KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Making his first MLS start in front of his hometown fans, Jon Kempin didn't disappoint them – or his teammates.
The 21-year-old Homegrown goalkeeper, thrust into the XI because of injuries to Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum, had a big hand – and a big foot, at one crucial moment – in Sporting Kansas City's 4-1 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday night.
“I don't think you could ask for it any other way,” Kempin told reporters afterward. “It's unbelievable.”
Kempin made his debut a week ago, relieving Gruenebaum for the second half of Sunday's 2-0 away loss to Vancouver and earning Save of the Week honors for his penalty kick stop on Darren Mattocks.
He might wind up with another nomination this week, after stoning the Reds' Gilberto with a foot save on a breakaway early in the second half with Sporting up 2-1.
“That kept us in the game,” manager Peter Vermes said in his postmatch news conference. Because if not, then that game goes 2-2 right there, and that really changes the momentum of the game right there. So that was a huge save by him.”
Kempin knew he would need a solid second half when he conceded Gilberto's goal in first-half stoppage time after Sporting took a 2-0 lead on a pair of penalty kicks from Dom Dwyer.
“I'm a realistic guy,” he said. “First half, maybe I made some mistakes. I didn't have the best first half. Coming in at halftime, Benny [Feilhaber] tells me 'You're going to have to make one save – one big save.' As he was coming down, that's all I was thinking: 'Here's my one big save.'
“I was fortunate enough to make it.”
Kempin's teammates knew he could do it, Feilhaber said.
“We all believe in him, and I think it's very evident as to why we do,” he told reporters. “He's a guy that hasn't played a lot of games, but he can do it when he's given the opportunity. You're up 2-1, there's a good chance your goalie's going to have to make a couple of saves, and it was still 2-1 when he made that really big save on Gilberto.”
Kempin's technique on the save – staying put, making himself big, and then blocking the shot – was reminiscent of former keeper Jimmy Nielsen's style. That's not surprising, as Kempin understudied Nielsen with Sporting and then played for him on loan earlier this season with Oklahoma City Energy FC.
“There should be a little bit of Jimmy,” Feilhaber said with a laugh. “It's his dad, basically. I'm sure Jimmy was more excited than Kempin was at the end of this game.”
Kempin's first league start capped an eventful couple of weeks for the young keeper, who was the MVP of the Chipotle Homegrown Game before making his debut and earning Save of the Week honors in Vancouver.
“It's been a crazy kind of few weeks,”he said. “I think people are probably sick of seeing stuff, because I've had so many events. But it's been awesome, and I just continue to learn from every experience.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.