era looked awfully familiar:
“Unbelievable,” Cassar – the longtime RSL goalkeeper coach who was hired as the new head man in December – told reporters postgame. “He was controlling. He didn't even give up rebounds. He was unbelievable in the air, and that's not an easy team to play against when they're getting service into the box.”
With replacement refs on the field, an RSL goal by newcomer Luke Mulholland was mysteriously denied in the 76th minute. Diminutive forward Joao Plata put the visitors up ahead in the 80th minute, but it appeared that one-goal lead would not be enough.
In the 92nd minute, referee Javier Santos pointed to the spot after he judged RSL defender Tony Beltran to have fouled LA's Rob Friend in the box.
But just when it appeared the Galaxy would salvage a tie, Rimando stepped up and did what he'd been doing all night — he made a huge save, diving to the right and punching Keane's kick out of bounds.
“In that moment, it just felt somebody wanted to take the game away a little bit,” Rimando told reporters. “I knew [Keane] likes to stutter step and I waited as long as I could. [I] went to my right, reacted and was lucky to make the save.”
Added Cassar, “Obviously, the PK save was just amazing. That's just Nick. He's that guy.”
It was the 12th save the veteran goalkeeper has made on 38 regular-season PK attempts against him.
Cassar, meanwhile, did what no RSL coach has done before — he won his first match. (Jason Kreis and John Ellinger both tied in their debuts.)
The lineup he put on the field was familiar to Salt Lake's fans and foes, with one exception: He started Aaron Maund, and the defender acquitted himself admirably.
Two of Cassar's second-half substitutions were players who made their first-ever appearances in MLS play. Mulholland was subbed in for a visibly unhappy Luis Gil in the 66th minute and scored the mysteriously disallowed goal; and 18-year-old Jordan Allen came in for goalscorer Plata in the 89th minute.
A relieved-looking Cassar said his first win “feels great. And what I'm really most excited about is the fight that the team had. We were under the gun a couple times there in the first half.”
But he said he told his team that heading into the second half in a scoreless tie was just where they wanted to be.
“The energy level, the effort from the guys in the second half was just fantastic,” Cassar said.
And it was RSL's fifth consecutive season-opening win.
“I wouldn't say this is a huge win, but it's a step in the right direction for sure,” Rimando said. “We've got 30-plus more games.”