KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League game will likely be Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Eric Kronberg's final appearance of the season (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer Plus), and it is also the one that carries the most weight, both for Sporting KC and for the hulking goalkeeper himself.
It could be the final piece that secures a new deal for the longtime backup goalkeeper – an earn a spot in next year's CCL quarterfinals for Sporting.
Sporting need only a draw against Olimpia to reach the quarterfinal round, although a win would help them earn a higher seed in the quarterfinals. For backup goalkeepers like Kronberg, Champions League games are rare opportunitities to play and make an impact on the season. Kronberg has done just that, allowing one goal in three CCL matches and posting a pair of road shutouts.
"It's important to do well in all the Champions League games, and for the most part, I think I've done that," Kronberg said. "I've definitely played against some big teams, but this is one of the bigger ones with the most implications, so I'm excited, and the team's excited."
The 6-foot-5 Kronberg is in his seventh MLS season, all spent with Kansas City, and has a club option for next season in his current contract. He would like to return next year, and helping Kansas City advance to the regional quarterfinals would be the perfect way to show it.
“This is a great place to play, with the fans and the coaching staff and the players,” Kronberg said. “I love it here, but you never know.”
What Kronberg does know is that he is Kansas City's longest-tenured player, but he also is one of its least used in MLS play. Drafted in 2006, he spent one season on loan and has since backed up first one durable keeper in Kevin Hartman and now another in Jimmy Nielsen.
In his seven years with Kansas City, Kronberg has just five league appearances, and four of those appearances came in 2011. Last year, he missed out on competitive action entirely – including Sporting's run to the US Open Cup title – after injuring his back in preseason.
But when he has been in, Kronberg has been dependable – and stingy. In 18 career appearances across all competitions, he has eight shutouts and a 0.86 goals against average. This year, he has allowed just two goals in five games, but he has not played since a 1-1 draw with Nicaraguan club Real Estelí on Sept. 17. Such long periods without game action, he said, make his training sessions with Nielsen, fellow backup Jon Kempin and goalkeeping coach John Pascarella even more important.
“It's so important to take the training really seriously,” he said. “Every opportunity you get to improve and to learn, you've got to take it. I think working with Jimmy and JP and Kempin, I think we really push each other and help each other.”
That hard work will be put to the test on Wednesday night, and since Kronberg hopes it will not be his last game action in a Sporting Kansas City uniform, helping Kansas City advance and set itself up for quarterfinal success seems a good way to show it.
"That's one of the reasons to be around here next year," Kronberg said. "So I can be involved in the knockout stage of the Champions League and get as far as we can."
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.