Shortly after joining Sporting Kansas City in an offseason trade last December, goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum learned his debut with the new club wasn’t coming anytime in the near future. Instead, manager Peter Vermes announced Eric Kronberg as the replacement for the recently-retired Jimmy Nielsen, a move that sent Gruenebaum to the bench.
It’s been a long wait there, but that’s finally coming to an end. At least for one night.
Gruenebaum will see his first meaningful action in a Sporting KC uniform Wednesday night. He is slated to start when the club plays host to Minnesota United FC in a fourth-round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match at Sporting Park. It’s Sporting Kansas City’s first match in this year’s Open Cup competition.
“I’ve been training hard to get accustomed to a new team — which has happened pretty easily here — so I’m just excited to play,” Gruenebaum said. “If you come to training and work hard, when you get your chance, you have to take advantage of it.”
Gruenebaum figures to be the choice in goal for the length of Sporting KC’s stay in the Open Cup, though Vermes would only commit to him for one match. As the backup to Nielsen last season, Kronberg played both matches in the 2013 Open Cup before the team’s abrupt fourth-round exit.
Kronberg is the only keeper to see action for Sporting KC this season, starting all 15 MLS matches and both games in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Gruenebaum has been left waiting to make his debut for his hometown club.
A former All-American at Blue Valley North High School, Gruenebaum has not started a match since last October, the final appearance of his eight-year tenure with the Columbus Crew.
“I always want to make sure I keep him in some type of form going forward. For a goalkeeper, that can really be very difficult,” Vermes said. “But the good thing about Andy is he has a lot of games under his belt, so he understands what he needs to do in this situation.”
After spending most of his first six MLS seasons as a backup — a long track to which Kronberg can relate —
Gruenebaum started 54 matches over the past two seasons.
“I’d like to think it’s like riding a bike a little bit,” Gruenebaum said. “I’ve been around the league for a long time. You learn from experiences — both good and bad.”
This particular experience will come against an unfamiliar opponent. Minnesota United FC won the second-tiered North American Soccer League spring season with a 6-1-2 record. The club scored 16 goals in nine matches.
Sporting KC is looking to avoid a second consecutive early exit in the Open Cup competition. Orlando City dealt Sporting KC a surprising 1-0 loss in the fourth round last season.
That came one year after Sporting KC defeated Seattle in the 2012 Open Cup final.
“We want to win it — it’s as simple as that,” Vermes said. “It chaps me we went out like we did last year. We want to win every competition we can every year.”
Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sporting Park
RADIO: WHB (810 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC: The club enters the Open Cup competition without Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, who are with the United States national team for the World Cup. Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber and Aurelien Collin are also likely to sit out because of various injuries. Sporting KC hopes to have those three back when it returns to MLS action on June 27.
ABOUT MINNESOTA UNITED FC: Christian Ramirez leads the team with five goals and four assists this season. He’s part of a dangerous offense that has scored 16 goals this season, leading to a 6-1-2 record in the North American Soccer League spring season.
BOTTOM LINE: Although its lineup will be without a handful of its starts, Sporting KC has placed a heavy importance on making a dent in this season’s Open Cup after an early exit last summer.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 2, Minnesota United FC 0