Brash, loud and talented, there was no missing Kasey Keller when he was around.
And now, for the first time in Sounders FC history, he isn’t.
With Keller retiring to the broadcast booth, the club searched the world for a goalkeeper with the physical and emotional tools to follow the local legend from Olympia.
Early indications are they may have found a capable replacement in 30-year-old Michael Gspurning.
“There’s no doubt he’s a good guy,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said after the Sounders opened training last week. “He’s integrated himself into the locker room quickly, and he works hard. And he looks good in (early) training. But he has to get out there and play games and build a style and personality and I guess persona of his own once the games start and the fans see him out there.”
A dozen years younger than Keller, Gspurning is mature enough as a person and as a goalkeeper to be respectful – but not awed – about the shoes he is being asked to fill.
That is no coincidence. The Sounders already had a pair of promising goalkeepers on the roster last season: Bryan Meredith and Josh Ford. But both were rookies, and the club clearly wanted a veteran in place this season.
They found one in Gspurning, who has 12 years of professional experience, including the past five with Xanthi of Greece. He also has three appearances with the Austrian national team, including two starts in World Cup qualifiers.
“It doesn’t help me if I (think) ‘Kasey’s the hero, I have to be like Kasey,’ ” he said during his introductory press conference on Dec. 7. “This is the wrong way to face the situation. … If I play like the last year in Greece, we will have a lot of success also. … After a few months, people will say, ‘Hey, we had Kasey. He is an idol. He is a legend.’ But now we have Michael playing, and he is also great.”
That’s pretty much what his new teammates and coaches already are saying.
Goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra: “He’s fitting great. He’s a big keeper – 6-foot-5 – but gets down very well for a big goalkeeper. That’s probably the part that has impressed me the most, for a guy his size to get down so quickly. It’s been nice to see in training, because we saw that in his games as well as when we were scouting him.”
Head coach Sigi Schmid: “I’m happy we were able to find Michael because he’s a veteran goalkeeper. … It would have been interesting having Michael and Kasey here at the same time because they would have competed (fiercely) against each other, because that would have been the nature of the two of them.”
Defender Patrick Ianni: “This year I think we’re going to play a little more possession so we might use Mike – or whoever’s back there. The keepers that are in right now they’ve all got pretty good feet. … we can use them to keep possession.”
While Ianni is hesitant to assume Gspurning will be the No. 1 goalkeeper on opening day, Schmid and Dutra acknowledge he was signed for that role.
The real competition is for the No. 2 job, which also is open because of Terry Boss’ retirement after he suffered a series of concussions.
Meredith and Ford are back in camp, although Ford has been slowed by a lingering knee injury. And the club also brought in Tyrel Lacey, an Oklahoman who had a few professional appearances in Norway; and Andrew Weber, who has four seasons of MLS experience, including the past three with San Jose.
“Obviously, Mike’s a very good goalie,” Weber said. “… We’re building a good bond, and hopefully we can keep pushing each other, and whoever is playing, just keep fighting for the same thing, which is a championship.”
The Sounders are expected to cut down to three keepers before the MLS season begins March 17.
“Whoever is our No. 2, I want him pushing to be our No. 1,” Dutra said. “I don’t want a goalkeeper who’s ever content being the No. 3 or the No. 2. And I don’t want a goalkeeper who’s No. 1 who is content either. He’s got to continue working to keep that spot. We were very fortunate the last couple of years to have a guy like that.”
Nineteen-year-old forward Cordell Cato of Trinidad trained with the Sounders for the first time Monday. “It’s a lot cooler than where I came from, and that was difficult,” he said. “The training level up here is at a high intensity. … I am young, and I will get used to it.” … After three days of training with separate sessions for veterans and younger players, the Sounders will combine for the first time today as a single unit.