SANDY — The bling was back Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium, looking shiny as ever. Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman returned from World Cup duty to a reception that could only be described as bodacious.
The Independence Day crowd was everything they could have hoped, a sold-out event. They were the last ones introduced in pregame ceremonies and received a standing ovation.
There was the requisite July 4 fireworks show afterward. Yet in a strange way, it might have actually felt quite subdued to them. Now they’re back to life at normal MLS speed. Fine with them. With Salt Lake hosting New England, their hope was for a glorious return. In most ways it was. Not only did they get a standing ovation, but RSL snapped its six-game winless streak with a 2-1 victory.
“I think we just wanted to be back and help the team,” Rimando said.
Although “glorious” might seem an overcooked term, consider this: soccer people don’t scrimp on adjectives. They use words like “glory” and “triumph” in everyday language — no blushing allowed.
There’s a certain “300 B.C.” quality to it, but it works for them.
Following the grueling World Cup schedule that included long practice session work by Rimando and three nonstop games by Beckerman, they flew home on Thursday. Landing in Atlanta, each contacted coach Jeff Cassar about whether to play on Friday.
Cassar told them, “No pressure at all.”
They could take a pass if they wanted. But they did show up for a glamor turn in their usual places.
“When I woke up, I felt great,” Rimando said.
“I felt fine,” Beckerman said. “All I did today was walk around the house.”
Neither looked particularly tired at game time. Beckerman, whose dreadlocks turned him into an internationally recognized figure, was back where his hair began. (He hasn’t cut it in nine years; he’s been in Salt Lake seven.)
“Salt Lake’s a soccer town, whether you like it or not,” Beckerman said. “It is. Maybe there will be just a little more attention outside Salt Lake than there was.”
Or maybe a lot.
They could have taken the night off, considering the circumstances. They were introduced to loud applause. This all made sense. There’s no way either they or their fans were missing out on a Fourth of July moment. Patriotism has been running high this summer, even after Belgium eliminated the U.S. from cup play in a hotly contested game.
President Barack Obama got into the act earlier in the week, leading chants of “I believe that we will win!”
Imagine, the Commander in Chief with a case of soccer fever.
Or maybe he was just warming up Democrats for the midterm elections.
Realistically, both players will be considerably more recognizable after this year’s World Cup. TV ratings in the U.S. were at record highs. But like cronuts and Cincinnati chili, it’s fabulously popular in some places but hasn’t caught on everywhere. Still the numbers were impressive. The match with Portugal outdrew any NBA Finals game, with 18.2 million ESPN viewers.
Back in Salt Lake, there were other issues. For instance, the annul midsummer slump. National team call-ups, injuries, red cards and plain old doldrums can conspire for June/July letdowns.
That’s one reason meeting third-place New England on Friday was important. Not only had Real been on a winless streak, but it was time to reset. You get your guys back (Alvaro Saborio is out until fall) and start compiling points toward the playoffs.
No better time to start than now.
Beckerman got a chance to rattle the stadium with a kick from the center of the goal in the 10th minute but was stopped by a diving save. In the 23rd he got another try, from the right side, but it too was stopped. It was probably an OK thing. Residents might have thought the fireworks were going off early.
Javier Morales took care of the job, scoring on a penalty kick in the 35th minute, cleverly hesitating to get Bobby Shuttleworth off-balance, then striking high into the net. New England tied on a Darrius Barnes goal a minute later.
Joao Plata locked it away with a 65th-minute penalty kick goal into the top of the net.
For his part, Rimando played a respectable match, getting bested on the Barnes shot but holding the Revolution back effectively. Neither Rimando nor Beckerman was in an excuse-making mood afterward. Beckerman began the match in a more offensive mindset than in World Cup play and played well. Rimando? Same steadiness as always.
Soon, it seemed, coming home was nearly as good as the reason they left.
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