OBETZ, Ohio — Goalkeeper is a bad position to play if you'e buried on the depth chart. Chances of playing are minimal, especially for a third-stringer like Crew rookie Alex Riggs.
Even veteran backup Andy Gruenebaum is unlikely to see much, if any MLS action as long as William Hesmer is healthy.
In turn, the MLS Reserve League has been Gruenebaum’s opportunity to shake off the rust in a competitive environment, staying fresh in case Hesmer is injured or picks up a red card. Riggs, meanwhile, has sat the first three games.
“We have to prepare [Andy] for the first team,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “That’s going to be our approach. Alex knows in that position he is competing against two guys that have experience already.”
Riggs was the 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the Year as a senior at Missouri State and finished second on the MSU career lists in goals against average (0.93), shutouts (23) and saves (279). With an eye on life after college, he played six games for the Chicago Fire’s Premier Development League team last summer.
“We had good coaches there and they worked with the pro team,” Riggs said at training this week. "Having them there and addressing the pro-style of play got me used to seeing the quick, one-touch play and different speeds."
Crew assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren spotted Riggs at an MLS Combine in January and recommended him to Warzycha. Riggs had to beat at least five other ‘keepers during preseason camp, including several with pro experience.
“He played a couple of games in [preseason training in] Phoenix,” goalkeeper coach Vadim Kirillov said. “He played pretty well for a kid who just came from college. He was confident in those games.”
Warzycha preferred the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Riggs over the older choices.
“He’s a good size and has other things a good goalkeeper needs, and he’s young,” Warzycha said. “We thought he could develop watching Will and Andy.”
Kirillov spends extra time after practice working with Riggs, reminding him he has to be ready in case of injury. Hesmer and Gruenebaum missed the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series during the preseason due to injuries and veteran Ray Burse, signed to a short-term contract, took their spot.
Riggs was the backup to Hesmer early in the regular season before Gruenebaum got healthy.
“You never know about injuries,” Kirillov said. “Maybe he’ll have to step into a reserve game or a first-team game.”
It’s unlikely Riggs will even get a chance to play in the US Open Cup if Warzycha follows last year’s plan and starts Gruenebaum.
“I came in with the attitude I wanted to play, but I knew that I would have to sit a little bit,” Riggs said. “Will did it. Andy’s doing it. Every good keeper has had a great keeper in front of them where they had to learn and grow.”