Sporting Kansas City are on the lookout for a new No. 1 goalkeeper – and maybe a new No. 2 as well.
The club declined options on both Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum on Tuesday, leaving 21-year-old Jon Kempin (pictured above) as the only returning member of the goalkeeping corps in 2015. That doesn't mean an automatic promotion for the young Homegrown Player, though.
“Obviously, we're actively pursuing other opportunities with goalkeepers,” manager and technical director Peter Vermes told reporters on Tuesday, after the club announced that six players would have their options declined and a seventh – defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum – would part ways with the club by mutual consent. “That's about all I'll tell you. Obviously, at a minimum, we have to add two more.”
Injury and performance concerns led to the decisions not to bring back Kronberg and Gruenebaum, Vermes said.
“Both guys are great guys,” he said. “It has nothing to do with personality. It's just that – look, it didn't end off the way any of us expected it to.”
Kronberg, the longtime understudy to Kevin Hartman and then Jimmy Nielsen, became the No. 1 this year upon Nielsen's retirement. He was leading MLS in clean sheets with seven when he broke his left hand in a training accident in early July and never regained his form when he returned.
“Kronberg's been an incredible citizen here, with this club over the years,” Vermes said. “I have the utmost respect for the guy. It's just that I think that this isn't the place for him. Whatever he's going to do, I think he needs a clean slate, and it's not going to be here.”
Gruenebaum, a Kansas City native acquired in an offseason trade with Columbus, made 11 starts in two separate stints as Vermes' first choice when Kronberg was hurt. But he also struggled with injuries, including a shoulder strain that forced Kempin into a starting role ahead of schedule.
“Andy had two opportunities to take on the starting position, and both times he got injured,” Vermes said. “I need guys that are durable, guys that can last a long time, and unfortunately Andy's had – not only with us, but also in his career with Columbus – he's had quite a few injuries.”
Kempin made four appearances with three starts when Gruenebaum was hurt the first time, and earned a Save of the Week nod for stopping the only penalty he faced. Still, Vermes demurred when asked if Kempin – who also made 13 appearances on loan with USL PRO affiliate Oklahoma City Energy FC – could handle the No. 1 duties for Sporting going into 2015.
“I think everything is up for discussion at the moment,” Vermes said. “I think Jon has made progress. I would say that it would be a lot to ask him, to be No. 1 from Day 1.”
Sporting also declined options for wingers Toni Dovale and Sal Zizzo, midfielders Victor Munoz and Michael Kafari and parted ways with Olum – the new Kenyan international who was on the pitch for their 2012 US Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup victories – at Olum's request so that he could join Malaysian side Kedah FA.
Kansas City will retain his rights if he decides to return to MLS.
“I think you know me well enough that if you don't want to be here, I don't want you here,” Vermes said. “He thought he had a better opportunity where he went to. I can't argue because I don't know what the deal is.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.