KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After eight long seasons as a backup, Eric Kronberg's patience and perseverance had finally paid off.
He was Sporting Kansas City's No. 1 goalkeeper, leading MLS with seven shutouts and a 0.88 goals-against average while playing every game over the first half of the season. But then one freak sequence in training put him back in the waiting game for the next eight weeks, while he recovers from a broken fourth metacarpal in his left hand.
“When I heard the news, I was a little choked up,” Kronberg told reporters on Thursday. “I was definitely upset that it happened at this time. We were getting guys back. The team's confident, and I think we're going to go on a good stretch of games here, and I really wanted to be a part of it. But things happen.”
Kronberg was hurt during a short-sided game on Wednesday.
“A guy broke down my right side and put a cross in, and Lawrence Olum kind of hit a duff ball that bounced, and it bounced up high,” Kronberg recalled. “And so I was coming across my goal, and dove to try and save it. I had to dive kind of backwards, and ended up diving right into the wheel of one of those movable goals.
“I landed right on my left hand. It didn't hurt that bad. I could make a fist and everything. It felt fine. But when I was making a fist, it was cracking.”
X-rays revealed the break, and Kronberg – while he won't need surgery – is expected to be out for eight weeks. Andy Gruenebaum, a Kansas City-area native who came over in an offseason trade with Columbus after spending his first eight professional seasons with the Crew, will get his first MLS start with Sporting in Saturday's away match against Montreal (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE, TSN2/RDS in Canada).
“I have the utmost confidence in Andy, in the fact that he's got a ton of games, having played in MLS with Columbus,” manager Peter Vermes said Thursday during the club's weekly news conference. “I don't lose an ounce of sleep, and that's one of the reasons I brought him in here.”
Gruenebaum, who was 1-1 in US Open Cup play this year, sympathized with Kronberg.
- Catch more SKC news and notes at SportingKC.com
“It's really unfortunate, a freak thing to happen,” he said Thursday. “I honestly feel terrible for Kronberg, because he's waited so long for an opportunity and he's done well with it. I've been in that position at both ends, where I've come in and had to be taken out, and watched, so I can empathize with that.”
That said, there's a lot of soccer to be played between now and Kronberg's expected return – both in MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League, where Sporting open group play on Aug. 19 at Nicaraguan side Real Esteli. And Gruenebaum wants to make the most of his opportunity.
“I've been training with these guys for a long time now, so I think the continuity will come pretty quickly,” he said. “We're on a significant stretch of the season now. We need to start making moves and gain points. So I look forward to that challenge of just being back there and helping the team any way I can to take on the Eastern Conference, and hopefully the Supporters' Shield.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.