SANDY, Utah—Jurgen Klinsmann made headlines when he publicly reprimanded Fabian Johnson for asking to be taken out of the United States’ 3-2 loss to Mexico on Saturday, but another part of the equation has been largely ignored. If the U.S. coach had been able to carry out his plan, goalkeeper Nick Rimando might have come in specifically for the penalty shootout in one of soccer’s unique situations.
“The plan was to maybe to have Nick Rimando ready for the penalty shootout, because obviously he’s the best penalty blocker that you can have in this whole region. That thought kind of went down the drain when Fabian Johnson said he can’t go anymore,” Klinsmann said post-game on Saturday. “If it went 2-2, going into the penalty shootout with Nick Rimando would have been a good consolation, but it didn’t work that way.”
On Tuesday after training with Real Salt Lake, Rimando told SI.com that he never spoke with Klinsmann about that possibility before the game. Rimando found out when Klinsmann pulled Chris Wondolowski back at the last moment after preparing to bring him on when the U.S. still needed a goal in extra time. The U.S. used its last sub on Brad Evans when Johnson came out, three minutes after Bobby Wood's equalizer. Mexico scored the go-ahead goal seven minutes later.
“We just trained during the week [on] penalty kicks because it could’ve went down to that,” Rimando said. “I did pretty good during the week, so I guess it was in his plan if it came down to it. … It’s kind of a sticky situation when you’re going against your own teammates [in training] and trying to give them confidence going into games, but then you also want to stop them. I want to block them too, you know, and have confidence when called upon.”
It’s a move rarely seen, in no small part because only a few matches can end in extra time or a shootout. When those opportunities arise, coaches often use all three substitutions on the field players who have covered immense ground across 120 minutes and rarely have one left over at the very end.
Current Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal exercised that option when the Netherlands team he coached at the 2014 World Cup defeated Costa Rica in a quarterfinal shootout. Newcastle United goalkeeper Tim Krul came on for Jasper Cillessen in stoppage time and saved two of the five shots he faced to win the game.
“That is not normal,” Krul, whose reputation as a penalty specialist is not unlike Rimando’s in MLS, said after that game. “You sit the whole match on the bench and then you have to go in and save the penalties. I don’t know what I can say.”
All Rimando could say, with no lack of confidence in his voice, was that he was prepared to face El Tri’s shooters in much the same fashion.
“I bring that to the team, and if called upon, I was going to be ready,” Rimando said. “I knew it was an option, and I think anytime a penalty-kick shootout comes to mind if I’m on the team, I’m going to be ready for it.”