For all of Real Salt Lake’s strength on the field, the defensive unit may be their greatest strength.
With a backline that features top-flight center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave along with Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran on the outside, their defenders are the great blend of size and athleticism. And 13-year veteran Nick Rimando remains among the best goalkeepers in MLS. This year, he had a career-high 16 wins while posting a 1.06 goals against average, good for fourth in MLS, and 12 shutouts.
As a team, RSL was third in MLS with 35 goals allowed and we talked with their color commentator, Brian Dunseth about the defense in the third part of our “Know Your Enemy” series.
Question: Salt Lake has shut Seattle out three times this year. What have they been able to do well against the Sounders?
Dunseth: “I just think they match up well. Particularly when Jamison plays. It’s Colombia vs. Colombia. He does not want to allow Fredy Montero any opportunity to embarrass him. I just think these two teams are very comfortable playing against each other. It’s a healthy rivalry. It’s a bigger rivalry than people give it credit for. I think there is a professional respect and on-field hatred when they match up.”
Q: Looking at the defensive group, I know they have been nicked up a bit lately, but when they are healthy, they are among the best. They have also been together for a while. How much has that helped their success?
Dunseth: “It’s huge. You’re reading each other as opposed to screaming and shouting. They’ve been here day-in and day-out and it’s phenomenal. You get past what you think would be the ‘starting four’ and you have Chris Schuler, who has been phenomenal. In my opinion, he’s one of the up-and-coming American defenders in this league. Then Kwame Watson-Siriboe was just a shot out of the dark who came in when everyone was injured and played really well. In came Kenny Mansally who was an attacking player for New England and he’s been a left back. It’s a solid group of players. Then you throw Rimando into the mix and they’ve been together for a long time.”
Q: What has made Rimando successful for so long and how has he grown since he came to Salt Lake?
Dunseth: “I think it’s his work rate. His growth in the position, understanding angles and his own personal movement in the box. He has cat-like reflexes, it’s incredible. Some of his shot-stopping ability. I think he’s gotten better every year at coming off his line and being big and snatching things out of the air. His feet are second to none in Major League Soccer. I don’t think there’s a keeper that’s better with his feet than Nick Rimando. And, let’s be honest, it’s Borchers and Olave. When you have those type of defenders in front of you, it limits the amount of shots you’re taking. You can adjust your focus and you’re not going to get shelled and you just have to come up with two or three good saves a game. That’s a good positive to have.”
Tomorrow, we take one final look at Real Salt Lake as we build toward the Western Conference semifinal series beginning on Friday at CenturyLink Field.
Dunseth is not only a commentator for Real Salt Lake broadcasts. He also contributes to NBC Sports Network, Fox Soccer and the Pac-12 Network.