We're less than a week away from Sporting KC beginning their defense of their MLS Cup title they won in December. The journey begins when Sporting takes on the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field. With the season so close let's take a look at the depth that KC has with each position on the field. Tonight we'll start in the back with the goalkeepers.
Current Depth Chart
1. Eric Kronberg
2. Andy Gruenebaum
3. Jon Kempin
Before preseason even started, Peter Vermes named Kronberg his number one goalkeeper. So far this preseason there's been nothing that I've seen that's proven that mindset has changed. So I'm still planning on Kronberg being the team's starter at this point when the team takes the field. That's not to say we won't see Gruenebaum on the field for a number of games this year. I think he'll get plenty of time. There are a couple of questions though about the goalkeeper situation.
How can Sporting replace Nielsen?
It's cliche, but really, you can't. Nielsen is one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history, and his experience and leadership isn't going to be directly replaced. Nielsen's played the last 8,100 MLS minutes for Sporting KC, so not only has Nielsen been a good goalkeeper for KC, he's been consistently playing.
The big thing is that the player expected to take his place, Kronberg, is a completely different type of goalkeeper. Nielsen relied more on his shot stopping ability and was really not great at controlling his own box. Kronberg though is more willing to come out and attack the ball and tries to maintain more control of his box.
Can Kronberg keep Gruenebaum on the bench throughout the season?
Kronberg, while the longest tenured player on KC's roster doesn't have a ton of MLS experience. The veteran, about to start his 9th season in the league, has played just five MLS games, none since 2011. He has gotten time in the Open Cup and Champions League during that time though, but his lack of experience is certainly a concern. With an experienced MLS veteran on the bench in Gruenebaum, there is someone that can come in should Kronberg struggle.
Originally with the Gruenebaum signing, I expected the former Crew goalkeeper to be the one that would end up starting the season as the number 1, but at this point that's not going to happen. But with that much experience on the bench, does Vermes get an itchy trigger finger if Kronberg is to struggle in goal? I know a number of fans were questioning Kronberg's performance in the preseason finale against Columbus, but most of them are making a bit too much of it right now.
But if Kronberg struggles, I would not be surprised to see him benched in favor of the KC native.
Can Kempin get enough games to continue to develop?
At this point I think more people would be surprised if Sporting's first home grown goalkeeper, Jon Kempin didn't go to Oklahoma City on loan this year. He'd get to continue to learn from Jimmy Nielsen, head coach of the OKC Energy. Last year Kempin played nine games while on loan to Orlando City. He was partially limited by injury, but also because Orlando already has a strong goalkeeper in Miguel Gallardo, who also limited Kempin's time. With the expansion Energy though, he'll come in and expect to battle to be the number one goalkeeper against former DC academy product, Samir Badr and OKC native Jennings Clark.
With Kempin expected to be the goalkeeper of the future for KC, he needs to continue to get games that matter. Hopefully this year he can get more games.