Sporting Kansas City has its work cut out for them this year.
Being the MLS Cup champ means you don’t catch any breaks the next season. Every team is aiming for what you’ve got in the trophy case. Which means every team is bringing its “A” game against you. Either they want to knock you off or prove a point. Or both. A few teams — many direct competitors in the Eastern Conference like Toronto — spent a lot of money this offseason to chase down an MLS Cup for themselves.
That’s sorta what happens when you add a gold star to your uniform.
The challenges, also, won’t be limited to a difficult trip to Seattle to start the season (Saturday, 2 p.m.) and a tricky home opener against a rebuilt FC Dallas squad on March 15. There’s a tough two-leg series with Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League on March 12 and 19.
It’s a good thing that Kansas City returns the majority of its title-winning club. To rise to the various challenges, they’ll likely need each and every player to contribute. Pretty much right away. Here is part one of a four-part series of previews of the players Kansas City will go to battle with to start 2014.
Today’s focus: Goalkeepers.The Cast
Eric Kronberg, Jon Kempin
Jimmy Nielsen (retired)
Andy Gruenebaum (trade with Columbus Crew)Leading Man
Originally drafted back in 2006, the 6’5” goalkeeper is the only player left on the roster who pre-dates the Peter Vermes administration. He’s seen lot in his 8 years with Kansas City — the sale of the franchise, the dreadful years in a minor-league baseball stadium, the Sporting re-brand, the new stadium, an Open Cup and MLS Cup. The only thing he’s missed out on? Playing time.
Kronberg has logged just 5 league games to go along with a handful of friendlies, Open Cup matches and CONCACAF Champions League games. But Vermes has faith in the untested veteran, signing him to a new contract this January and proclaiming him the starter before preseason even began.
One thing that fans will immediately notice when watching Kronberg: He’s much more athletic than his predecessor. You will seem him come off his line during a corner ice or free kick. This is not cause for alarm KC fans seeing this for the first time, it’s something that goalkeepers occasionally are able to do.Supporting Cast
The 31-year-old native of Kansas City spent his entire career (he entered the league in 2006 as well) with the Columbus Crew, playing in 80 career games with 18 shutouts. He only made 21 starts last year in a season marred by injury troubles.One to Watch Jon Kempin
Kempin, the team’s first Homegrown player, is the likely third goalkeeper for KC. He needs playing time at this stage of his career and could see himself sent out on loan to one of Sporting KC’s USL Pro affiliates (best guess: the Nielsen-coached Oklahoma City Energy FC).Big Number
consecutive regular season minutes logged by Nielsen from 2011 to 2013. That’s a lot of reliable minutes to replace.Big Question
Will Kronberg hold off Gruenebaum for the starter’s job?
When Nielsen retired everyone figured that a battle for the No. 1 spot was up for grabs between Kronberg, the longest tenured player on the Sporting Kansas City roster, and newcomer Gruenebaum.
That hasn’t materialized. Partially because Vermes got out ahead of the mini-controversy and named Kronberg the starter. Throughout preseason, he’s held on to that spot. Kronberg has started (four) of the (six) preseason games against professional teams; Gruenebaum started just once against a college team.
Kempin started twice in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
Coming tomorrow: The league’s best defense returns again