NIELSEN RATINGS – OKC Energy FC Coach Aims for High Goals for New Team

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NIELSEN RATINGS
OKC Energy FC Coach Aims for High Goals for New Team

By Tim Farley

Jimmy Nielsen had barely announced his retirement from Major League Soccer when he was approached about coaching a new professional team in Oklahoma City.

Without hesitation, Nielsen took the job and headed south on Interstate-35 to meet with his new bosses at OKC Energy FC.

Nielson, a goalkeeper, and his Sporting Kansas City teammates had just won the 2013 MLS Cup in December with a thrilling shootout victory over Real Salt Lake. Nielsen’s timely saves in the shootout, combined with some crossbar luck, gave the Kansas City team its second MLS title and first since 2000.

It was a fitting end for the legendary goalkeeper who played 19 seasons as a professional in Europe and the MLS.

Now, Nielsen is in charge of giving Oklahoma City fans a high-caliber soccer team. Energy FC, which is owned by Oklahoma City-based Prodigal, LLC, is one of two new teams in the United Soccer League PRO system. Sacramento is the other new squad.

USL PRO is one step away from the MLS, which is the highest level of soccer in the United States.

“I expect we’ll get some good results. We’ve gone out and recruited players who are very hungry and want to spend time in the community,” the 36-year-old head coach said. “So far, it’s been pretty successful.”

Having fared well in the preseason, Energy FC played its inaugural match April 5 against Orange County Blues FC at the University of California-Irvine. Energy FC will hosts its first home game 7 p.m. April 26 at Pribil Stadium, located on the Bishop McGuinness High School campus.

It’s all about team

Although this is Nielsen’s first coaching job, he knows the recipe for success.

“Since I first touched the ball as a boy, I’ve wanted to win games. I want guys who have bigger goals. I’ve already told them if they’re successful here, there will be a lot of MLS eyes on them,” he said.

Team officials have signed 20 players so far with additional signings expected, Nielsen said. However, the rookie head coach isn’t giving any of them the star label.

“The star is the team,” Nielsen said. “We have an amazing team spirit. I’m impressed how fast the guys have come together. They’ve come from different parts of the world and none of them have family or friends here outside of soccer yet. So, they go to the movies together, they eat together, they shop together. It makes sense then that the team is coming together.”

Nielsen is hopeful Oklahoma City fans will be as enthusiastic about Energy FC as they have been with the Thunder basketball team since its arrival in 2008.

“The passion they (Thunder fans) show is amazing,” he said. “I think there are enough people in Oklahoma to have that same level of passion for soccer.”

In fact, Nielsen is confident Oklahoma City can someday move to the MLS.

“You have to climb the ladder easy and take it one step at a time. Our next goal is to get a new stadium. You don’t rush to get an MLS team. You build it slowly from where you’re at now,” he said.

Storied career

Nielsen began his pro career in 1999 with his hometown club AaB Aalborg in Denmark as the squad advanced to the Danish SuperLiga championship. He earned the Danish Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2004 and also represented his country at the U-19 and U-21 levels.

In February 2010, Nielsen joined the MLS and Sporting Kansas City. As a member of the KC team, he was a two-time MLS All-Star, the 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and goalkeeper for the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open championship.

His final season in Kansas City was by far the best as the team won the MLS Cup, an achievement that Nielsen is most proud of since coming to the U.S.

“That was my goal when I came here,” he said. “It was big. This was also the right time for me to retire. The opportunity (to coach) came just a few days after I retired. I literally went from one state to the other in a small amount of time.”

Nielsen finished his MLS career with a record of 57 wins, 38 losses and 32 ties. Nielsen’s 1.02 career goals against average is the best for any goalkeeper in MLS history and is the best mark for a Sporting KC goalkeeper all-time.

Although he’s retired as a player, Nielsen sometimes forgets that key fact.

“In one of our first preseason games, the ref made a bad call and I found myself 30 yards out on the field. I have to accept that I can’t cross that damn sideline anymore,” he said, with a laugh.

As a coach, Nielsen finds himself consumed with his new team in Oklahoma City.

“There’s not a second when I’m away that I’m not thinking about this team. It’s fun to be around them (players) day in and day out. We have a lot of characters but I won’t go into any details right now,” he said. “I’m comfortable with the guys we have. We want to compete. We’re not in the USL just to be there. We want to compete and we want to win.”

For more information about Energy FC, its schedule or tickets, visit www.energyfc.com or call 405-235-KICK.

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