A night of celebration for Sporting Kansas City's MLS Cup championship turned a little somber when Sporting goalkeeper and captain, Jimmy Nielsen announced that he was retiring as a professional soccer player.
The rumors of Nielsen's retirement had started to really gather steam in the few days ahead of the final. Tonight in front of an overflow crowd at Union Station, he made it official.
Nielsen will go down as one of the greatest goalkeepers in team history. He retires as the team leader in almost every single goalkeeper category in team history. He recorded more wins in league play (57) than any other keeper and more wins in all competitions (65). He also set team league (45) and all competition (52) shutout records for KC. He set a team record for league appearances and starts (128) and minutes played by a goalkeeper in league play (11,497). In all competitions he finished behind Tony Meola in most of those stats. He also retires tied for the team lead in consecutive league starts for KC, with 90 straight, tied with Kevin Hartman for the most all time. He also retires as the third oldest player to appear in a game for KC at 36 years, 123 days.
With Nielsen now retiring there are two on field questions for KC to answer. The first is who will mind net for KC next year. Eric Kronberg, the team's longest tenured player would seem to be a favorite, but in but in eight years with the team he has played just 19 games for KC, mainly in the Open Cup and CCL. He does sound like he is wanting to get more starting time, whether that is here or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Another internal option would be to have KC hand the reigns over to the team's first home grown player, Jon Kempin, but that doesn't seem as likely.
KC could also look within the league for a goalkeeper. A number of keepers could be available. They could look to go after the recently waived Michael Gspurning from Seattle, or local product, Andy Gruenebaum, whose contract was no renewed by Columbus. Another potential play would be to make a trade with Colorado for Matt Pickens, who appears to be on the way out there. Acquiring Pickens though would require more of a trade.
The other question is who will take up the captain's arm band now that the team's captain has retired. Over the past two years, Nielsen has been the clubs captain, but with his retirement the question is who will step up and replace him. The last player to wear the armband in a game not named Jimmy Nielsen ,was Besler in the team's last CCL group game. Besler would seem to be the favorite to pick up and become the leader of the team.
Congrats to the White Puma on a fantastic career that spanned 20 years and he goes out where all athletes would love to go out at, on top.