Monday, December 9, 2013

Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen announces retirement

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper and team captain Jimmy Nielsen announced his retirement from professional soccer on Monday, two days after leading Sporting KC to an MLS championship with two saves in the MLS Cup 2013 penalty shootout and lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy at Sporting Park.

"I want to thank the ownership group, my teammates, my coaches and the entire organization for the opportunity to have four of the best years of my life, not only mine but my family as well here in Kansas City," Nielsen said. "I will remember these years forever. To the best soccer fans: since day one they have always been behind me and I want to thank them for all the support. I made the final decision to retire today and to end this part of my life and it was the perfect timing, finishing with a great championship that the entire city deserves.

"Finally, I would like to thank my wife and two daughters. I know it is not easy to be a soccer family, but they are always so supportive. Now is the right time to start a new chapter in our lives. I have spent 30 years of my life in soccer and I am definitely going to work the next 30 years in soccer as well in some capacity. I will miss you all, but hopefully will see you soon."

"What an incredible way to end a career. Jimmy Nielsen is so important to this organization on and off the field and we look forward to the next phase of our relationship," Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said. "We thank him for all he has done for the organization, the city and the fans."

"It's with a heavy heart that I see Jimmy retiring from not only the game, but more importantly our team," Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes said. "He has been instrumental to the success of this organization over the last four years. And as much as I'm sad to see him go, I am delighted that he leaves the game as a champion based on the fact that he is true winner."

Nielsen, 36, played four seasons in Major League Soccer for Sporting Kansas City and earned MLS All-Star (2010, 2012), MLS Goalkeeper of the Year (2012) and MLS Best XI (2012) recognitions. Nicknamed the White Puma and beloved by fans, Nielsen has played every minute in the team's last 100 MLS matches (including playoffs) dating back to 2011.

He holds the all-time club regular season goalkeeping records for games played (128), games started (128), minutes played (11,497), wins (57), ties (32), winning percentage (.575) and shutouts (45). His 0.99 career goals against average is best in MLS history among goalkeepers with a minimum of 1,000 regular season minutes played, highlighted by a 1.03 career goals against average on the road that also ranks first all-time among MLS goalkeepers with 1,000 regular season minutes played.

Nielsen was an MLS All-Star in his debut season in Kansas City in 2010 and was voted the team's Defensive Player of the Year. He signed a contract extension with the club following a 2011 season in which he led Sporting KC to a first place finish in the Eastern Conference and won MLS Save of the Week on four occasions.

In 2012, Nielsen became the team captain and was named team MVP for the second straight year to go along with Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI honors. He started the MLS All-Star Game and led Sporting KC to a shootout victory in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. His 15 shutouts were second most in MLS history and his 18 victories matched the MLS record in the non-shootout era. His 0.79 goals against average became the best single-season mark in club history and he won MLS Save of the Week six times.

During the team's 2013 MLS Cup championship season, Nielsen led all MLS goalkeepers with 19 victories and 14 shutouts in MLS competition (including playoffs). His 0.88 goals against average was best among goalkeepers with 1,000 regular season minutes played and his 546-minute shutout streak was fifth best in MLS history. He was named a finalist for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for the second consecutive season.

Nielsen began his professional career in 1994, playing alongside U.S. Men's National Team goalkeeper Kasey Keller at English club Millwall F.C. After a year in England, Nielsen signed with his hometown club Aalborg BK.

He made 342 appearances for AaB and led the club to the 1999 Danish Superliga championship. In addition, Nielsen was named Goalkeeper of the Year in 1998 and 2004. Following his career with Aalborg, Nielsen made 63 appearances over two years for Danish club Vejle before signing with Sporting KC.

Nielsen released his book Welcome to the Blue Heaven: Don't Bet Against the Goalkeeper earlier this year. He has been married to his wife, Jannie, for 12 years and together they have two daughters, Mille and Isabella.