With regular goalkeeper Eric Kronberg still out another month with a broken finger and his back-up Andy Gruenebaum day-to-day with a muscle strain, 21-year-old Jon Kempin is the only healthy goalkeeper left standing on Sporting Kansas City’s roster.
Which means the first homegrown player in KC history is in line for his first professional start this weekend against Toronto. Kempin performed well in emergency duty in Vancouver last week. But who will back him up in case an emergency strikes again? (Given KC’s history with injuries this year, that’s an unfortunate possibility.)
Since the league’s 30-man roster limit doesn’t allow for a team to stockpile goalkeepers (and, really, it’s rare that an MLS team even uses three goalkeepers during an entire season), this poses a depth problem.
Does KC have to trade for someone? Can they call up a goalkeeper from their affiliate club, Oklahoma City Energy FC? Is Jimmy Nielsen available?
The answer to those three questions: No (that’s a little hasty for a temporary fix), no (the MLS-USL arrangement doesn’t quite work that way*) and no (he’s retired and occupied as Energy FC’s coach**).
*Even if it did work like Major League Baseball and SKC could “call up” a ‘keeper from its affiliates, both Energy FC and Orlando City play on Saturday night and have just two each on their roster. Before Kronberg went down last month, Kempin had been OKC’s primary goalkeeper.
**It’s probably best that the final memory of Nielsen in Sporting KC garb is him banged up and exhausted hoisting the MLS Cup and not huffing and puffing during pre-game warmups as the back-up in a mid-August MLS game.
So, what then?
Well, you might be surprised to know, MLS has a rule for this specific situation. It’s called Extreme Hardship Call-Ups. I’ll quote directly from the league’s rules:
Teams may add players to their roster in cases of “extreme hardship” as follows: (1) a club with three goalkeepers on its 30-man roster, but has less than two available goalkeepers or (2) a team has less than 15 available players. Extreme hardship call-ups are made on a game-by-game basis.
Part 1 is the relevant item for KC.
To help provide cover in these situations, MLS retains the service of a few “pool” goalkeepers that they can allocate to teams in a state of crisis. Those goalkeepers are under salary from the league and will often train with certain teams.
Last year, Scott Angevine*, a Blue Valley Northwest grad, was a pool goalkeeper and spent time training with Sporting KC. He actually was with KC briefly in 2012 when both Kronberg and Kempin were injured, but has since moved on to play in Finland.
For this weekend, KC has been allocated Tim Melia. He will serve as Kempin’s backup should Gruenebaum not recover.
Who is he?
Melia, 28, has a little MLS experience with Real Salt Lake (though he was loaned out to lower divisions during the 2010 and ’11 seasons) and with Chivas USA. He made six appearances for Chivas between 2012 and this year, allowing 14 goals. His last league appearance wasn’t one to write home about: He allowed three goals to Houston and was issued a red card in the 67th minute.
Hopefully, Kansas City can get through the Toronto match without losing another goalkeeper to injury. I have no idea if the league has a “Extra Strength Extreme Hardship” rule.
I also have no idea if the league’s pool goalkeeper will travel to Nicaragua to sit behind Kempin in a Champions League match against Real Esteli next week either.