SANDY, Utah -- During the season's first two months Nick Rimando has put close observers through some emotional highs and lows this season. Alongside the great plays fans expect, his performances have also included some uncharacteristic mistakes.
But newly minted Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke finds little cause for concern as he navigates the team's overall ups and downs. “Nick has been the most steady guy in this league from the goalkeeper perspective,” he said. “We have a new coach come in, a bit of a different philosophy that perhaps leaves us open at times, but for the most part Nick is one of the best. I have no worries with Nick.”
The only concern at the moment is Rimando's health. The veteran 'keeper left Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Atlanta in the 58th minute with a right hamstring injury, and his condition remains day to day. He has yet to practice this week, and it looks likely that backup Matt Van Oekel might take on net-minding duty this Saturday, Apr. 29, against Sporting KC (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
The shake-up between the sticks comes at a time when Petke's trying to shift the team's strategy to playing aggressively out of the back. “We play out of the back -- and perhaps overplay at times,” Petke said, "but I want to be a team that plays out of the back.” The squad is still ironing out the specifics of the change, which will represent an even bigger shift this week if Van Oekel is in goal.
“Obviously Rimando knows how to play with his feet better than most guys in the league,” Van Oekel said. “I have to up my game there a little bit more to make sure I can play those same type of balls and give those guys that type of distribution.”
But for his part, Van Oekel's proven no slouch. In his first start of the season, on Mar. 25, he shut out the New York Red Bulls in a 0-0 draw, boosting his teammates' respect.
“We're completely confident,” team captain Kyle Beckerman said of Van Oekel's ability. “Matt's first showing in the game against New York was really solid. All preseason he's been working hard and gelling with the team really well, so everybody on the team has confidence in him.”
That includes Petke, of course.
“The game he played in New York, he was arguably the man of the match,” said the head coach. “He’s an experienced goalkeeper. He knows what’s expected of him. We’re not missing a beat with him in goal.”