Real Salt Lake great Nick Rimando reveals the pain he played through during his final MLS season

Nick Rimando - regular season farewell

The onset of retirement often brings down time, perhaps a party or a vacation to celebrate the milestone. And Nick Rimando has indeed gotten to enjoy some quiet moments with family and friends since calling time on his sterling 20-year professional career last fall. 

But most of the past few months have been devoured by a less pleasant sort of to-do list. 

“So I've been knocking out some of these surgeries,” the Real Salt Lake icon told last week, reeling off a laundry list of injuries he’s finally trying to resolve. “I’m just waiting on my back right now; my L4 and L5 [vertebrae] are shattered. I’m nine weeks post[-op] on my right rotator cuff bicep tendon. I’ve got to get my left rotator cuff done. I’m four months out of my meniscus [repair] on my left knee. 

“I was a Tin Man the last couple years,” he added with a chuckle, “getting [pain-killing] shots to be on the field. And I knew that — I knew going into my last year, to be on the field I had to suck it up a bit and maintain my body and just get those shots. I knew it was going to be a rocky road, but I was able to get by and now, now I'm paying for it a little bit.”

According to fellow veteran and longtime teammate Kyle Beckerman, the full extent of Rimando’s suffering wasn’t clear to the rest of the locker room.

“It’s just a testament to him,” said Beckerman. “I think Nick was playing with some serious injuries for a while and he didn't let on at all. He just was a warrior just to push through and now get the surgeries when he's done.”

While millions across the world have been confined to their homes due to social-distancing and quarantine directives brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, RSL’s goalkeeping legend has been laid up by painful, laborious rehabilitation processes, particularly for his arm and shoulder ailments. 

“For six weeks you have to be in a sling, you can't do anything,” he explained. “Even after that, it's very minimal lifting, very minimal therapy that you could do: flexing your shoulder blades, doing bicep curls with nothing in your hand and just letting it kind of heal on its own. 

“In three weeks, I get to start doing [elastic] band work, so I'm excited about that. Because as you can imagine, things get boring, man. You kind of feel useless when you can't use your arms and everybody's catering to you.”

While some new retirees peruse timeshares or trip packages, Rimando consulted with specialists to plan out his surgical and recovery schedule, hoping to minimize the disruption to his daily life. 

“I got a couple of opinions and one of the doctors wanted me to do the lesser one without the bicep tendon tear first. The other one wanted to be aggressive and knock out the more intense one first, and just gave me a couple more options,” he said. “After going through it, I want to have my summer, and then knock it out maybe at the end of the year or next year, the left one.”

It’s a long way, he admits, from the “glam and glitz” of gameday, and it all puts his 2019 exploits into further perspective. Rimando’s MLS swan song was a defiant seven-save performance in last year’s playoffs, flummoxing the eventual MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders for more than an hour before falling 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals, and he won MLS Save of the Year for two point-blank stops in RSL’s 2-0 Rocky Mountain Cup-clinching win over Colorado in August. 

“Maybe if I can’t get to that ball in the top corner or something, they [the fans] will get a little relief knowing my back was jacked up!” he deadpanned. 

At least his extended recuperation can provide some time and perspective as he plots his next chapter. Rimando has held preliminary talks with RSL about a role at the club, perhaps in the broadcasting space or as a coach at some level of the club’s substantial developmental pyramid. And he’s also a part-owner of two bars and a restaurant in Salt Lake City and Park City, respectively. 

“I want to be able to dabble in a bit of everything and kind of get my foot in and see what I like,” he said. “Saying that, being away from the game a little bit, I miss it, you know. I miss getting on the field. Coaching, I think I'd be more intrigued to mentor the academy and youth teams and be on the field, doing the youth development way.”

He’s open to all opportunities, but admits to being leery of the occupational hazards of top-flight management, where constant turnover means “you always have to have your suitcase packed,” in the words of former Atlanta United boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino. 

With his son, Jett, and daughter, Benny Rose, in elementary school, the California native — who last year revealed he nearly signed with LAFC in 2018 — hopes to keep his by-now deep Utah roots planted in the Wasatch soil for at least a little while longer. 

“I want to be here just because of this transition year with my kids. I don't want them to miss a beat, I want them to keep that rhythm,” Rimando said, “And with Dad not playing any more, just make it as easy as possible for them in that transition. If something comes up that I'm into, obviously I have to look at it, if the options are there and it's lucrative … but my kids are a big deal to me.

“I loved the stability here in Salt Lake City when I was playing. I liked knowing that you were taken care of, and I didn't have to pack my bags and be ready to move on at a decision from an owner or a couple bad results.”

In the meantime, he’s auctioning off his personal collection of game-worn gear and collectibles to raise funds for those suffering during the pandemic and accompanying shutdowns.

“I have a lot more time to figure out things,” he said. “We’ll just have to see when this crisis is over and those talks can start going again.”