KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jimmy Nielsen is closing in on a spot in Major League Soccer's history books. That doesn't mean he wants to talk about it.
With a shutout in Wednesday's regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City's goalkeeper and captain would tie Tony Meola's league record of 16 clean sheets in one season. That mark has stood since 2000, when Meola's Kansas City Wizards won their only Supporters’ Shield on the way to their lone MLS Cup title.
But ask Nielsen how it would feel to join Meola atop the list, and his first response is to shrug, sigh and look away.
“You hear it all the time, but it's not on my mind at all,” he told MLSsoccer on Monday. “I don't know what to say about it, you know? Of course, it's nice when you get a clean sheet. It does mean you at least get a point. But again, it's really nothing that I'm using a lot of time thinking about.”
The record has been such a non-topic in the Sporting camp that goalkeeping coach John Pascarella had to be reminded on Tuesday that Meola's milestone was just one clean sheet away.
“I hadn't even thought about it,” Pascarella said. “The thing I learned early on with Jimmy: We don't talk about results. We talk about performance. That's why he hates to discuss it. He's not that way. He knows there could be one bad call by a referee that leads to a PK, things that aren't in our control and aren't in his control. But I think if he ended up getting it, it'd be an honor for him. It's his name at the top of the books with Tony, which is good company to keep up there.”
It's not that Nielsen doesn't want a spot in league history. He just doesn't want to be there by himself.
“Of course I would like to be in the history books, but hopefully as a champion, with the team,” he said. “That's my goal. That's the team's goal. That's the whole organization's goal. All the side things – if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.”
Nielsen's teammates would like to see him get the record, though.
“He deserves it. He's having an amazing season,” center back Aurelien Collin said on Tuesday. “He's a big part of what we're doing right now. I'm behind him. If he can get any award, he deserves it.”
And if Nielsen does grab a share of the record, there's a club benefit as well. Sporting need only one point on Wednesday to clinch first place in the East, homefield advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs – and in the MLS Cup final as well, if they go that far and Supporters' Shield winners San Jose stumble along the way in the West.
“If we get the shutouts, we have the chance to win games,” center back Matt Besler said. “Jimmy never likes talking about it, but it would be a great record for him. He's been there for every single minute this year. He's been the rock for this team in the back.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.