SKC duo prove mettle against Montpellier despite loss

Eric Kronberg

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – One player was making a long-awaited return from injury, the other looking to show off his energy and versatility for his new club for the first time.

And when goalkeeper Eric Kronberg and defender Neven Markovic came off the pitch after their full-90 outings, each had acquitted himself well despite the final scoreline in Tuesday’s 3-0 exhibition loss to French champions Montpellier HSC.

Kronberg, Sporting’s longtime No. 2, made seven saves against the Ligue 1 champs’ fluid, high-pressure offense. And Markovic, a midsummer signing searching for stability in MLS after bouncing around leagues in Eastern Europe, showed that he can play both outside and inside roles in the back line.

Kronberg, who has four career league starts for Kansas City and has been the club’s US Open Cup mainstay in years past, had to work his way back from a lower back injury he sustained in the preseason.

“I felt pretty good,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I felt pretty confident, like my old self, so it was good. My back felt great.”

And despite having to wait so long to get on the pitch for Sporting, Kronberg said he’s not looking at 2012 – the last year of his contract, with an option for 2013 – as a lost season.

“There’s still a lot of season left, and there’s championships to be won,” he said. “I want to help the team any way I can, whether it’s on or off the field. There’s still plenty of stuff to be done. We’re just past the halfway point, and there’s still plenty of points to be had, and you never know what can happen.”

Markovic, who started at left back and then moved into central defense after Lawrence Olum came out just before the hour mark, said he was glad to get the start but wasn’t happy with the result.

“First off, I was glad to step on the field and see all the fans,” he said. “I think I played good, but it wasn’t too good. We had a couple of mistakes. I gave my best, but it was not good enough. I gave my best, my hardest, and I hope I will get a chance to play in the MLS.”

Despite the disappointment, Markovic said, the experience of competing against a UEFA Champions League-caliber opponent was valuable for the players who are trying to crack Sporting’s Starting XI.

“They are a very good team -- very fast, very organized, very skilled,” he said. “They are the champions there. But even with that, we shouldn’t lose 3-0. We gave too much.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.