KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It's more than halfway through October, and Sporting Kansas City still haven't given up a goal this month.
Sporting's 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Friday night was the third straight shutout for the new Supporters' Shield leaders – but it wasn't without its scary moments, despite United's unquestioned place at the bottom of the table.
Nielsen, whose shutout streak reached 321 minutes, held his ground when Jeffrey got sprung for a 1-v-1, then blocked the midfielder's attempt to nutmeg him from close range. It was his only save of the night.
“That’s the kind of save that you respect and want your goalkeeper to keep you in the game,” manager Peter Vermes said in the postmatch news conference. “He has the ability to make himself really big. Guys have a difficulty of finding a goal and they usually miss. Credit to him, because that kept our three points.”
That wasn't the only dicey moment close to Sporting's goal, though. Time and again, the ball took a difficult bounce in the penalty area – and with one exception, when Chris Pontius sent a second-ball shot over the crossbar in the 12th minute, Kansas City's defense made the clearance.
“We put ourselves in good spots,” center back Ike Opara said. “I think that's one thing. If we can't win the first ball, we want to find ourselves and win the second ball. Multiple times we did that tonight. Practice makes perfect on this one.”
Matt Besler, Opara's partner in central defense, said the rainy conditions at Sporting Park required an extra level of concentration.
“We were focused from the opening whistle,” Besler said. “Tonight was not a pretty game of soccer. There were a few instances where we got some things together. For the most part, it was a battle. It was a grind. The ball was lively today with the rain. I thought we did a good job reacting and not giving up a goal.”
And the one time that D.C. got through Sporting's defense, Nielsen was there to save the night.
“You want the situation to be in your favor,” he told reporters afterward. “In that situation, I wanted him as close to me as possible, so I can shut down the angles. That's why I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting for him. I don't want to give the striker any advice, but that's different from the way I would want to do it as a striker.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.