After dominating the game early, Sporting KC finally found joy in the 25th minute.
The LIVESTRONG crowd erupted in celebration of a spectacular goal by breakout midfielder Graham Zusi that KC coach Peter Vermes called “a bomb,” putting Sporting up 1-0 over the visiting Portland Timbers.
The big screen flashed with images of “Brisket Bob” slicing his way through some juicy KC barbecue, poking fun at the Timbers’ practice of firing up a chainsaw to cut through a massive log each time they score a home goal.
At the other end of the pitch, Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen laid motionless just to the side of the net…
As fans realized something had happened to Jimmy, the crowd fell silent. He wasn’t moving. At all.
At first I thought maybe he’d had a heart attack or something. The previous play was at the other end of the pitch, so no one was near Jimmy or really was focused on that end of the field, and he was laying there not moving.
Team trainers rushed onto the field, with paramedics arriving seconds later, then security and the cops. Jimmy still hadn’t moved.
I started thinking the worst – that Jimmy was unresponsive and would leave the stadium in an ambulance. A stretcher arrived.
Then the Cauldron started chanting, “Fuck you south stand!” dun dun dundundun. (Jimmy was defending the south goal.) I went to Twitter and saw rumors swirling that someone had hit Jimmy in the head with some sort of projectile.
Moments later I heard that it was the head off one of the 10,000 Omar Bravo bobbleheads given away earlier in the evening.
If you’ve ever had a bobblehead you know that those things are pretty heavy. They can do some damage.
Cops were pointing up into the stands as SKC officials hurriedly reviewed security video to determine what exactly happened.
Then I thought I saw Jimmy move. Yeah, I did. Then he sat up.
Cops focused on a row about four or five behind the goal and escorted two people away to a torrent of boos, as trainers tended to Jimmy’s face. Backup keeper Eric Kronberg was warming up on the sideline ready to enter the game, but he never did.
Jimmy wanted to continue. Here’s all that needs to be said about that – Jimmy Nielsen: MAN.
After that, Sporting went on to score two more goals, including a second by Zusi (he’s turning into a star), and one from newcomer Soony Saad, who was making his MLS debut and celebrating his birthday Wednesday night. The Cauldron serenaded him with a loud “Happy birthday, dear Soony…”
Portland notched one goal late in the second half, but it was too little too late. SKC went on to win comfortably 3-1, an important victory that puts them right back in the playoff picture.
Now back to the Jimmy incident.
Some commenters around town have been scrambling to either defend soccer itself, or decry soccer as a hooligan sport. Some have stated that LIVESTRONG has some real security issues since the first game saw an idiot in a cow costume run on the field, and now this.
And perhaps not helping matters, there’s not so much as a mention of the incident on sportingkc.com, except for in one article by MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe. He writes:
"The game took an unfortunate turn during the celebration, however, as Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was hit below the eye with an object thrown from the stands, causing play to be stopped for five minutes as trainers tended to him."
But both the soccer haters and defenders are wrong.
The reality is this: any time you get 15,000 plus people together in a small area, there’s the possibility for idiots to do idiotic things. To paint this incident as a “soccer problem” is ludicrous. The same kind of thing has happened at music concerts, baseball games, football games, etc.
Ron Artest, anyone? The Tom Gamboa incident?
Part of what fans want is to be close to the action, close to the field, close to the PLAYERS. And this closeness is a major selling point of nearly every sport. When LIVESTRONG was just a hole in the ground, one of the many things that the Sporting ownership group hyped repeatedly was that “There won’t be a bad seat in the house, the fans will be right on top of the field.”
They were right – and that’s great – and the stadium’s great.
But to turn this ugly incident into a “soccer thing” is disingenuous and just wrong.
It’s an “idiot thing” and unfortunately they’re all around us. Be careful out there.