Going into Wednesday night’s game, Jimmy Nielsen offered a terse assessment of the Vancouver Whitecaps: “A good team, if we allow them to be a good team.”
His teammates did. He didn’t.
Sporting Kansas City’s ’keeper, untested over his last three-and-a-half matches, proved he hadn’t picked up any rust during the league-record stretch of not allowing a shot on goal for 345 minutes. After recording just eight saves in Sporting’s first six matches, Nielsen had seven – plus an acrobatic tip of left back Seth Sinovic’s errant deflection – in Wednesday night’s 3-1 road win over the Whitecaps.
“Jimmy was huge in the second half,” KC manager Peter Vermes, whose team extended its club-record best start to 7-0-0, told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “He made some huge, huge, tremendous saves to keep us alive and not let them get back in the game.”
Nielsen did see his shutout streak come to an end at 415 minutes, when Sebastien Le Toux pulled one back for the Whitecaps in the 80th minute. By then, though, Sporting had already gotten goals from Aurelien Collin in the 24th minute and Kei Kamara (off a nifty exchange with right back Chance Myers) in the 65th, bookending an own-goal from Vancouver’s Martin Bonjour in the 51st.
But this would be no repeat of the 2011 meeting between the two sides in Vancouver, when Sporting surrendered a 3-0 lead and had to settle for a 3-3 draw.
“When they scored to make it 3-1, I think it went through everybody’s mind, what happened last year,” Nielsen said. “We were fighting like crazy the rest of the way and we were able to get a well-deserved win.”
Sporting’s captain made four saves after Le Toux’s goal, including two denials of shots by second-half sub Camilo, who had both of the Whitecaps’ stoppage-time goals in that draw.
Nielsen, it turns out, expected that late onslaught.
“The goal gave them energy,” he said. “They had to remember last year, and they probably had it going through their minds that they could do the same thing.”
Not this time. Not even on a night when Sporting’s previously-impervious back line, which didn’t give up a goal in the run of play over KC’s first six matches, found itself penetrated time and again by forwards Le Toux and Eric Hassli.
“We talked to them at the half, that in the second half they were going to come at us with everything they had,” Vermes said. “We had to get something going on the counter. We were in good places on the field to get the own goal, and then for Kei to get in there and get on the end of that pass and finish it off, that was huge.”
And this time, it stood up.