[MLS] If not for a strained hip flexor suffered by goalkeeper Zach Thornton, counterpart Kevin Hartman would truly be marooned. The veteran Hartman, a native of Southern California, came into the U.S. national team camp last week at Home Depot Center to replace Thornton, ending several weeks of anxious inactivity. Despite him playing every minute in goal during the past three seasons, Kansas City didn't pick up the option on his contract and at the team's request he did not report to training camp.
As it turns out, Hartman, 35, is a man without a club. Under the rules of MLS, Kansas City retains his rights even though he isn’t under contract, isn't with the team, and isn’t going to be. Coach Peter Vermes, speaking by phone Monday night after returning to Kansas City from a Wizards’ preseason stint in Phoenix, Ariz., said negotiations had dragged on so long he went looking for alternatives.
“At some point you have make a decision and I didn’t want for our team to be without a player in a very important position,” said Vermes of the decision to replace the league’s all-time leader in shutouts (84), wins (146), and saves (1,235) with a player new to MLS.
The signing of Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, 32, was officially announced Monday. Kansas City auditioned several goalkeepers in Arizona, including former D.C. keeper Louis Crayton, and expects to have Nielsen (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) on hand when it returns to Phoenix at the end of the week for another two-week stint.
"It just seemed to take forever from the time we made our initial offer," said Vermes, who stated the team began negotiations on a new deal for Hartman before Christmas. "The salary really wasn’t the problem, there were other things that we couldn’t agree upon, and so we started looking around for other options. It was frustrating in that we kept trying, trying and trying and couldn’t seem to get it done.”
Hartman’s agent, Ron Waxman, declined to comment and wouldn’t speculate as to when Kansas City might waive Hartman if it cannot trade him. Teams must be roster- and salary-cap compliant as of March 1, assuming CBA negotiations don’t stall and there’s a strike/lockout imposed before that date. Vermes says the Wizards are operating under the assumption the salary cap and roster limit will be set somewhere near the 2009 figures of $2.3 million and 24 players (including four on developmental contracts), respectively.
"We’ve talked to a few teams but there don’t seem to be any opportunities out there,” said Vermes. “In our league at least, nobody is looking for goalkeepers. At some point, somebody is going to be looking for a player, so we’ll see how things go.”
Vermes said Nielsen's club, Vejle, off-loaded the goalkeeper for a small transfer fee even though he had a year remaining on his contract. HisMLS salary will be slightly less than the $165,000 Hartman earned as base salary in 2009.
Nielsen played 338 first division games for Aalborg and won one league title before moving to English League Championship (second division) club Leicester City, which released him in January, 2008, following a tumultuous period of coaching changes. He played 46 matches during the past two seasons for Vejle, which was relegated last May and finished eighth in the 16-team second division in November.
“Getting back to the leadership I want to point out that during his last four seasons [with Aalborg], Nielsen was the captain of his team, so that was an important consideration also,” said Vermes.