Fil-Am thwarts Beckham's goal
- Joaquin M. Henson () - December 1, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It took a 5-10 Fil-Am goalkeeper to spoil celebrated star David Beckham’s bid for the Major League Soccer (MLS) championship in the British hero’s third year with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Nick Rimando, 30, saved two penalty kicks and paved the way for Real Salt Lake to upset the Galaxy, 5-4, in a shootout after the title match ended 1-1 in overtime before 46,011 fans in Seattle last Nov. 22.

Rimando, whose father is Filipino and mother is Mexican, has never been to the Philippines but said he hopes to visit someday soon.

“Everybody knows I’m Filipino because of my eyes,” said Rimando quoted by Truth Esguerra of the Philippine News. “I’m happy to be Filipino and I’m happy to be American and being in the US playing soccer. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or color your hair is. I’m out there doing my job and they look at me as a person.”

Rimando has been called the Filipino Jackie Robinson for his ethnic breakthrough in the MLS. Robinson was the first African-American to play US professional baseball in the modern era, breaking the color barrier and ending racial segregation in the sport in 1947.

“I just try to go out there every day and perform and do my job,” said Rimando, interviewed by ABS-CBN. “If I can represent the Filipino community that way, I’m happy.”

Rimando did his version of Manny Pacquiao by capturing MVP honors in the MLS this season. Not too many experts gave Rimando, the 35th pick in the 2000 draft, a chance to shine in the MLS after bouncing around the league with the Miami Fusion, D. C. United and Red Bull New York before hooking up with Real Salt Lake in 2007.

But Rimando persevered, earning Real Salt Lake’s MVP award for leading the MLS with 146 saves in 27 games in his first season with the claret-and-cobalt squad. In 2008, Real Salt Lake made it to the Western Conference Finals and this year, went all the way to the top.

Qualifying for the Finals wasn’t easy for Real Salt Lake, barely qualifying for the playoffs as the No. 8 seed after posting a lowly regular season record of 11-12-7. The team, however, kept plugging away, beating Columbus and Chicago to arrange the title showdown with Los Angeles.

The win over Chicago established Rimando’s stature as he made three saves in the shootout after a scoreless draw in 120 minutes. Real Salt Lake eliminated Chicago, 5-4, on penalty kicks.

The Galaxy was a hot favorite to crush Real Salt Lake with Beckham and Landon Donovan leading the charge. For Beckham, the goal was to win a third league title after powering Manchester United to the English Premier crown and Real Madrid to the Spanish championship.

Beckham signed a five-year contract to play for the Galaxy in 2007 and earned close to $20 million the last three seasons. His annual salary of $6.5 million was hardly in proportion to what some of his teammates were paid – as little as $12,900 a year. Beckham, in fact, was much-maligned as Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs in his first two seasons with the Galaxy.

“In Beckham’s two years with the Galaxy, he has successfully sold jerseys and served as celebrity eye candy but the soccer story has been an epic disaster, from his injury-plagued season in ‘07 through a loss-filled campaign in ‘08,” wrote Grant Wahl in Sports Illustrated.

So when the Galaxy reached the MLS Finals this season, Beckham’s redemption seemed like the perfect ending to a perfect script.

But Rimando refused to cooperate. In the title match, the Galaxy drew first blood as Mike Magee scored in the 41st minute. Robbie Findley equalized for Real Salt Lake in the 64th minute and the score held up after extra time.

Beckham scored the first penalty in the shootout as the Galaxy started proceedings. Rimando batted away Jovan Kirovski’s attempt in the third round and Donovan’s kick sailed over the bar in the fourth. Rimando easily smothered Edson Buddle’s try in the seventh round then Robbie Russell clinched it for Real Salt Lake.

The victory was Utah’s first pro sports title since the Stars won the American Basketball Association crown in 1971. The Utah Jazz went to the NBA Finals twice but Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls frustrated John Stockon and Karl Malone in 1997 and 1998.

Rimando attended Montclair High School and played two years at UCLA before turning pro. He was the backup goalkeeper for the US at the 1999 World Youth Championships in Nigeria and played for the US national squad in an international match against El Salvador in 2002. Rimando’s twin appearances with the US team disqualified him from playing for any other country, including the Philippines, under FIFA rules.

Rimando is married to former soccer pro player Jacqui Little. They have a son, Jeff Nicholas.

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