When 21-year-old Sporting Kansas City defender Jaylin Lindsey snuck behind the San Jose defense to dispatch the first goal of his professional career on Saturday night at PayPal Park, one of his teammates watching from home was especially excited.
Veteran right back Graham Zusi was sidelined for Sporting’s momentous 3-1 road win over the Earthquakes on Saturday with a minor quad injury. His replacement in defense, of course, was Lindsey, who delivered one of his best performances in a Sporting uniform by becoming the club’s second defender since 2010 to record a goal, five tackles and 10 duels in a regular season game.
Making his customary appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB this morning with Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John, Zusi was understandably over the moon with Lindsey’s excellent display—one that helped Sporting climb to second place in the Western Conference.
“There’s nothing like your first goal and Jaylin has been so solid for us in that spot,” Zusi said. “That was a massive goal to get one back before the first half ended. He took that so well—a really good ball from Alan and I was shocked that Jaylin was calm enough to take a touch that close to goal. And then to put it in the corner, he took that goal extremely well.”
Lindsey signed for Sporting as a Homegrown Player in 2017, just 17 years old at the time. He broke into the first team the following year and after missing a large chunk of 2019 through injury, has continued to serve as a valuable piece of Sporting’s backline. Like midfielder Gianluca Busio, Lindsey originally moved to Kansas City to join the Sporting KC Academy after growing up in North Carolina.
“Jaylin is such a good kid from top to bottom,” Zusi said. “He works hard, he’s very much a team player, and that guy has got years and years ahead of him. It’s only going to get better and better for him because he puts in the work. As I was rehabbing this offseason, Jaylin was in the gym as well putting in the hard work. I was so pumped to see him score his first goal and something tells me it won’t be his last.”
In addition to remarking on Saturday’s impressive victory in San Jose, Zusi also reacted to the news that former captain and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen will be inducted as the newest Sporting Legend when the Colorado Rapids visit Children’s Mercy Park on June 23. Nicknamed the White Puma and beloved by fans, Nielsen famously led Sporting to the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title and 2013 MLS Cup championship.
“As good as Jimmy was on the field, he’s a better person off the field,” Zusi said. “I still keep in contact with him to this day. We’ll go out to dinner and reminisce about the good old days. He’s an amazing human being and was an unbelievable leader during the years he captained our team.”
Zusi fondly recalled Nielsen’s penalty kick antics, which helped Sporting win their Open Cup and MLS Cup titles on home soil. As legend has it, Nielsen’s playful smack talk with penalty takers often proved an effective strategy.
“Jimmy is definitely an animated guy and he would hate me for saying this, but he was getting up there in age at the end of his (playing) career,” Zusi said with a laugh. “I don’t think he moved as well as before, so he had to play these mental games with the players. If you remember Eddie Johnson’s penalty kick (in the 2012 Open Cup final), he dang near kicked it out of the stadium. So what Jimmy did really worked.”
Lastly, Zusi discussed the return of the Blue KC Sporting Samaritan program, which honors local teachers with a comprehensive matchday experience at Children’s Mercy Park. A new Blue KC Sporting Samaritan is honored at every Sporting home match, receiving a VIP experience that includes a tour of the stadium, tickets to the game, a customized jersey and a Sporting KC player visit to his or her school. To nominate a Blue KC Sporting Samaritan, visit SportingKC.com/BlueKC.