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SKC Notebook: New captain Nielsen "more of a coach"

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s a stock image in soccer: a defender makes a mistake, the ball winds up in the net and the ’keeper goes into tirade mode.

Jimmy Nielsen handles things differently – and that’s a big reason the low-key Dane is Sporting Kansas City’s new captain.

“Jimmy’s been around the game, played for quite a few years professionally and, because of that experience, he’s also a guy that’s different than most other goalkeepers,” manager Peter Vermes said Wednesday at the team’s weekly news conference. “Most goalkeepers are very reactionary. A defender gives up a shot, they come out and they’re, ‘Aaah, what are you …?’ – that way.

“He’s more of a coach out there.”

Nielsen, who was named last Friday to replace the departed Davy Arnaud as captain, said his measured approach to organizing his defense came from seeing the effects of other goalkeepers’ explosions.

“During the years I’ve been playing and watching other goalkeepers,” he said, “I find that this is the best thing to do for me and how you get the best out of your teammates instead of screaming like crazy at them, going crazy every time they make mistakes, because we all do mistakes. Nobody makes mistakes on purpose. But if you’re organized, the chance for making mistakes is less.”

Confident young backup

Jon Kempin, elevated to the No. 2 ’keeper spot because of a back injury to longtime backup Eric Kronberg, said he has one asset most 18-year-olds in his position don’t: “Jimmy Nielsen.”

“His experience, working with me, is definitely an advantage for me,” Kempin said. “It’s great working with him, giving me all the tips and the advice I need.”

For his part, Nielsen – who, at 34, is nearly twice Kempin’s age – called his young backup “my little son, the son I never had,” and spoke glowingly of his progress and potential.

“I think it’s realistic for him in five, six, seven years to be one of the best American goalkeepers,” Nielsen said. “I trust him 100 percent. He’s proved over the last year and a half that he belongs here, and all his teammates respect him.”

Kempin, Sporting’s first Homegrown player, was just 17 when he joined the team in mid-2010.

“I thought it was a great introduction for him, because he wasn’t overwhelmed,” Vermes said. “It’s almost a 10-month season, and I think that would have been a lot for him. To have that introduction, and then get the next year fully under his belt, I think he’s come a long way. The other thing about him is physically, he’s gotten a lot stronger and he has more presence.”

More confidence, too.

“You have to have the mindset that you could go in at any moment,” Kempin said. “You’ve got to be ready every second. My mindset’s always been that way, but even more so now. “

Zusi injury watch

Midfielder Graham Zusi, who is still questionable for Saturday’s opener at D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live) because of a strained right quadriceps, took part in several game drills Wednesday but did not scrimmage.

“Once I saw things were going well, I told him to get out,” Vermes said, “because I don’t want him to push it all the way through.”

Defensive midfielder Júlio César has recovered from lingering muscle soreness and will be available to start against United, Vermes said.

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at steve@artkc365.com.

GET TICKETS to D.C. United vs. Sporting KC, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 7:30 pm ET at RFK Stadium