Catching up with Kansas City soccer's netminder
Plus: Open Cup update and FC Tucson's match with the Monsoon canceled
Sporting Kansas City was touted as a top team in Major League Soccer at the start of the season, and the results seemed to prove it: the team went through March and April unbeaten and untied.
"We had a great start to the season," said goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. "We started with seven wins and that's very unusual."
Despite recent changes, such as the designated player rule, it is still hard for a team — unlike a team in Europe or Latin America — to buy a high-powered roster and plow over other teams. During the same period when SKC had its streak, the high-spending Los Angeles Galaxy managed only two wins.
SKC fell to Earth for a bit this month with losses to the Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire and a tie with Colorado. The slide ended on Sunday with a 2-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Quakes were without scoring ace Chris Wondolowski, who was with the U.S. national team, and the suspended Steven Lenhart. Still, there is comfort in getting a win again.
"We got three well deserved points," Nielsen said.
Kansas City's dominance in the first half was so complete that it wasn't until past the half-hour mark that Nielsen was called on to make a save. Sounds good, but how does a goalkeeper keep "warmed up" when there is nothing to do?
"It's tough to do as a goalkeeper," Nielsen said.
"You yell at the other players a bit more to keep yourself in the game," he said. But mostly, it's a matter of having the right mentality.
"Stay calm and play your game," he said. "Be ready."
Open Cup update
Nielsen will be sitting out Tuesday night's Open Cup match. Kansas City will be starting Jon Kempin when they face Orlando City SC on Tuesday.
Tuesday's third round will be the first to feature Major League Soccer teams, and it includes a couple of interesting match-ups.
The match between CD Chivas USA and the Ventura County Fusion will feature brothers on opposite sides of the field. Tristan Bowen plays for Chivas USA and may get a start after ending a loan spell to Belgian team KSV Roeselare. Ventura County features his brother Travis Bowen. Travis Bowen is coming off a great weekend for his team: he scored a hat trick in a 4-1 victory over the Southern California Seahorses on Saturday.
Ventura County also features Tim Pontius, brother of D.C. United's Chris Pontius. Because of their bracket positions, the two teams only would face each other if they make the final.
Another game features the San Jose Earthquakes and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Blogger Mateofelipe noted over at Big Soccer that this is a match-up reminiscent of the old North American Soccer League. He managed to find a YouTube clip of an antediluvian match up between the two teams when former Manchester United great George Best scored a beautiful goal against the Strikers. The lanky, blond defender No. 24 that Best beats on his way to the goal is future MLS coach Thomas Rongen.
Tucson-Phoenix game canceled
If you were planning to make the trip up to Phoenix to see FC Tucson face the Phoenix Monsoon on Tuesday night, don't.
FC Tucson announced Monday night that the team will not be making the trip, citing issues with field availability.
"We're obviously a little disappointed we can't finish the series," said FC Tucson head coach Rick Schantz in a statement issued by the team. "We know our fans were excited to make the trip to Phoenix; we know that some of our players' families were excited because they're based in Phoenix; and the players themselves were excited for another opportunity to get on the field and gel more heading into our big game with the Fresno Fuego."
There was talk of an annual series between the two teams, an "I-10 Classico," they called it. The Phoenix Monsoon owner even engaged in a little bit of trash talking to get the series going back in March.
Tucson hosted Phoenix last week, when Tucson won 4-2, but the only word on the continuation of the series from FC Tucson is that a make-up game has not been set.
FC Tucson is scheduled to play the Fresno Fuego on Saturday. Phoenix's next game is June 9 against the Fullerton Rangers.