Jimmy Nielsen announced as OKC Energy FC head coach as Sporting KC split USL PRO affiliation
Jimmy Nielsen didn't stay retired for long.
A little bit more than a week after announcing his playing career had come to an end with a MLS Cup capstone, another door opened for the former Sporting Kansas City captain, as USL PRO expansion side OKC Energy FC named the 36-year-old Nielsen head coach for the 2014 season.
He won't be in it alone. Sporting Kansas City also announced that the club would split its USL PRO affiliation between two teams during the 2014 season, maintaining their partnership with Orlando City SC, set to enter MLS in 2015, and adding a regional one via OKC Energy FC. Both clubs will be loaned a minimum of two Sporting players throughout the 2014 season.
"My family and I are excited to take on this new challenge and I look forward to the start of my coaching career in Oklahoma City," Nielsen said in a statement. "To remain a part of the Sporting Kansas City family and to take some of what I have learned from all of my coaches over the years, including Peter Vermes and staff, is an opportunity I embrace."
Nielsen is just weeks removed from lifting MLS Cup at Sporting Park after his saves in the penalty shootout -- and a little help from the crossbar -- helped the club capture it's second championship and first since 2000. He officially announced his retirement after 19 seasons as a professional at the team's downtown celebration.
OKC Energy FC, owned by Prodigal LLC, led by CEO Bob Funk, Jr., was announced as a USL PRO expansion team in July. USL PRO will feature 14 teams for the 2014 season with the addition of OKC Energy FC and Sacramento, which reportedly has an affiliation agreement in place with the Portland Timbers.
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"We are pleased to affiliate with Sporting KC during our first season of play," Funk said in a statement. "Our partnership with them in this endeavor is groundbreaking. This relationship starts with Jimmy Nielsen as our head coach and a number of quality players that Sporting KC will provide, but also extends beyond the field of play and into all of our soccer business interests for the long term."
Sporting KC and Orlando City both benefitted greatly from the setup in 2013 -- MLS Cup and USL PRO champions, respectively -- as players such as Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong, among others, spent productive time between the two clubs.
Dwyer, in particular, was crucial to both club's title hopes. He scored 19 totals goals as a member of Orlando City, including four in the final, and added a game-winning goal for Sporting Kansas City in the second leg of the Eastern Conference championship against Houston.
Orlando City SC was awarded an MLS expansion team last month and will join Major League Soccer as the 21st club for the 2015 season.
"As we head into our final USL PRO season in 2014, Orlando City is pleased to continue our affiliation with Sporting KC," Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said. "I firmly believe this partnership was an important part of both clubs' on-field success in winning its respective league championships last season. Orlando City is proud to be part of this terrific player development initiative jointly established by Major League Soccer and USL PRO."