Jimmy Nielsen, a man well known among Sporting Kansas City fans, will make his return to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday. Rather than stepping between the pipes as he did in 51 regular-season games at Children’s Mercy Park, he will be facing the Swope Park Rangers from the Hartford Athletic technical area.
After winning the 2013 MLS Cup with Sporting KC, the White Puma hung up his gloves after 19 years of professional soccer that took him around the world. But he wasted no time to get back into the game.
Less than two weeks after bringing a championship to Kansas City, he became the first head coach of OKC Energy FC. Now Nielsen taking over another expansion team in the USL Championship with Hartford Athletic. Wednesday will be his sixth game in Kansas City as a coach and his first as the head coach of Hartford. Here is a recap of his first five coaching appearances in Kansas City.
June 18, 2016 (Swope Park Rangers 1-3 OKC Energy FC)
Nielsen’s return to Kansas City was a good one for him, but not so much for the Rangers. SPR grabbed the lead early when Ayrton slotted home a shot through traffic for his first goal of the season. OKC were able to grab the equalizer in first-half stoppage time when Michael Thomas redirected the ball off his head towards the back post and in just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Zac Lubin.
The deadlock only lasted 19 minutes as Wojciech Wojcik, who now plays for Nielsen in Hartford, scored a sliding goal off Michael Harris’ cross. The visitors doubled their lead in the 74th minute when Daniel Gonzalez’s first shot was saved by Lubin, but the ball bounced right back to him allowing him to tap in his second of the season. The 3-1 score held and Nielsen’s first coaching experience in Kansas City granted him three points.
July 12, 2016 (Swope Park Rangers 0-2 OKC Energy FC)
Despite firing seven shots on goal, the Swope Park Rangers were held scoreless by Cody Laurendi and OKC Energy FC in a performance reminiscent of the White Puma’s days as Sporting’s goalkeeper. OKC took the lead in the 84th minute when Timo Pitter slotted an impeccable ball across the face of goal for Coy to place past Jon Kempin. Pitter scored five minutes later and Nielsen’s coaching record in Kansas City moved to 2-0-0.
March 25, 2017 (Swope Park Rangers 3-1 OKC Energy FC)
Nielsen’s perfect record in Kansas City would end on day one of the 2017 USL Championship season. Coady Andrews headed in OKC’s lone goal off a Jose Barril corner kick in the 24th minute. Just before halftime, all-time SPR leading scorer Kharlton Belmar scored his first of the season. Twenty minutes later, Latif Blessing blessed the Rangers with the lead in the 62nd minute. Daniel Salloi forced a turnover in the attacking third and found Blessing who wasted no time and fired a one-time shot past Laurendi. Salloi scored in the 71st minute off captain Christian Duke’s perfect diagonal through ball. Salloi ran onto the service and beat the charging Laurendi back post. Nielsen suffered his first loss in Kansas City since Sept. 27, 2013.
Sept. 2, 2017 (Swope Park Rangers 2-0 OKC Energy FC)
Nielsen brought OKC back to Kansas City six months later, looking to get back on track in the heartland. A wrench was thrown in his plans in the 17th minute when Tyler Pasher was taken to ground by Laurendi in the box and the center judge awarded the Rangers a penalty kick. Lebo Moloto stepped up and calmly converted his spot-kick, opting to go right down the middle. Moloto secured a brace a half-hour later off Felipe Hernandez’s endline cross. SPR held on 2-0 and left Nielsen left with the taste of defeat again.
Nov. 4, 2017 (Swope Park Rangers 0-0 [7-6] OKC Energy FC)
SPR and OKC met in the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, bringing Nielsen back to Children’s Mercy Park for the first time since the 2013 MLS Cup. After 120 scoreless minutes, the contest would be decided in an epic penalty kick shootout.
Neither side was able to gain an advantage in the marathon shootout, and after a remarkable 10 rounds of spot kicks, it came down to the goalkeepers. OKC’s A.J. Cochran opted for placement to the left and Adrian Zendejas made his fourth save of the shootout. After his clutch stop, Zendejas stepped up and sent Cochran the wrong way, burying the shot and sending SPR to the USL Cup Final amidst wild celebrations. After winning a wild shootout in MLS Cup four years earlier in the same stadium, Nielsen saw his team come up just short in a similar manner.
The Next Chapter
Entering Wednesday with a 2-2-1 record as a coach in Kansas City, Nielsen is looking to right the ship with Hartford and get back to winning ways. His former teammate and current head coach of the Rangers, Paulo Nagamura, is out to give him another defeat.
It all goes down at Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday Night at 7 p.m. CT. Fans will not want to miss this USL Championship Eastern Conference clash—tickets are available at SeatGeek.com or at the stadium box office beginning at 5 p.m.