KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jimmy Nielsen won his first league championship at the age of 21. He's been waiting nearly 15 years for the second one. But if Sporting Kansas City's veteran goalkeeper and captain is feeling like a 36-year-old man whose career is on the clock, he's not showing it.
"I woke up at 4 o'clock this morning because my daughter was sick," Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com on Monday, before Sporting's training session in preparation for Saturday's MLS Cup final against Real Salt Lake (4 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas, TSN2/RDS). "I felt a little old there.
"But otherwise, no, I feel full of energy, extremely motivated. That's very, very important when you reach my age. I've been through the opposite, so I know how it feels and how important it is."
"The opposite" came in late 2009, when Nielsen mulled retirement after his Boldklub Velje team was relegated from the Danish Superliga. But he has been rejuvenated both personally and professionally since joining the then-Wizards in 2010, and now he stands on the brink of his first league title since Aalborg BK won the Superliga in 1999.
"It's right here in front of us. There's 90 minutes between us and the championship," he said. "It doesn't get any closer. We'll do everything in our power to be the team standing with the trophy after the game."
This one, he said, would be even sweeter for the long wait.
"I don't think I appreciated that [first] championship as much as I apparently should," he said. "It's like I said before, I thought that would be one out of many, and 15 years later I still have only that one championship. So it would be huge for the team. It would be huge for the organization, and it would be huge for me personally."
And while Nielsen still has one more year on his contract with Sporting, he's not banking on being back in this position next year.
"It's been my goal since I came here to be part of a championship team and make some history for the team," he said. "This is my opportunity."
And ever since Sporting advanced to the title match at Sporting Park, their first MLS Cup appearance since 2004, Nielsen has been playing that opportunity out in his head.
"There are three or four times when I've raised the trophy already," he said. "The last time, I think we won 2-1."
How many saves?
"I didn't keep track," he said. "I don't care about that part. I just want to win."
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.