Sporting KC's Eric Kronberg gets his shot at No. 1, but Andy Gruenebaum plans to push him

Eric Kronberg

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The two goalkeepers competing to be Sporting Kansas City's new No. 1 go way back, and not just because longtime backup Eric Kronberg and new arrival Andy Gruenebaum roomed together at the MLS Combine before the 2006 SuperDraft.

Kronberg told the story on Friday, as Sporting's players reported for physicals before heading to their training camp in Tucson, Ariz.

“So, Andy moved out of his house in Overland Park, and my wife's family moved into it,” Kronberg said. “Obviously, I wasn't married to her then, but she ended up living in Andy's room. So it's kind of a weird thing that happened.”

The story was good for a laugh, but now comes the serious business of finding out who will take over for the retired Jimmy Nielsen when Sporting open their defense of the MLS Cup title in March.

Kronberg, who has been with Sporting since 2006, has been given the No. 1 jersey by manager Peter Vermes after years of backing up first Kevin Hartman and then Nielsen.

“I'm in a place where the coaches respect me,” he said. “They're going to give me my shot. They've told me that, and I trust them. I've trusted them a long time. With Andy coming in, we needed to bring someone else in with just two keepers. A move had to be made. I was expecting a move to be made, so I'm actually glad it was Andy.”

But Gruenebaum, who grew up in the Kansas City area and came over in an offseason trade with Columbus, said he plans to make his case for the starting job.

“Everyone here at this level wants to play, and you want to be on the field,” he said. “I'm in the particular position that only one can play, and I'm just going to compete. I'm going to put my head down and play. I'm going to work. Whatever my role is on the team, I'm going to accept it. I'm going to keep pushing. If I'm not the No. 1, I'm going to get it in their head that they need to make a decision.”

That said, Gruenebaum understands why Kronberg got the preliminary nod from Vermes – and it's a positive, he said.

“He's made it clear that Kronberg deserves the spot, which shows me loyalty,” Gruenebaum said. “People ask me all the time if that makes me angry, and absolutely not. I think there's something to be said for that. I'm proud to play for a guy that would do that for one of his players.”

Kronberg, Sporting's longest-tenured player, said he expects to be pushed hard by a ‘keeper who led MLS with 124 saves in 2012.

“Obviously things can happen,” he said. “[Vermes] can tell me I have the No. 1 spot, but I also have to work really hard to keep it and make sure that it's mine. That's kind of my focus right now. I'm not focused on anybody else. I'm focused on my game and working with my team.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.