Houston Dynamo FC Add Jimmy Nielsen, Chris Martinez and Zack Thornton to Technical Staff
HOUSTON - Houston Dynamo FC announced today that Chris Martinez, Jimmy Nielsen, and Zach Thornton will join Paulo Nagamura's first team staff. Martinez and Nielsen will join as assistant coaches and Thornton will join as a goalkeeper coach. The trio are the first additions to the technical staff since Nagamura's hiring earlier this month as the fifth head coach in Club history.
"We are excited to add three coaches to Paulo's staff with a good understanding of how to win in MLS and a track record of developing promising North American players," Dynamo general manager Pat Onstad said. "Jimmy, Chris and Zach's complementary skills and range of experiences will make the first team more competitive and align with our goal to make the club one of the premier development environments in MLS. We welcome Chris, Jimmy, Zach and their families to Houston and we are excited to get to work preparing for the 2022 season."
Nielsen, 44, joins the Dynamo after most recently serving as the Director of Professional Player Development with Sporting Kansas City. After his twenty-year playing career, Nielsen began his coaching career in 2014 as the head coach of the USL's Oklahoma City Energy. During his tenure with Oklahoma City, the team made the playoffs three out of four seasons, including two appearances in the USL Western Conference finals. The Danish-national was also a finalist for the 2015 USL Coach of the Year Award after the Energy finished the regular season tied atop the Western Conference standings. The 44-year-old also spent one season as the head coach of the USL's Hartford Athletic in 2020.
Nielsen began his professional career in 1994, playing alongside U.S. Men's National Team goalkeeper Kasey Keller at English club Millwall F.C. After a year in England, Nielsen signed with his hometown club Aalborg BK. He made 342 appearances for AaB and led the club to the 1999 Danish Superliga championship. In addition, Nielsen was named Goalkeeper of the Year in 1998 and 2004. Following his career with Aalborg, Nielsen made 63 appearances over two years for Danish club Vejle before joining MLS's Sporting KC in 2010. Nielsen excelled while playing in the United States, earning MLS all-star nods in 2010 and 2012, winning 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and helping lead Sporting KC to the 2013 MLS Cup.
Martinez, 51, comes to the Dynamo with an extensive coaching background, most recently having served as an assistant coach under Nagamura with Sporting Kansas City II for the past four seasons. After his playing days ended, Martinez transitioned to coaching. Martinez served as Director of Player Development at U.S. Soccer Development Academy club Real Colorado, where he was named U-15/16 Coach of the Year for the Central Conference in 2015.
The former defender returned to MLS when he joined the Colorado Rapids as the club's Development Academy Program Director and U-18/19 head coach. He held this role until he joined Sporting II ahead of the 2018 campaign. During his time in Colorado, he played an instrumental role in developing future MLS stars Tajon Buchanan and Sam Vines. Martinez was inducted into the Colorado Soccer Hall of Fame in 2020.
Martinez played collegiately for Clemson University before a professional career that included stops in the American Professional Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League before landing with the Rapids, where he played from 1997-2001.
Thornton, 48, joins the Dynamo after seven seasons with the D.C. United coaching staff. He joined the club as the Director of Goalkeeping and assistant coach prior to the 2015 season. The team reached the Audi MLS Cup playoffs four times during his tenure with USMNT goalkeeper Bill Hamid in goal. Hamid earned team MVP honors in 2017 under Thornton's tutelage and set a new D.C. United single-season record with 14 clean sheets in 2019. The 48-year-old also coached at the collegiate level as the associate head coach for the men's program at Villanova University from 2013-2015. Additionally, Zach spent two years working with new Houston Dynamo FC goalkeeper Steve Clark at D.C. United.
The Maryland native had a 17-year MLS career where he was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 1998 and 2009. Thornton also spent time abroad in Portugal on loan to Benfica in 2004. The former shot stopper won the MLS Cup in 1998 with Chicago Fire FC, the Supporters' Shield with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003 and three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups. The six-time MLS All-Star selection played collegiately at Loyola College in Maryland and he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2003.
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