The New York Red Bulls could test Jimmy Nielsen, make him go to ground, even mob him in the penalty area.
But they couldn't get the ball past the White Puma.
Sporting Kansas City's Danish goalkeeper recorded his league-leading 15th clean sheet in Saturday night's scoreless draw at Red Bull Arena – and if he can shut out Philadelphia in the regular-season finale on Wednesday, he'll tie Tony Meola's league record, set in 2000 for the then-Wizards.
“I think he's got to be a slam dunk for Goalkeeper of the Year,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after Nielsen's five-save outing. “He's had so many shutouts, so many great performances, been so consistent from Game 1 all the way through now to Game 33. He's just a big-time goalkeeper.”
Nielsen didn't give up a goal in two outings at RBA this season, but Saturday night's clean sheet was far harder to come by than Sporting's 2-0 victory on Sept. 19. Kansas City dominated that match from the outset, scoring two early goals against a side that couldn't match their intensity.
“I didn't expect that was going to be the case this time,” Vermes said. “They're trying to secure a spot in the playoffs, and they were just going to let everything hang out. There were times when they were, how should I say, risky than normal. At the end, I think it's a great result for us.”
Nielsen had to turn in several highlight-reel efforts against the Red Bulls, including denials of blasts by Designated Players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, but perhaps his scrappiest play didn't result in a save on the stat sheet.
In the 21st minute, Henry's corner kick pinballed around the penalty area until it landed at Cahill's feet. Nielsen dropped and smothered the ball, drawing a foul from the physical Australian in the process.
“He was very big, very focused, very concentrated tonight, even when he got killed in the goal that one time when they basically came and bum-rushed him,” Vermes said. “He still kept the ball out of the back of the net.”
And he did it on a night when Sporting's back line struggled against New York's high-energy attack for the first 45.
“I thought the first half, as a team, we were a little disjointed,” Vermes said. “I thought the second half, we had a completely different mentality. Much better.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.