Sporting KC partners with USL PRO
MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City partnered with OKC Energy FC and Orlando City FC to be its USL PRO affiliates for the 2014 season Friday, while former goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was chosen to be head coach of the Oklahoma City club.
Sporting KC also announced that it had signed goalkeeper Eric Kronberg to a new contract as it seeks to find a replacement for Nielsen, one of the best players in club history.
''Eric has been a solid contributor here at this club over the last eight years,'' Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. ''It's moments like these that are the feel-good moments: When you see that a guy has put so much work in and dedicated so much time to an opportunity and now it is right in front of him. We believe he is absolutely ready.''
Kronberg won't be given Nielsen's job without some competition.
Sporting KC acquired veteran goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum from the Columbus Crew for a second-round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft last week. Gruenebaum, who grew up in suburban Kansas City, has made 82 appearances in MLS competition over the past eight seasons.
Nielsen announced his retirement two days after Sporting KC beat Real Salt Lake to win its first MLS Cup since 2000. The expansion team in Oklahoma City will be his first coaching job.
''My family and I are excited to take on this new challenge and I look forward to the start of my coaching career in Oklahoma City,'' Nielsen said. ''To remain a part of the Sporting Kansas City family and to take some of what I have learned from all of my coaches over the years, including Peter Vermes and staff, is an opportunity I embrace.''
OKC Energy FC was announced as a USL PRO expansion team in July. The partnership makes sense for Sporting KC, which has played several matches in Oklahoma City during its 18-year history.
Orlando City, which will transition to Major League Soccer for the 2015 season, is in the second year of its partnership with Sporting KC. The club took advantage of its arrangement last season when Dom Dwyer played an integral role in its USL PRO championship.
Dwyer then scored the goal for Sporting KC that sent the club to the MLS Cup, where it knocked off Real Salt Lake in a marathon round of penalty kicks.
Dwyer was among six players that Sporting KC loaned to Orlando City last season.
''I firmly believe this partnership was an important part of both clubs' on-field success in winning its respective league championships last season,'' Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said in a statement. ''Orlando City is proud to be part of this terrific player development initiative jointly established by Major League Soccer and USL PRO.''