Losing a great goalkeeper and popular locker room leader was surely a blow to Sporting Kansas City, although no one could begrudge Jimmy Nielsen’s decision to retire on top, doing so just hours after SKC lifted the MLS trophy 10 days back.
But what a deal team officials just made, solidifying the position anew with the arrival of Andy Gruenebaum.
Kansas City traded sent a second round pick in the 2016 draft to Columbus for Gruenebaum’s rights; he was out contract at Columbus.
Gruenebaum had been a backup to William Hesmer until 2012, when the Crew’s longtime No. 1 fell to a long-term injury. And the story from there was one of the real doozies of MLS in 2012.
Gruenebaum was nothing less than a revelation, an outstanding netminder at Crew Stadium. Outrage poured forth, in fact, when he didn’t get an invitation to the 2012 MLS All-Star game in Philadelphia. (We poured our share of it at ProSoccerTalk.)
The one knock on Gruenebaum comes in some history of injury; in fact, he was limited to just 21 in 2013.
What a stroke of fortune for Gruenebaum (nicknamed “The Hebrew Hammer”), who goes from a rebuilding team that failed to make the playoffs to league champs, a team set to play in CONCACAF Champions League in 2014.
The super bonus here is that Gruenebaum is a local kid, from Overland Park, Kan. He was an All-American at Blue Valley North High School and the Player of the Year in Kansas.
Columbus officials were willing to let Gruenebaum go because they signed Steve Clark, who is just back into the United States after four seasons in Norway.
Five MLS teams have made the playoffs, but in the world of probability that number is a lot closer to 10.
Red Bulls, DC, L.A., Vancouver and Dallas are in the postseason, while Toronto, Columbus, New England and Sporting KC are on the verge. Seattle is just behind that group.
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So how about those final two slots?
Montreal: at Colorado, vs. New England, at Toronto
Orlando: vs. NYC, at Philadelphia
New York City: at Orlando, vs. New England
Obviously, the Impact have the wheel here, though a pair of road tests — one across the continent — aren’t easy. If it comes down to a match against their rivals at BMO Field, all bets will be off. NYC can do Montreal a huge favor by getting a result in Orlando, but Jason Kreis’ side need all three points (Well, all six points… and a load of help). No one is playing better than Orlando right now.
San Jose: vs Sporting KC, at Dallas
Portland: at RSL, at LA, vs. Colorado
Houston: vs. Seattle, at Vancouver
Real Salt Lake: vs. Portland, vs. Dallas, at Seattle
Quite literally anything can happen here in terms of these four. Pressure’s surely on Caleb Porter and the Timbers to finally give their supporters a side worth their passion. RSL is the only other side with three matches left, and the two pair up next. Houston has a harrowing pair of matches, one without Cubo Torres, while San Jose also has two tough efforts.
Longtime Serie A goalkeeper and World Cup winner Marco Amelia is giving Chelsea some cover.
The ex-AC Milan man, 33, has also played for Roma and Livorno amongst other stops in Italy, and has been on trial at Stamford Bridge for some time.
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Amelia will backup Asmir Begovic, and give the Blues three keepers in the absence of Thibaut Courtois.
He’s available for Chelsea’s next match, against Aston Villa, and will potentially slide into the No. 2 slot ahead of 21-year-old Jamal Blackman. Whether he’s an upgrade in skill is debatable, but his experience could prove invaluable.