SKC's Nielsen moves on after quest for history falls short

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmy Nielsen's take on his shot at MLS history never wavered in the days leading up to Sporting Kansas City's regular-season finale.

If he earned that 16th clean sheet and tied Tony Meola's league record from 2000, great. If he didn't, he didn't. Either way, it wasn't a big deal to Sporting's goalkeeper and captain so long as Sporting clinched first place in the East.

They did just that with a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Wednesday night. And while there was disappointment in the Kansas City locker room after Nielsen came up short of the mark, none of it came from him. And if he saw any irony in the way the record got away, he didn't show it.

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“It happens,” Nielsen said after conceding Antoine Hoppenot's put back following a saved penalty kick. “It’s happened to me before, and it’ll probably happen again.”

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Hoppenot's 53rd-minute goal came on the rebound from a highlight-reel stop for Nielsen. He made a full-length stretch to swat away Michael Farfan's attempt from the spot, only to see Hoppenot rush in unmarked to knock in the loose ball.

“He'll tell you that the most important thing is that we won,” said centerback Matt Besler, whose foul in the area led to the scoring sequence. “But I think everyone will go back to that play – me on the PK, not following up the rebound. We'll all replay that in our mind for a little bit, and we'll wish we could have it back, but it's not the biggest deal.”

And while manager Peter Vermes shared the fans' and players' disappointment for the popular captain, who was named club co-MVP on Wednesday along with midfielder Graham Zusi, he also saw the goal as a valuable lesson.

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“It’s actually a great learning moment for us, because we weren’t ready for the rebound,” Vermes said in his post-match news conference. “We were second to the ball. Hoppenot did a great job anticipating the play and got there and beat us to it. So from that point of view, it’s going to be a great learning lesson.

“I know Jimmy, and he just doesn’t care, and I really mean that – he doesn’t care,” Vermes went on. “He just wants to win. But I feel bad for him because he’s been so stellar all season long, and it would have been a nice thing for him to tie Meola’s record at 16.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.