MLS CHAMP

Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen blocks a shot during a shoot out in overtime against Real Salt Lake during the MLS Cup final soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

Sporting Kansas City won the 18th MLS Cup title last Saturday when it defeated Real Salt Lake, 7-6, in a penalty-kick shoot-out at Sporting Park in Kansas City, (KS). The games ended in a 1-1 draw in regulation and prompted the ensuing shoot-out. The win was another feather in the caps of American-born coaches who have won nine of the 18 MLS Cup titles. The result bodes well for American coaches who can argue that their success warrants more side line opportunities.

Sporting’s American coach, Peter Vermes, became the only person to win an MLS title as a player and coach with the same team; Vermes, who was inducted into the MLS Hall of Fame in October, played on the 2000 Kansas City Wizards MLS champion team coached by American Bob Gansler.

In fact, three of the final-four teams in the MLS playoffs were led by American coaches. In addition to Vermes, Sporting’s opponent in the title game, RSL, was coached by Jason Kreis, a former MLS leading scorer and MVP who won the 2009 MLS Cup as a coach with RSL. Western Conference runner-up, Portland Timbers, was led by Caleb Porter, a former college coach at the University of Akron, who turned around the faltering three-year-old Timbers franchise and was voted the 2013 MLS Coach of the Year. The Eastern Conference Houston Dynamo, which lost to Sporting Kansas City, is lead by Dominick Kinnear, who, although born in Scotland, made his mark in MLS as a player and coach, who steered Houston to MLS titles in 2006-07.

Among the American coaches who won the nine MLS Cups, New Yorker Bruce Arena leads with four titles, two each with DC United (1996-97) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2011-12). Bob Bradley (Chicago Fire, ’98), Gansler (Kansas City Wizards (2000), Kreis, Vermes and Steve Sampson (Los Angeles, 2005) each has won a title.

The other MLS Cup winners are Dutchman Thomas Rongen (DC United 1999), Canadian Frank Yallop (2001, 2003, San Jose), Polish Peter Nowak (DC United, 2004), Sigi Schmid (Los Angeles Galaxy, 2002; Columbus Crew, 2008) and Englishman Gary Smith (Colorado Rapids, 2010). German-born Schmid is an American citizen, played college soccer at UCLA and coached in the USA at different levels of the game for many years and is considered an American coach.

NIELSEN RETIRES

Sporting’s 36-year-old American goalkeeper Jim Nielsen on Monday, two days after the win, retired from the game after 19 years in MLS. Nielsen, who made a save to help Sporting stay ahead during the penalty shoot-out, thanked those who impacted his career. “I want to thank the ownership group, my teammates, my coaches and the entire organization for the opportunity to have four of the best years of my life, not only mine but my family as well here in Kansas City,” Nielsen said in a club statement.

“I will remember these years forever. To the best soccer fans: Since Day 1, 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.”

Nielsen, the MLS Goalkeeper of the year in 2012, holds the all-time club regular-season goalkeeping records for games played (128), games started (128), minutes played (11,497), wins (57), ties (32), winning percentage (.575) and shutouts (45).

MANDELA TRIBUTE

In a statement on the day former South African President Nelson Mandela died, CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb paid tribute to the great leader. “At CONCACAF, we are deeply moved by the passing of Nelson Mandela today. As a token of respect and admiration to the inspiration he has infused during my personal journey, I would like to pay tribute to Madiba’s legacy. A man whose existence has inspired such universal admiration on his life-long quest for undeniable heightened human values.”

Webb continued, “The world should hope to see more heroes like him, able to touch countless hearts with his fervent passion for an altruistic cause, while spreading words of wisdom with selfless humility for the sole good of human kind. Let us never forget what a natural leader of such great stature looks like…

“…With gratitude to his unequivocal legacy, we extend our condolences to Mr. Mandela’s family, friends and the world at large on this sad day. Our prayers are with you.”

Sporting Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong, bottom, is defended by Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers, center as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, top, grabs a corner kick during the second half of the MLS Cup final soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

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