Jimmy Nielsen

April Fools! The top gags that actually fooled soccer fans on this day

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In case you hadn’t noticed that today is April Fools’ Day, congratulations first of all for following only mature, job-holding adults with better things to do all Wednesday morning/afternoon/night than make increasingly weak attempts at “GOT YA!!!” jokes as the day wears on.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’ve spent the entire day wondering, “Wait, is this real?” before deciding whether or not to re-tweet literally every tweet in our timeline.

That said, a handful were actually pretty funny this year and worth a quick chuckle. The best of the best from the soccer world’s April Fools’ Day gags:

The entire world is built for right-handed folks, and speaking as one of them, I’m thankful for that. But that doesn’t mean the lefties among us shouldn’t be catered to every now and then. Good on Puma for allowing left-footed footballers the same chances at righties.

“Social media tool Periscope will broadcast the clips to fans around world.” OK, this one is actually pretty brilliant. The powers that be have found plenty of ways to monetize a number of the game’s finest aspects, so doing a deal with a smartphone live-streaming service sound about right.

Again, not at all unbelievable, because…FIFA.

The beauty of the Revolution’s April Fools’ Day joke is that nothing about it is inconceivable. You can actually see MLS doing this. Besides, we all know that ball should be orange anyway.

That’s actually Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee, whose Twitter account has been cleverly disguised to look just like Jozy Altidore’s, explaining away this silly incident.

Rather try to fool the rest of the world, the New York Cosmos elected to punk one of their own, Alecko Eskandarian, who fancies himself something of a ping pong champion. Sorry, Alecko, but the 13-year-old girl just smoked you.

Shame on Orlando City, the didn’t even come up with their own April Fools’ Day joke. Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman has been routinely making this joke for years now.

If you remember Nielsen’s rickety performance in the final game of his professional career, you’ll understand why this one is actually pretty funny.

Now that is the funniest one of them all. PST lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright wins April Fools’ Day for that headline. Well done, JPW.

Jimmy Nielsen begins coaching career with new USL Pro team under Sporting KC affiliation

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Sporting KC have announced they will take on a second USL Pro affiliate for the coming season, with former goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen at the helm.

The 36-year-old will serve as the head coach of newly-formed Oklahoma City Energy FC, who join Orlando City SC as affiliate teams of Sporting KC.

The agreement states KC must keep a minimum of two players out on loan to each affiliate at all times.

OKC Energy FC began its formation officially back in July, and is owned by Prodigal LLC with CEO Bob Funk, Jr in control.

(MORE: New USL Pro franchise arrives, Oklahoma City Energy FC unveiled)

“We are pleased to affiliate with Sporting KC during our first season of play,” said Funk. “Our partnership with them in this endeavor is groundbreaking. This relationship starts with Jimmy Nielsen as our head coach and a number of quality players that Sporting KC will provide, but also extends beyond the field of play and into all of our soccer business interests for the long term.”

This new affiliation could be the start of a long-term relationship, given that Orlando City SC will join Major League Soccer in 2015, and the opportunity to secure a replacement affiliate now was tempting.

Nielsen’s brand new coaching career begins less than a month after his penalty-kick heroics helped Sporting KC capture the 2013 MLS Crown.

The Danish keeper is excited about taking his experiences across a 19-year professional career and putting them to use in a coaching role. “To remain a part of the Sporting Kansas City family and to take some of what I have learned from all of my coaches over the years, including Peter Vermes and staff, is an opportunity I embrace,” Neilson told Sporting KC’s official website.

Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen retires

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A week ago, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen talked about how hard it was to win championships. He talked about a much younger version of himself, winning a title 15 years ago and assuming that it was the first of many.

A few days later, Nielsen had the second league championship of his career; clearly, those things were far more elusive than he originally thought.

Monday, Nielsen decided two was enough – and that he certainly didn’t have 15 years to wait around for another.

Nielsen, still at the top of his game and widely considering one of Major League Soccer’s shot-stoppers, retired from soccer at age 36.

Nielsen, nicknamed the “White Puma,” did so about 48 hours after helping Sporting Kansas City win MLS Cup 2013. His play during 90 minutes, plus another 30 minutes of extra time, was hampered by miserable footing. Nielsen seemed to have more problems than his match-day counter part, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

But Nielsen more than redeemed himself in the penalty kick tiebreaker, saving two of RSL’s 10 shots (with two more missed).

Nielsen, Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year for 2012, signed with the club in 2010. What he said through a release issued by the club:

“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.”

MLS Cup 2013: Sporting Kansas City’s key players for Saturday’s final

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As the LA Galaxy has shown us over the last two years, if you can get big performances out of the your best players on MLS Cup Saturday, a champagne shower awaits in the locker room. Two years ago, it was Beckham-to-Donovan-to-Keane that won the title, while last year Omar Gonzalez become the first defender to claim MLS Cup’s Most Valuable Player award.

Sporting Kansas City’s stars may not be as bright as LA’s (who’s are?), but the Eastern Conference champions have a clear group of all-star caliber players who are capable of defining Saturday’s game.

We start in attack:

Graham Zusi, F/M – Consider the list of statistics where Zusi was Sporting’s leader: assists; key passes; accurate crosses; through balls; successful dribbles; fouls drawn. It’s the exact list you’d expect from somebody who serves as the team’s focal point. Although Sporting have other ways to create goals, life becomes much more difficult if Zusi’s not on his game.

It’s also why the idea of Zusi not getting shots on target shouldn’t be too concerning. Sporting’s U.S. international addressed this notion of Thursday – that two-plus postseasons without a ball on frame hints he’s struggling in the postseason. In truth, his role as a creator becomes even more important against organized defenses more willing to let him drift back into midfield than generate chances moving toward goal. You know, the exact type of defenses you face in the postseason.

No matter the role, Zusi can hurt you. Goal scorer or creator, from open play or set pieces, Sporting’s chances are likely to come through their Best XI attacker.

Matt Besler, D – Another Best XI player, Besler has surpassed Omar Gonzalez as the league’s best defender, his time with the U.S. Men’s National Team the only thing keeping the 26-year-old from claiming a second straight MLS Defender of the Year honor. Perhaps the most complete center back in the league, Besler doesn’t possess one dominant trait. Instead, his blend of skill, awareness, strength, vision, and versatility create a player with no obvious weaknesses.

On a team that likes to play possession soccer, one that wants its fullbacks to get forward, he’s the perfect, steadying presence at the back, one you can trust to make the right reads as well as serve as an outlet when the team needs to retain the ball. Go through the rest of the league’s defenders and it’s hard to identify another center back with the skills to step into Besler’s boots.

And a potential, overlooked twist: Besler has the best long throw in Major League Soccer, one that becomes particularly dangerous with Aurélien Collin and C.J. Sapong on the pitch. Even if Real Salt Lake’s Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler can handle those targets, Besler’s accuracy can pick out other teammates – players exploiting room exposed after Collin and Sapong collapse the defense.

Jimmy Nielsen, G – We covered Nielsen when breaking down Saturday’s goalkeepers, but against an RSL team that’s scored seven times in their last three games, he could prove Sporting’s safety net. In 2013, Nielsen led the league in wins and goals against average, finishing second in shutouts. Winner of 2012’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, the 36-year-old Dane is capable of keeping his team in the game even if his defense breaks down. If RSL has as much success against Sporting’s back line as they did against Portland’s, Nielsen may have to live up to his “White Puma” moniker.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

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Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

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What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

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MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

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MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

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Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

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MLS Cup positional edges: Looking at the goalkeepers for Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake

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Amongst MLS’s goalkeeping elite, Jimmy Nielsen and Nick Rimando can both claim places, each veteran number ones having held major sway on the league’s last two Goalkeeper of the Year honors. In 2012, the Sporting captain snared the award, while the Real Salt Lake veteran finished second to Portland’s Donovan Ricketts this season. Over the last two seasons, these may be Major League Soccer’s two best keepers.

They are, however, very different players, a divide that starts with their stature. At 6’3″ tall, Nielsen has the traditional size of a top flight keeper, while at 5’9″, Rimando’s height is more reminiscent of an outfield player. Yet whereas you’d expect the taller man to have the greater presence coming off his line, the opposite’s actually true.

Nielsen’s earned his nickname “White Puma” for his cat-like reflexes, attributes most often displayed while the 36-year-old stays between his sticks. With defenders like Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler patrolling the box, his strategy may be influenced by his teammates, but entering the final years of his professional career, it also serves a player whose athleticism continues to wane. At his best waiting and reacting, Nielsen rarely presses his luck off his line, something that can come back to haunt him on the rare occasion one of his central defenders is beat in the air.

Rimando is surprisingly strong in the air – an attribute that’s improved throughout his career. Though his size still works against him, Rimando’s quick, decisive reads on crosses allow him to beat opposition players to the ball, his ability to read the game seeing him evade most physical challenges. Particularly on deep crosses, Rimando distinguishes himself from his peers, with his performance in the 2012 conference semifinals at Seattle standing out as one of the best games from a goalkeeper in MLS postseason history.

source: Getty ImagesRimando’s other obvious edge on Nielsen is in his distribution. Whereas the Real Salt Lake keeper is thought to be one of the best in the league putting the ball back into the field, Nielsen’s kicking game isn’t considered a strength. His play on the ball is another area where the more well-rounded Rimando makes up for his six-inch height disadvantage.

But being well-rounded doesn’t make you a better keeper any more than having a more versatile skill set automatically makes a midfielder better than a pure goalscorer. The overriding principle: How do you influence the bottom line? Rimando can be the most well-rounded goalkeeper in the world, but if he isn’t preventing more goals than Nielsen, he’s probably not the better keeper.

Though Rimando probably was the better keeper in 2013, the gap between Saturday’s keepers isn’t so big that one game’s variables couldn’t shift the scales. Particularly against an RSL team unlikely to persistently challenge with crosses (16th in MLS in crosses per game), Nielsen’s weaknesses will be masked. Likewise, Sporting’s become less apt to use their strikers as target men (13th in crosses), meaning Rimando’s unlikely to replicate last year’s performance in Seattle.

If it’s a battle of shot stoppers, Nielsen’s ability to cover more of the goal may give him the edge, but given the razor-thin nature of that advantage, you’ll forgive us a slight cop-out:

EDGE: Basically even

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013