SEATTLE — One man’s momentary lapse of judgment is another man’s window of opportunity.
Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning inexplicably handled the ball outside his penalty area and saw a red card in the 85th minute of his team’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. Seattle native and English Premier League returnee Marcus Hahnemann entered the match, sealing advancement from the Western Conference play-in game.
“I think I knocked someone’s hot dog and beer out of their hands [on the first goal kick], but other than that, it was OK,” Hahnemann said after the game.
Nobody disputed referee Silviu Petrescu’s decision to show Gspurning a straight red card. The 6-foot, 5-inch Austrian goalkeeper said he misplayed the bounce on the long ball toward Edson Buddle, and he thought he was inside the penalty area when he caught the ball.
Colorado’s Clint Irwin could have met the same fate earlier in the game, when he charged out of his penalty area and collided with Clint Dempsey on a breakaway. In his case, though, defender Drew Moor provided cover to reduce the likelihood that Dempsey would have scored if he were not impeded. Dempsey’s heavy touch — away from the open goal — also played a part in Irwin only receiving a yellow card.
Gspurning wasn’t as lucky, as Buddle streaked toward him alone, with no defender in sight.
“Marcus will be ready, and that’s all that matters,” Gspurning said. He didn’t shy away from questions, taking two rounds of interviews in the locker room on the incident. “Soccer is a team sport, not just from 11 guys. It’s more or less the whole squad.”
He and Hahnemann fought for playing time down the stretch, with head coach Sigi Schmid deciding to make a change from the usual No. 1, Gspurning, after consecutive massive losses to the Rapids, 5-1, and the Vancouver Whitecaps, 4-1, toward the end of the regular season.
The two games Hahnemann played left him feeling sharp and fit for his newfound opportunity in the playoffs.
“Hahnemann is an experienced goalkeeper,” Schmid said. “I feel very confident — always have — that we have two of the better goalkeepers in the league, so we don’t lose anything.”
Gspurning’s automatic one-game suspension means the 41-year-old who last started an MLS playoff match in 1998 will start on Saturday, when the Sounders host the Portland Timbers in the first leg of the conference semifinals. Barring a catastrophic performance, Schmid could stick with Hahnemann in goal for the rest of the playoffs.
“It’s everything,” Hahnemann said, reflecting on what the opportunity means to him. “This is my hometown, and a chance to play in the playoffs is amazing. Last year in August, when I came back, I never thought I’d have a chance to play for the Sounders again. Next thing you know, I’ve got a playoff game this year.”
Hahnemann brings nearly two decades’ worth of professional experience into the match, including two World Cup squad appearances and more than 300 games in the Premier League. Having that caliber of player ready to step in makes the transition between players much easier.
“Marcus is a quality goalkeeper,” Schmid said. “It’s not going to be an issue.”