The Full 90

Sporting KC’s Jimmy Nielsen is MLS goalkeeper of the year

On the field and off it, Jimmy Nielsen has settled nicely in Kansas City.

Known as White Puma by a legion of adoring Sporting Kansas City fans, Nielsen grew up in Denmark, but now he considers Kansas City home.

Nielsen, who starts at goalkeeper and serves as captain for Sporting KC, recently bought a house in Brookside. He and his wife, Jennie, are moving Thursday in along with couple’s two daughters — Mille, 14, and Isabella, 6.

“We’ve been here three years and we’re having the time of our life right now,” Nielsen said. “It’s awesome on the field and awesome off the field. We have a great life here in Kansas City and couldn’t be happier.”

Making an already terrific week even better, Nielsen, 35, was announced Wednesday as Major League Soccer’s goalkeeper of the year.

On the heels of being selected Monday to the MLS Best XI, it wasn’t a terrific shock, but Nielsen, who earned Danish goalkeeper of the year honors in 1998 and 2004, was pleased and humbled, deflecting credit as easily as he closes the distance on an on-rushing forward.

“First of all, everything is about the team,” he said. “The team is incredible, and without a good team performance you don’t get those kind of honors.”

Of course, it was the defense — spearheaded by Nielsen, whose career 1.02 goals-against average is the best in MLS history — that was the most impressive for Sporting KC, the two-time reigning Eastern Conference regular-season champs.

Nielsen allowed only 27 goals in 34 games for a club-record 0.79 goals-against average, breaking Tony Meola’s mark from 2000 (0.92).

Nielsen also finished with 18 wins, which matches an MLS record in the post-shootout era, and recorded 15 shutouts, second-most in MLS history.

“It’s not a surprise to me. His performances have been incredibly consistent and he’s been extremely durable,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “But his biggest contribution, as much as I think his play has been outstanding, has been his leadership. I never expected him to have as much of an impact on the team as he did when we named him captain this past year.”

Nielsen, who considered retirement when his former club Vejle Boldklub was relegated from the Danish Superliga, didn’t come to Kansas City expected to win such awards — or buy a house for that matter. But there’s nowhere he’d rather be than with Sporting KC, which rekindled his passion for professional soccer.

Despite all the accolades, Nielsen isn’t satisfied with the 2012 season either.

“Believe me, we are hungry for more,” said Nielsen, who is headed to Los Angeles later in the week for the MLS Cup final. “I’m trying every day to put the season behind me and move forward. Of course, I’ll be reminded of our season this weekend.”

Next season can’t start soon enough for Nielsen.

“I’m looking forward to the season beginning again,” he said. “I hate the offseason, so let’s go ahead and get started.”