By Michael Lewis
CHICAGO -- On a national team that boasts quality goalkeepers such as Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, finding playing time is no easy task.
That is why getting an extended run at the CONCACAF Gold Cup has been so enjoyable for Nick Rimando.
The Real Salt Lake star has often found himself behind both of the English Premier League standouts on U.S. rosters. During the Americans' run to the final against Panama at Soldier Field on Sunday, however, Rimando has played in four games, allowing three goals and recording one shutout.
"It's great to get on the field, finally," Rimando said prior to U.S. practice at the University of Illinois-Chicago on Friday afternoon. "There are some great goalkeepers ahead of me right now. I'm playing well with my club team and my club team is the reason why I'm here. I don't get to showcase all time for Jurgen [Klinsmann, the coach] because of the goalkeepers in front of me.
"When the time comes you've got to be able to turn it on, take your opportunity and really go with it. So, playing consistency and playing with this team is a chance to really show Jurgen what I can do on the field."
The 34-year-old has been enjoying one of his best club seasons, leading Major League Soccer with a 0.82 goals-against average and six shutouts. Entering this weekend's action at the New York Red Bulls, RSL has accrued the most points in the league (37).
After earning his first cap in 2002 against El Salvador, Rimando waited seven years before wearing the red, white and blue again. Until this Gold Cup, he was used sparingly, but now has made 11 appearances.
Not surprisingly, Rimando is treasuring the experience of participating in CONCACAF’s premier event.
"It's great because you always try to judge yourself a bit on how you perform with the national team," he noted. "It's different playing with your club team than the national team. This tournament has given me the confidence that I can play with this group of guys. We could get results and possibly win a tournament. That's great for the confidence, but it’s also great for the players on this team trying to make that World Cup roster.”
Panama enters the game undefeated at 4-1-0, allowing a tournament-low three goals. Additionally, it is the only team to beat both the U.S. and Mexico in Gold Cup history. The Canaleros handed the U.S. its only first-round Gold Cup loss in the 2011, winning, 2-1. The U.S., though, has eliminated Panama in each of the competition’s last four editions.
The 5-9, 184-lb. Rimando said Panama is a "Tough team. Organized. Big. Strong. A team that's probably for this tournament as much as we are. In the back of their minds, it might be the Seattle qualifier that we won. I think they're a group that's similar to the one that's in Seattle and looking to take that cup away from us."
Winning the Gold Cup will have further rewards for the victor, which will clinch a playoff berth for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup against the 2015 Gold Cup champion.
Rimando isn't thinking that far in advance. He’s focused on only one thing on Sunday.
"I think it's in the back of the minds, but it's not something that we're really thinking about yet," he said. "We've got to win the game on Sunday first and then that comes into play."