SKC Newbies Prepare for New Season

Acquiring 2 recent players is just 1 step in maintaining Sporting success
by Katherine Rupp   |   Thursday, December 26, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Sporting KC, MLS

After recently adding a goalkeeper and a midfield to the Sporting ranks this offseason, Kansas City look to 2014’s season for refinement of an already talented team.

Goalkeeping changes

Now that former goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen – and recently named Head Coach for Sporting Kansas City’s newest USL PRO affiliate, Energy FC – has retired from his playing days, the Dane’s successor for SKC has aptly been named to Eric Kronberg.

Not only is Kronny, as he is known within KC ranks, the now-deemed No. 1 goalkeeper for the club, but he is also the longest-tenured player at Kansas City who is currently playing at SKC. However, even with Kronberg now the go-to guy for goalie, he will now have competition for playing minutes with the recent move of former Columbus Crew keeper, Andy Gruenebaum.

Look at this move from the front office as a good thing for Sporting, though, as Gruenebaum and Kronberg will have a goalkeeper battle to see, especially during pre-season, who will have the hot hands and how best Vermes will manage the games each goalkeeper will play.

Something of note is that the newly signed Gruenebaum is a local boy – from Overland Park, Kan. – who will easily win the hearts of Sporting KC fan faithful, especially because of his affability. But never discount Kronberg’s likability, as he was named “Best Player to Follow on Twitter,” from The Full 90, the KC Star’s soccer blog.

Taking into account the increasing number of games for Sporting KC in the upcoming season, adding Gruenebaum is most likely going to end up as one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason so Vermes and the coaching staff can get the best production out of each of the 2 senior goalkeepers. Also, keep in mind that the third goalkeeper, Jon Kempin, will probably be sent on loan to Sporting KC’s USL PRO affiliate in OKC.

It boils down two-fold: Gruenebaum has been the starting keeper for the Crew in 2012 and most of 2013 but was benched later in the summer and throughout the fall. And although he won’t be handed anything on a silver platter, he has had more MLS game experience. Kronberg has been the most loyal Sporting KC player currently on the team and, after being second in line for a handful of years now, Kronny is more than deserving to be the starting goalkeeper.

Midfield bottleneck

In addition to adding a more than capable keeper to the Sporting KC roster, the MLS champs acquired Sal Zizzo from the Portland Timbers. Zizzo adds to the already-packed and extremely talented midfield that Sporting have collected in the past few years, including Peterson Joseph, Lawrence Olum, Paulo Nagamura, Uri Rosell and Benny Feilhaber.

Adding Zizzo to the talent pipeline is a step in the right direction because what was seen from the 2013 season, there were a handful of attacking players – whether midfielders or forwards – that inevitably got injured because of wear and tear throughout the season or injuries from play. If Nagamura is able to stay healthy (as he was oft-injured this previous season), and with the emergence of Feilhaber’s genius in the 2013 post-season, Zizzo will have robust competition to not only start games – of which, at Portland, he only started 2 games in 2013 and played in 10 – but also with gaining playing minutes. The midfield of the pitch has become the saving grace for KC in the past couple of years and adding Zizzo will only add firepower to the strength of the mids.

Looking forward

Forwards were somewhat of a blemish this year, but with moments of brilliance, Sporting KC can be hopeful for the future with the honing of talent of current players as well as possible players traded in or acquired.

There are currently 6 forwards on the squad – not including the possibility of Zusi playing in a forward position – the probability of a handful of forwards heading to either Sporting KC affiliate, Orlando City SC or Energy FC, is high, especially when taking into account the tear that Dom Dwyer went on when at Orlando City Although no forwards have been acquired, there should – hopefully – at least, one other attacking player in the mix.

Savvy moves

Now that Sporting Kansas City have hoisted 2 trophies – the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup – in the past 2 years, supporters and owners alike have high standards, and for good reason. However, with that great responsibility and pressure come a sense of maintaining the ‘small-town club’ feel but continuing the advancement of the club’s successes. Although it is yet to be seen how the new players will adjust to Sporting KC, adding players such as Gruenebaum and Zizzo already look to be intelligent offseason roster-building moves for Sporting Kansas City.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Friendly: Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers, North Stadium at Kino Sports Complex, Tucson, Ariz., 8 p.m. EST.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.