Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum is willing to mortgage the future to continue doing what he loves most.
Though major surgery on his right hip in September alleviated many short-term problems, 27-year-old Gruenebaum likely faces arthritis—and possibly even hip replacement—years from now when his playing days are long over.
“I was told to expect to have that done later on in life,” he said. “It’s worth it to me, though, to be able to live a dream and be out here as long as I have. I wouldn’t trade anything.”
Since starting the first 10 games in 2007, Gruenebaum has been William Hesmer’s backup. He played one game in the Crew's championship-winning season of 2008 and 10 last year when the Crew went 4-2-4 with Hesmer injured.
Chronic pain forced a premature end to Gruenebaum’s season last year and he underwent surgery on Sept. 26.
“I had a partially torn labrum that they fixed,” he said. “I had a couple of bone spurs removed and a lot of bone work done because there was a lot of arthritis they had to remove. What they thought would be three hours of surgery ended up five-and-a-half.”
He spent 10 weeks on crutches but was able to begin his rehabilitation a week after surgery with light exercises to increase his mobility. He progressed to working out in a pool.
“I ended up being quite the swimmer for a little bit there,” Gruenebaum said. “My form was awful, but I was able to turn five laps into 50 in a row.”
Hip surgery is something that can’t be hidden by a goalkeeper. He must have flexibility to kick the ball and is expected to throw his body in the way of a shot. There are no soft landings after making a diving save.
Gruenebaum overcame any hesitancy to test the hip almost by accident. He was doing a drill with assistant athletic trainer Skylar Richards where the objective was to jump onto a small box and catch a shot struck by Richards.
One of his shots was off target and Gruenebaum instinctively dove to his right and landed on the hip. The two looked at each other. Gruenebaum didn’t experience any pain, causing both to smile.
“We decided it was time to move forward and get into it,” Gruenebaum said.
He got clearance to resume practicing with the team two weeks ago.
Gruenebaum played 45 minutes in a scrimmage against Louisville on April 17 and looked rusty.
“He needs to see some playing time,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “He needs to get some confidence after the surgery.”
Gruenebaum is fully aware of the need to play as much as possible. “Each time I go out I feel more and more confident getting used to the game speed and getting back into the rhythm of the things," he said. "The first week was shocking. It took a toll on my body. Now I’m used to it.
“I feel a little bit better each time, staying and holding my ground instead of guessing because the pace is a little bit quicker."
The Crew have until May 20, which is when Gruenebaum comes off the injured reserve list, to choose between him and Kenny Schoeni to serve as understudy to Hesmer. The Crew starter has two shutouts in the first three matches and will be in goal at Seattle FC on Saturday.
Gruenebaum’s next opportunity to show what he can do could come Tuesday when the Crew plays an exhibition against Ohio State. With 23 career starts for Columbus since 2006, he still has high aspirations this season.
“I’m here to compete [to be the starter] and not just for the backup position,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal.”