Want to make Jimmy Nielsen shrug? Bring up the subject of shutout streaks and records.
Nielsen could hold Sporting Kansas City's career clean-sheet mark all by himself if things go right at the LA Galaxy on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com). But if you want Sporting's captain and All-Star goalkeeper to warm to a topic, ask him about his continued drive to perform well for the club that prolonged his career and made the game fun again.
“When I look back at where I was in my career and with my situation, it's kind of unbelievable where I am right now compared to three years ago, when I was ready to retire,” Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Los Angeles on Friday. “I appreciate every single day. I love waking up and going to practice, being around my teammates. I'm extremely motivated for more, but I'm a lucky man right now.”
The 2012 Goalkeeper of the Year, also a member of the Best XI, was at what he thought was the tail end of a 17-year professional career when his former club, Vejle Boldklub, was relegated from the Danish Superliga in 2010.
But since coming to Kansas City at the invitation of manager Peter Vermes, he has racked up 37 shutouts, tying Tony Meola's club record, and leads MLS with five clean sheets in seven matches this year.
Vermes, who played alongside Meola when the then-Wizards won their only MLS Cup back in 2000, said the two have similar qualities – especially their ability to stay focused when a stingy defense doesn't give up a lot of shots on goal.
“I always considered Tony to be the best big game guy, extremely consistent, would do the business all the time,” Vermes told reporters after Nielsen blanked the New York Red Bulls 1-0 on Wednesday. “Jimmy has the same qualities, and sometimes it's not easy. Playing for us, in certain games you don't give up many chances; when in certain games you don’t give up many chances and then all of the sudden he has to be ready in the 88th minute, that’s a tough way for a keeper to play over a course of the game.”
Nielsen said it would be up to others to draw any comparisons between him and Meola, who still holds MLS' single-season shutout record with 16 clean sheets in that 2000 season.
“I didn't get to see him play much,” said Nielsen, who finished the 2012 season with 15 shutouts. “But I do know he was a great goalkeeper.”
Meola has something Nielsen wants, though: an MLS Cup. Both won US Open Cup championships in Kansas City, Meola in 2004 and Nielsen last season.
“I want to be remembered as a member of an MLS championship team,” Nielsen said. “I need that damn championship, and I'm not going to quit until I get it.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.