COLUMBUS, Ohio – As much as the lengthy preseason can be grind, especially for veterans who’ve been through the routine over and over, Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum isn’t complaining.
Healthy during the exhibition season for the first time in three years, the 29-year-old is excited for the opportunity to play before the regular seasons starts.
“I missed the last two preseasons, which has been really crappy because there’s something to be said for getting in and kind of developing as everyone else is and getting on the same page,” he said. “When I came back, I felt was a step slower than everybody and wasn’t in tune with the speed of training. To get ready to play in games is a whole different ballgame under those circumstances.”
Gruenebaum had surgery on his right hip in the fall of 2009 and missed the first six weeks of the 2010 season. He also had hip problems at the start of the 2011 camp and was out for the preseason schedule that included two CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches.
His absence was noticeable because starting goalkeeper William Hesmer also missed those games due to injury and the Crew were eliminated.
Hesmer was ready for the regular season and played all but two matches in 2011 while Gruenebaum had a pair of shutouts in his only MLS appearances.
“Hopefully, I can maintain my health and give Will good competition this season,” Gruenebaum said.
They won’t go head-to-head for awhile, though. This past Saturday, Hesmer aggravated an ankle injury first suffered in Columbus last month and will not play in Wednesday's exhibition against Swedish side Malmö FF in Bradenton, Fla. Rookie Matt Lampson, who the club made a Home Grown signing out of Ohio State, will be Gruenebaum’s backup.
Gruenebaum can relate to what his first pro camp was like in 2006. Fresh out of the University of Kentucky, he faced a logjam with the Crew.
“There were five or so goalkeepers in camp, and I was the low guy on the totem pole,” he said. “I tried to maintain a good attitude and that’s what I try to tell all the rookies now.”
Gruenebaum was at an immediate disadvantage against the likes of Jon Busch, Bill Gaudette and Jonny Walker.
“I came in with a stress fracture on my right tibia, typical me, and I remember Sigi [Schmid] called me fat and I was not fit and this and that,” Gruenebaum said. “I tried to tell him I couldn’t run on my leg. Finally, the MRI results came back and confirmed what I knew all along, so I got off to a rough start there.
“He was right, to be fair,” Gruenebaum said. “I came in sort of like my freshman year in college thinking that I had made it. Really I hadn’t. I didn’t have that attitude on the field. I just didn’t take fitness seriously like I do now.”
That includes making the most of his time before the season.
“As much as you complain about how long preseason is, the camaraderie and all the shenanigans that go down, those will always be there in your memory bank,” he said.