KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Through his first two seasons in MLS, Jimmy Nielsen was a single-table stranger in a strange land of conference races and postseason playoffs.
But this year, with his club narrowly leading a tight race for a second straight Eastern Conference regular-season title, Sporting Kansas City's goalkeeper and captain finds himself embracing the league's format – and rejuvenated by it.
“I don't think I've been this excited for many, many, many years,” Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com after Monday's training session. “It feels new to me, with the playoff race, the playoff spots and everything.”
Going into Wednesday's game at New York (7 pm ET, streamed LIVE online), Sporting lead the surging Chicago Fire by a point with six games to go in the regular season. Only seven points separate the first- and fifth-place teams, with Columbus and Montreal capable of making late runs into the postseason.
“I think it's very exciting,” said Nielsen, who won a Danish title on a single table with Aalborg BK in 1999. “Every morning, my alarm clock wakes me up. I'm checking my phone, I'm checking the standings. I'm checking who's playing who. I think it's a very exciting moment of the season right now. We just can't wait to get out there. We've put ourselves in a very good position to play some very big games toward the end of the season.”
And with the playoff picture still unsettled in the Western Conference, Nielsen said, fans have more reason to follow the regular season all the way to the end.
“I like this more and more,” he said. “I think it's a very good idea and it's very exciting for not only the top two or three teams, if there was just a single table. This year it's very exciting for six or seven teams in our division right now. It's exciting for six or seven teams in the other division, so that's 14 teams that still have a lot to play for with five games to go. You don't see that in a lot of leagues.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.