KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jimmy Nielsen didn't act like the captain of a team 90 minutes and a two-goal deficit away from the end of its season.
Exhibit A: The message, part of it unprintable, that Sporting Kansas City's goalkeeper had backup Jon Kempin write on the team message board before Tuesday's training session.
“I AM NOT READY FOR A VACATION,” it read. “SO LET'S SHOW SOME … [expletive], ATTITUDE AND HUNGER TOMORROW!!!”
By turns ebullient, defiant and confident, Nielsen didn't back down during the club's news conference ahead of Wednesday's home date with Houston in the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I have fun, and I love every single day, and I'll be so happy tomorrow morning when I wake up,” Nielsen said. “And tomorrow night, around 10, I'll be even more happy.”
That seems a brash prediction, given that Sporting are winless in four meetings with the Dynamo this season – including Sunday's 2-0 loss in the away leg. Despite those struggles, Nielsen said, Sporting go into Wednesday night's match loaded with confidence.
“I have a very good feeling about tomorrow. Why do I have that feeling? We've played Houston a number of times with no success,” he said. “But we've been talking about it Monday. We talked a little bit about it Tuesday. When we're together as a group, we very often have a feeling. You don't know anything about the results, of course. You have to get out there and play. But the atmosphere and the way we've been looking at each other give me big confidence for tomorrow.”
Nielsen said Sporting, who have already qualified for the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League by winning the US Open Cup in August, can't call that good enough for this year.
“We have to be hungry,” he said. “We want to make history together. We have a very special group here. We've done something special earlier this season with the U.S. Open Cup, but we have to show tomorrow that we're hungry for more.”
And if Houston play a physical game in the midfield, a tactic that Sporting manager Peter Vermes said disrupted his team's offensive rhythm on Sunday, Nielsen said Kansas City must be prepared to respond in kind.
“We have to show the right attitude, and we have to smell the game,” he said. “If the referee is like in Houston, well, we've got to play physical as well. We can't just sit back and take and take and take and expect the referee will help us. We have to play with the same rules.”
It won't be enough for Sporting merely to hang with the Dynamo on Wednesday, though. They have to net at least twice in 90 minutes, something they haven't done against Houston all year.
Nielsen's confident in that area, too, even if that confidence doesn't quite translate from his native Danish.
“I would not like to be in Houston's pants if we score the first goal,” he said. “Hopefully they'll get a little shaky, and we'll have the crowd behind us and get some positive energy out of that.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.