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February 6, 2014

OKC Energy's Nielsen used to building soccer from scratch

OKLAHOMA CITY —

If anyone knows how to break free from the bonds of obscurity, it is Jimmy Nielsen.

As a goalkeeper in Denmark, he had to follow in the footsteps of the great Peter Schmeichel -- famous for his stint at Manchester United and for winning the European Championship with the Danes in 1992. Nielsen had to make a name for himself with such stars in front of him, and he did. That wasn't the end.

When he made the jump to the United States' top tier Major League Soccer, he went to another team with a famous goalkeeping history to compete against. The great American Tony Meola and MLS stalwart Kevin Hartman called Kansas City home for years before Nielsen stepped between the posts in 2010. Four years and two trophies later, the fans are happy to add him to that list of team greats. In 2012, he became the first Kansas City goalkeeper since Meola (2000) to be named to the end of season All-MLS team.

So when he takes the field this spring as the first head coach of Oklahoma City Energy FC in the USL PRO league, he'll have an idea of how the players and possibly the franchise's first die-hard fans, feel.

"I have my ideas that I want to bring to the organization and to the players," Nielsen said. "But my method to my players, myself, the organization, is to be yourself. Come in and bring everything you have on and off the field to make this team a success."

Such a positive demeanor could prove important as Nielsen brings together a group of players that have a tough, yet possible, task of building the sport inland rather than the coasts where soccer thrives. Coming from MLS, and specifically Kansas City, it's hard not to be positive about the direction soccer is going in America.

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