KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You can talk about Jimmy Nielsen's goalkeeping numbers all day long. He's not all that interested.
If Nielsen looks at the scoreboard after a match, and the number on Sporting Kansas City's side is bigger, he's good.
“What means something to me is that we're winning games,” Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday's training session. “I'm happy when we win 2-1, and I'm happy when we win 1-0. I've said it before: It's never a goal for me to go on the field and have a clean sheet.”
Maybe not, but Nielsen leads MLS with a club-record 14 shutouts this season. Add that to his 17 victories and 0.81 goals-against average, also league bests, and Nielsen is poised to be the first MLS 'keeper to earn the Triple Crown since Pat Onstad in 2005 – and only the fourth to do it in the league's 17-year history.
Nielsen shrugs at that sort of thing, focusing instead on Sporting's drive toward a second straight Eastern Conference regular-season title. Maybe it's his Danish upbringing.
“We never used all those stats where I came from,” he said. “It's all still new to me. I don't think I have the same energy and commitment to look at the stats like players who grew up in the American system do.”
Now, if you want to talk about a point of pride, Nielsen has one. And yes, it does involve numbers.
This season, the 35-year-old Nielsen has played every minute of Sporting's 31 league games so far. He also started four of five US Open Cup matches, on the way to Kansas City's first silverware since 2004.
And throughout his career – not only here but in his native Denmark – Nielsen has never missed a start due to injury. Illness, yes. Suspension, yes. But injury? Never.
The secret to that sort of durability is simple, Nielsen said: preparation and a little bit of luck.
“You've got to be professional in everything you're doing,” he said. “It has a lot to do with your lifestyle. I've lived like a professional soccer player since I was 12 years old. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I was going into, so I missed a lot of parties. I missed a lot of weddings. I missed a lot of birthdays because of soccer. But again, I don't feel I missed it. I've had a great life as a soccer player and I've never regretted my choice.”
And in choosing to come to Kansas City before the 2010 season, Nielsen has extended his career beyond his own expectations.
“To be honest, when I came here my plan was to be here for one year,” he said. “I didn't know what to expect about this league. I didn't know what to expect about this club and the whole organization. But I've been here three seasons, and I love it. I love every day of it. The family's doing very well here, and that's very important for me. I easily see myself here three, four more seasons.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.