Sporting Kansas City's longest-tenured player is finally a No. 1 – literally.
After eight years as a backup, first to Kevin Hartman and then to the recently-retired Jimmy Nielsen, Eric Kronberg signed a new deal on Friday and was designated the club's first-choice goalkeeper going into the 2014 season. And to underscore the selection, the club's website has already been updated with Kronberg's roster number changed from 18 to 1.
“I'm glad that it's here,” Kronberg (above) told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the deal was announced. “I've called this place my home for a while, and I've got a real connection with the fans and the team. I couldn't be more happy to be in Kansas City and get my opportunity here to be the man.”
Kronberg has earned it, manager Peter Vermes said.
“The last two years, he's been more than ready to try to assume the position,” Vermes said. “The difference is that Jimmy's been on top of his game. Eric gets a lot of credit for that as well, because he's obviously made that position extremely competitive.”
And now that he's the first choice, Kronberg said, he's determined to make the most of it.
“It's exciting, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said. “I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I know the team really well. I know the coaching staff and the way they like to play really well, and I think that's going to be a huge advantage to me stepping into that spot.”
Kronberg's re-signing came just four days after Sporting traded their second-round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft to Columbus for Andy Gruenebaum, a Kansas City native who led MLS in saves two years ago.
With Gruenebaum's significant edge in experience (80 league matches to 5), and Kronberg set to be out of contract at the end of this season, the deal led to speculation that Gruenebaum was stepping in as Nielsen's replacement.
Kronberg's familiarity with Sporting's system gave him an edge, Vermes said, and he also had a solid year in Sporting's non-MLS competitions. He was 3-1-2 with four clean sheets in U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play, with an unbeaten record and a .25 goals-against average in the latter competition as Sporting advanced to next year's knockout stage.
“At the different times he's been called upon, he's done very well for the team,” Vermes said. “There's been a patience as well. There's been an incredible allegiance to the team and making sure that the team is successful. He's always put the team first, and that's been a great quality.”
Sporting returned that loyalty with the promotion, as well as keeping Kronberg apprised of the deal for Gruenebaum.
“I knew he was coming in,” Kronberg said. “We needed depth at that position, and he's great in that position – a great goalkeeper. It's really good to have him on the team.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.