KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It's still early days in the 2013 season, but Jimmy Nielsen is already back on the stingy pace that made him MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2012.
Sporting Kansas City's 2-0 victory over previously unbeaten Montreal on Saturday night gave Nielsen his third straight shutout – three clean sheets in Sporting's first five matches – and extended his streak of not conceding a goal to a league-leading 339 minutes.
Afterward, though, Sporting's captain gave credit to a defense that held the Impact to one shot on goal, Marco Di Vaio's blast near the hour mark that Nielsen saved with a dive to his left.
“We were all well prepared for Di Vaio,” Nielsen said. “We know he’s a smart guy, and we had to pay attention to him all the time. Sometimes he looks like he’s lazy, but he’s always there. The defenders did an unbelievable job to shut him down.”
The biggest key to controlling the Impact's dangerous striker, Sporting manager Peter Vermes said, lay in keeping midfielder Patrice Bernier from being able to ignite Montreal's counterattack.
“If you look at him and his stats,” Vermes said, “he’s been a guy that’s linked up quite a bit with Marco Di Vaio in getting him into those spaces and those counterattacks to get goals. So for us it was very important to establish that bite in the midfield and more importantly win balls so that they were always playing backwards or square and not forward.”
Nielsen had 15 clean sheets in 2013, one shy of Tony Meola's record set in the then-Wizards' run to their only MLS Cup title in 2000. His three so far this season put him ahead of that pace, but Nielsen downplayed – as he always has – talk of shutouts and individual achievements.
“That streak doesn’t really matter,” he said on Saturday. “All that matters is winning. We had an outstanding performance today. It was so attractive; it was so sexy to watch. I was so proud. It’s the best soccer we’ve played since I came here.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.