Eric Kronberg heads into his seventh professional season with only five top-flight appearances. His contract is up at the end of the year, unless Sporting Kansas City pick up his option. And he plays for a club with a history of bringing goalkeepers in, not up.
That might sound like a recipe for anxiety – but Kronberg, Sporting’s longtime understudy, knows that breaks don’t always come early at his position.
“I still feel like I’m going up,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday after a training session in Orlando, Fla. “I’m 28, so I’m still young for a 'keeper. I’m still learning the game, but I also want to bid for opportunities to play more. Hopefully, when those come, I can step in and the level won’t change.”
Kronberg, a fourth-round pick in 2006, spent his first season on loan to Miami FC (now the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers) of the old USL-1. He didn’t make his MLS debut until 2010, but last year went 1-1-1 with one shutout in four appearances, three of those starts.
“It was hard to go and prepare for every game and never get in,” Kronberg said of those early years. “It’s kind of a mind game, but you have to be strong-minded to be a 'keeper. You just never know when the opportunity is going to come.”
Kronberg acquitted himself well in relief of Jimmy Nielsen last year, but with Nielsen coming off a team-MVP season and signed through 2013 (with an option for 2014), Kronberg enters this year as the clear No. 2.
“Obviously, it is bittersweet,” he said. “I am where I am, and Jimmy’s obviously a great 'keeper, but I feel like I’m developing into a starting 'keeper somewhere. I just focus on my game because I can’t control what the team is going to do.”
Another loan might give him a chance to earn more in-game minutes, but Kronberg isn’t pushing for that.
“I’d be open to the idea, but I think they like having a guy on bench they can bring in and not have the level drop,” he said. “They’re pretty comfortable having me here, and the training level is really high, which you don’t have when you go on loan to lesser teams.”
Kronberg also likes Sporting’s chances of making the MLS Cup final for the first time since 2004 – and their chances of making a deep run in the US Open Cup, where he has been manager Peter Vermes’ first choice between the pipes.
“We’ve been building and building our depth since Peter took over,” Kronberg said. “One through 28, even the new guys coming in, everyone is playing really well. From the first to the second team, there’s not much of a drop-off.”
And for guys trying to crack the lineup for MLS matches, helping the club qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League by winning the US Open Cup would be a sure-fire way to get attention.
“We take all of those games very seriously – reserve, friendlies and Cup games,” Kronberg said. “That’s a chance to play, and a chance to shine.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSSoccer.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org