Days after a disappointing 2014 season came to an end, Peter Vermes began the process that would see the club part ways with several notable players. No position was hit as hard as goalkeeper, with two of the three who manned the position jettisoned from the roster.
It was never going to be an easy job for Eric Kronberg (who had spent 9 years waiting for his chance to be first-choice ‘keeper) or Andy Gruenebaum (a home-town guy who came to KC after a few years with Columbus). The two veterans were trying to replace club legend Jimmy Nielsen, who retired after leading the team to the 2013 MLS Cup.
Kronberg got the first shot, but was cut down by injury during the season. Gruenebaum was up next, but was also cut down by injury. Neither would recover to full form and truly take command of the job as the club sank into a slump to end the season. Both were left exposed to the MLS re-entry draft — Kronberg was taken by the Montreal Impact and Gruenebaum by the San Jose Earthquakes.*
*Gruenebaum then retired and joined Kansas City as color-commentator for its local broadcasts.
So now, Sporting KC is back in the same place it was at this point last year: Trying to replace a legend.
(age / nationality / MLS experience / previous club/college)
Luis Marin (31, Chile, 1st season, Universidad de Chile), Tim Melia (28, USA, 6th season, Chivas USA), Jon Kempin (21, USA, 6th season, none)
Eric Kronberg (option declined), Andy Gruenebaum (option declined)
New in Town: Marin
Vermes sought out two new goalkeepers to compete for the starting job over just promoting 21-year-old Kempin. (Kempin made four appearances last season and showed a lot of promise, but also showed that he will need more experience before he’s ready to take over as the team’s No. 1.)
His search came back with Marin, a 31-year-old Chilean, and Melia, a 28-year-old MLS journeyman. Both experienced players will compete with Kempin during preseason. But the smart money is on Marin — with Kempin spending another year on loan to Nielsen’s Oklahoma City Energy FC.
Marin steps into the void left by the departure of Kronberg/Gruenebaum. The Chilean has a decent resume — including a few national team caps. However, this will be his first professional experience outside of Chile. The adjustment period might take a while for him to learn the flow of an MLS game as well as the language.
Welcome Back: Melia
Last year, the former Chivas USA and MLS pool goalkeeper had a cup of coffee in Kansas City after injuries to Gruenebaum and Kronberg left Vermes short a goalkeeper. Melia even got a free trip to Nicaragua for it in the CONCACAF Champions League to back up Kempin.
Vermes apparently liked what he saw as he had Melia signed up to a contract before Christmas.
Big Number: 131
Shots faced by the three Kansas City goalkeepers in 2014, one of the highest numbers since Vermes took charge of the team.
Kansas City has been amongst the stingiest teams in the league shots allowed under Vermes. Those 131 shots last year amounted to nearly 30 more than KC’s season average of 105 between 2011-’13. During that same span, Kansas City and Nielsen allowed an average of 31 goals per season. Last year, KC allowed 41. More shots mean more chances goal. More chances at goal means more work for the goalkeeper. More work for the goalkeeper means more goals are going to find the back of the net.
Sam McDowell, Sporting KC beat reporter: Sporting KC asked former keeper Jimmy Nielsen to scout Marin in Chile, and Nielsen sent back rave reviews. Marin is noted for his ability to distribute out of the back, which could ignite Sporting Kansas City’s counter attack. He isn’t afraid to work outside the box, either. He will be the guy in 2015, which leaves goalkeeper-of-the-future Jon Kempin with a likely assignment to Oklahoma City (where Nielsen is currently the head coach) for another year.
Charles Gooch, Full 90 blogger: Kempin might be the future, but Marin is the present. And if KC wants to stay afloat in the tough Western Conference, they’ll need him to settle in quick and give KC a steadier presence in goal than they had in 2014.