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Sporting KC 'keeper Eric Kronberg "unbelievable" despite quiet stretches on MLS' best defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Since Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes assembled MLS’ stingiest defense, one knock on the numbers put up by his goalkeepers has been that they just don’t have a lot to do.

That might be true, but Vermes said new No. 1 Eric Kronberg still deserves credit for keeping his focus during those idle stretches after he rang up his MLS-leading fourth clean sheet over the weekend in a 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew.

“The big thing is, we don't give up a lot,” Vermes said in his postgame news conference after Kronberg's four-save performance against the Crew. “And it's very difficult for a goalkeeper to keep himself in the game and make the saves that he needs to at the right time.”

The 6-foot-5 Kronberg, promoted to the top job this season after seven years of understudying Kevin Hartman and Jimmy Nielsen, came up huge with a Save of the Week-nominated reaction stop as Columbus pushed for an equalizer just after the half-hour mark.

Bernardo Anor angled a blistering header down and just to Kronberg's right, but the ‘keeper was able to get first a hand and then his right knee in the way, blocking it right at the goal line before defensive midfielder Uri Rosell arrived to clean up.

“It was unbelievable,” Rosell said on Tuesday. “When I saw Anor hitting with his head, I thought it was a goal. And then Krony made that save, and I was there, and I just cleared it as soon as possible.”

The save also showed Kronberg's ability to be ready for the unexpected. Before that point, the Crew had struggled even to get the ball out of their own end under heavy pressure.

“Sure, there's difficulty in keeping your head in the game, but I try to make sure I'm communicating with my team and staying focused and making sure I'm connected with the game,” Kronberg told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday's training session. “That's kind of how I stay in the game, so there's little tricks that I do when I'm not seeing a lot of shots to maintain my focus and stay sharp.”

Since being named Sporting's No. 1, and despite the offseason acquisition of Andy Gruenebaum from Columbus, Kronberg has played every possible minute for Kansas City. His .75 goals-against average leads all MLS ‘keepers with four or more appearances, and he has five clean sheets in 10 matches across all competitions.

“I think Peter and the coaching staff really want me to get a rhythm,” he said, “and I'm definitely starting to feel comfortable game in, game out. Not that I wasn't at first, but I'm more and more confident with the team in front of me.”

And as he continues to rack up the shutouts, Kronberg is hearing more and louder cheers from the fans behind him as well.

“It's definitely cool, but I try not to think about that too much,” he said. “I really try and stay focused on the game. As soon as you get your mind off that, something bad happens. So I'm constantly trying to talk to my back line, and I use that as fuel to give me more energy to get that next save.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.