COLUMBUS – The run-up to the 2012 season was unlike any other for Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. He'd spent the past six seasons hoping to beat out incumbent Will Hesmer, but this time he knew the spot was his to take.
"In years past I played games and played well but [the starting spot] had more or less been solidified by Will," Gruenebaum said. "I always had a goal to be No. 1, but last year it was, 'I'm pushing my seventh year here. It's time to basically crap or get off the pot.'
In his own descriptive way, Gruenebaum knew that being a career backup (25 starts from 2006-11) was unsatisfactory, and his new attitude paid off when Hesmer struggled with a persistent hip problem during training camp and underwent surgery in April without playing a regular-season match.
"Last year, I obviously didn't know Will wasn't going to play, but I went in with the mentality that I'm going to be the No. 1," the 30-year-old added. "When it came it gave me that much more motivation to maintain that spot."
And there is no doubt he did just that. Gruenebaum responded with a season in which he lead MLS with 124 saves and finished fifth in save percentage (75 percent) while compiling a 1.26 goals-against average and eight shutouts in 33 games.
Unsurprisingly, his impressive stat line and performances throughout the season helped earn him an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year nomination and Most Valuable Player honors for a Crew team that just missed out on the playoffs, which Gruenebaum lamented.
"It was a great season for me personally, but as a team, which is all I care about, we didn't make the playoffs," he said.
And while that's his top objective for 2013, where he is very likely to enter as No. 1 despite a strong challenge from second-year Homegrown signing Matt Lampson, Crew captain Chad Marshall said he his teammates have another one other goal for their dependable backstop: "I hope he continues his form of last year and we get him in the All-Star Game like he deserved last year."
As for Hesmer, the Crew's all-time leader in most major statistical categories did not have his contract renewed and was taken by Los Angeles in the Re-Entry process in December. However, he decided this week to retire after failing to stick with the defending champs.
"Will's been great for the Crew," Gruenebaum enthused. "It's just a different physical aspect knowing Will's not there. Mentally it's not any different."