SB Nation MLS Goalkeeper of the Year: Jimmy Nielsen

Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Sporting KC goalkeeper posted one of the greatest seasons in MLS history while anchoring one of the stoutest defenses ever.

MLS has long been a league dominated by American goalkeepers. Over the first 16 seasons, the Goalkeeper of the Year has been won by Americans 12 times and by a player from a CONCACAF country every year. If SB Nation's voting is any indication, that should end this year.

Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen was our runaway winner, largely on the strength of his anchoring the league's best defense and posting the second most shutouts (15) in league history. Nielsen posted two of the three longest shutout streaks this year, with his longest scoreless run lasting 414 minutes to start the year. Nielsen also had the fifth best save percentage (74.2), the most wins (18) and the fifth best goals against average in league history (.79).

On top of all that, Nielsen was the only goalkeeper to play all 3,060 minutes this season. Drew Moor was the only other player at any other position to do it.

This probably isn't a sign that foreign goalkeepers are poised to take over MLS, but it is a sign that they can excel here.

How they voted: If the real vote goes the way of ours, this will be a relative landslide despite there being several worthy candidates. Nielsen was named the top goalkeeper on 20 of 35 ballots and was the second-place pick on seven more. No other candidate got more than six votes.

The real race was for second place, where four goalkeepers were within a few points of one another. Seattle's Michael Gspurning ended up with the second most points (17), garnering four first-place votes and nine for second-place. Not far behind him were Columbus' Andy Gruenebaum (6, 1), RSL's Nick Rimando (1, 10) and Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy (4, 4). Four more goalkeepers received just one second-place vote.

What the bloggers said: Other goalkeepers had far more saves than Jimmy Nielsen this season, so it would be tempting to dismiss his 15 clean sheets - one shy of Tony Meola's single-season record - as the product of a stifling defense rather than of the White Puma's own skills in the net.

That would be a mistake. Nielsen did have the benefit of MLS's stingiest back four, one that didn't concede a single goal off a corner all season long, but who do you think positioned and organized that defense? And when opponents did put a ball on frame, Nielsen responded with some spectacular saves - something that can be harder to do when one hasn't faced a shot in a while.

The records and the clean sheets were all of secondary importance, though. Nielsen wanted to win. To him, a 2-1 victory was preferable to a scoreless draw. That team-first approach is why manager Peter Vermes made him Sporting's captain, even though he's not an outfield player.

MLS has energized Nielsen, and he has returned the favor. Look for him to keep doing what he does for a couple more seasons, at least.

- Steve Brisendine, The Daily Wiz

About the voting: Every writer for SB Nation's MLS blogs was eligible to vote, with 35 submitting ballots. On the individual awards, two points was given for each first-place vote and one point for each second-place vote. Voting was conducted after the regular season and was not meant to include any post-season performance.

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