Michael Gspurning

Goalkeeping drama leaves hometown hero between pipes for rivalry match

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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.

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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.”

Evans blast, Johnson insurance see Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals

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The seven-match winless streak’s no more, and while the game may have had only one goal between the sides for most of the match, the Sounders finally looked like a team that could do damage commensurate with their talent. Discarding the form that saw the one-time Supporters’ Shield contenders plummet into the West’s first round game, Seattle posted a convincing 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field, eliminating the Colorado Rapids from the 2013 Major League Soccer playoffs.

The game’s opening goal — a 17-yard, 28th minute Brad Evans blast from the right of the penalty area — prove the game-winner for Seattle, who came into the match winless in seven games. That streak included a 5-1 loss on October 5 in Colorado, the Rapids having kicked off the Sounders’ slide from first in the West to the conference’s fourth seed. On Wednesday, Colorado failed to summon any of their form from Commerce, rarely challenging Seattle.

In the 85th minute, however, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning gave Colorado a potential opening, inexplicably leaving his area to catch a long ball sent to the edge of his penalty area. Silviu Petrescu’s red card was obligatory, leaving the Sounders to play out the match’s final minutes with 10 men. Marcus Hahnemann, unthreatened on the ensuing restart, saw out the remainder of Seattle’s clean sheet.

Three minutes into stoppage time, with the Rapids pushing for an equalizer, Eddie Johnson broke in on Clint Irwin and finished inside the Colorado keeper’s left post from eight yards out, eliminating any doubt Gspurning’s mistake would come back to haunt Seattle.

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

The win puts Seattle back in the West’s semifinals, where they’ll be matched up against the conference’s top finishers: the Portland Timbers. The two-legged Cascadia derby starts on Saturday at CenturyLink – the rivals’ first ever meeting in the postseason.

Until then, the Sounders can enjoy the levity of shedding crisis’s weight from their shoulders. On Wednesday, Seattle not only moved beyond their seven-game slide. They may have provided a glimpse of a team that will challenge deeper into this tournament.

Goals

Seattle: 28′ Evans, 93′ Johnson

Lineups

SEATTLE: Michael Gspurning; DeAndre Yedlin (45′ Marc Burch), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Leo González; Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat; Clint Dempsey; Lamar Neagle (88′ Marcus Hanhemann), Eddie Johnson

Subs: Zach Scott, Shalrie Joseph, Andy Rose, Mauro Rosales, David Estrada

COLORADO: Clint Irwin; Shane O’Neill, Drew Moor, German Mera, Chris Klute; Nathan Sturgis (85′ Marvell Wynne), Hendry Thomas; Atiba Harris, Martín Rivero (61′ Vicente Sanchez), Deshorn Brown (73′ Edson Buddle); Gabriel Torres

Subs: Matt Pickens, Anthony Wallace, Nick Labrocca, Dillon Serna

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Seattle ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Colorado

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Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Sounders ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • This is not your normal Sigi defense

Seattle’s used to having one of the best defenses in the league, a combination of Sigi Schmid’s approach, Osvaldo Alonso’s ball-winning, and Michael Gspurning’s quality in goal. But Gspurning has struggled, the team’s shakeup (Dempsey, Moffat additions) has left questions through the middle, and Schmid’s failed to find answers. As a result, a solid-if-beatable core of defenders has been left exposed.

While the team’s moved on from performances that conceded nine goals over two games (Oct. 5, 9), fans have only seen stopgaps, not solutions. Seattle’s 42 regular season goals allowed is second-worst amongst teams that qualified for the playoffs, leaving questions as to how they’ll handle Deshorn Brown, Gaby Torres, and Vicente Sanchez.

  • Obafemi Martins is probably out

Dempsey continues to be the focus, but Obafemi Martins was the Sounders’ original statement of intent, albeit one that’s limited to 17 starts. Word out Seattle this morning leaves Martins unlikely to play on Wednesday, the Nigerian international skipping Tuesday’s training with a groin injury that’s cost him four of the Sounders’ last five games.

With Sigi Schmid switching to a diamond midfield (deploying Dempsey at its tip), Martins’ fitness seems to absolve Seattle of a tough decision, though it’s looking less-and-less likely a choice between Martins and Lamar Neagle will have to be made. This late in the season, you wonder a healthy Martins may be relegated to a super-sub’s role, Seattle needing to find a winning formula before the big-ticket acquisition can have an impact on this postseason.

  • Confidence has got to be an issue

Seattle played well in Sunday’s first half against Los Angeles but came out of intermission with a different mindset, eventually regressing into a defensive posture that saw them holding on for dear life far too early in the match. Robbie Keane’s 78th winner would cost them full points, relegating them to Wednesday’s playoff.

Those aren’t the actions of a confident side, a mentality that shouldn’t be surprising given the team’s October swoon. But with a squad full of veteran, accomplished players, Schmid should be able to convince his team they can do better. It’s not as if his crew have no history of success to draw on.

If the Sounders pull ahead of the Rapids, they need to kill off the match, not sit back and pray Colorado won’t find a goal. That mentality cost them on Sunday. On Wednesday, they have no room for error.

  • In Eddie, they may have to trust

Eddie Johnson provides a great Get Out of Jail Free card. When all else fails — when tactics or the confidence of a broken team can’t be turned around — Seattle can always play it to Johnson. They can win corner kicks, try to earn fouls, and hope the U.S. international can get the best of Drew Moor or Shane O’Neill.

It’s not the most complicated plan, but it’s one even a struggling team can execute. If all else continues to fall, Seattle may have to rely on the matchup they can win: EJ against that Rapids central defense.

  • The obvious: This game is very important to Siegfried Schmid

Speculating about a coach’s job is always precarious, more so when you’re talking about a unique situation like Seattle’s. After joining the Sounders at the dawn of their MLS adventure, the 60-year-old became the face of the franchise. He’s become much more than a coach.

But there’s no appetite for failure right now. If Seattle bows out in the first round, it will be hard to justify keeping him on. Joe Roth has made the financial commitment, and Adrian Hanauer expected this team to compete for titles (even before acquiring Dempsey and Martins).

If they come up five games short, Schmid may be gone, opening up the most attractive coaching job in Major League Soccer.

Seattle ends losing streak in LA draw, but not without controversy

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It was Seattle’s best performance since their slide began on Oct. 5, but it wasn’t enough to get them full points or jump Los Angeles for third in the West. After Sunday’s season-ending 1-1 draw with the Galaxy, the Sounders stay fourth in their conference, relegating them to a mid-week playoff game with Colorado for the right to join the West’s semifinalists.

Seattle got on the board early thanks to LA goalkeeper Jaime Penedo’s mistake, though you may hear it referred to as Clint Dempsey’s first Seattle goal. Both descriptions are correct, but if the Panamanian international hadn’t grossly misjudged a Lamar Neagle cross, the U.S. captain wouldn’t have been given an empty net to open his Cascadia account. After 30 minutes, Dempsey finished from just inside the six-yard box to put Seattle up, 1-0.

They’d take that lead into halftime, though by all indications, they were lucky to do so. That’s because an Omar Gonzalez header late in the half failed to get LA on the board, even though replays clearly showed the ball had crossed the line. From 12 yards out, Gonzalez headed down toward the middle of Michael Gspurning goal, with Osvaldo Alonso attempting to clear the would be equalizer. The shot, however, bounced one foot inside the Seattle goal before the Sounder midfielder cleared it. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the lineman saw things differently and kept the score at 1-0.

The second half resumed where the first had left off, with Seattle largely controlling possession while the teams shared shots on goal. As the half bled on, Los Angeles began to assume more control as they pursued an equalizing goal. By the 75 minute mark, the Galaxy were full control of the match, a control Seattle was complicit in as they tried to preserve their lead.

That gave Robbie Keane’s equalizer the feeling of being preordained. With Seattle unable to do anything significant going forward — seemingly more and more willing to try and get the game to full time — it was only a matter of time before a goal like Keane’s. The Irish international volleyed an attempted clearance into the turf from 18 yards out, the ball hitting just inside the Seattle are before flying into Gspurning’s right side netting. Ending the pressure that’d built since halftime, LA pulled even with Seattle, 1-1.

Seattle leveled play over the match’s final quarter hour, earning a series of corner kicks that stressed Los Angeles over the match’s final moments, but Penedo was never seriously threatened before the match’s final whistle. Having recoiled to preserve their lead, Seattle gave back their chance to avoid the playoff’s first round, relegating themselves to a rematch with the Colorado team that started all of Seattle’s troubles.

Those troubles include a seven–match winless run they’ll carry into the playoffs, though Seattle’s silver-lining sees their four-match losing streak come to an end. Dempsey got his first goal, Michael Gspurning performed well in his return – there are a number of seasons to think this a step forward. Unfortunately, that step wasn’t enough to avoid a fourth place finish.

Los Angeles, on the other hand, can look at this as a point well won, particularly given the misfortunate on Gonzalez’s non-goal. But without the services of Juninho, Todd Dunivant, and A.J. DeLaGaza (still), the Galaxy still got a resultson the road, one that will ensure their potential run to a third-straight MLS Cup will be one match shorter than last year’s.

Wondering about the goalkeepers ahead of Portland-Seattle

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Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts has been generally outstanding in 2013, even if a few of those saves were a little more dramatic than they probably needed to be.

So that’s why it was particularly surprising when it was revealed that Ricketts has been playing lately with a broken thumb. The news actually came out of Jamaican media reports.

Since there’s no change, other than in public awareness, there’s no reason to believe this will impact tonight’s big match at Jeld-Wen Field, as the Timbers host the Sounders in the latest Cascadia Cup clash.

He was certainly up the job in the Timbers’ 2-2 draw last week with Vancouver. Ironically, Ricketts (pictured above) was available for that one and for tonight’s clash only because of  the injury (and because Jamaica had been all but eliminated).

It is still something to keep an eye on tonight.

And by the time the teams take the field at Jeld-Wen, we’ll know a little more about Seattle’s goalkeeper situation, too.

(MORE: Is tonight’s match at Jeld-Wen an early playoff preview?)

Starting Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning, trusty for the majority of his time with the club, has not been good lately. He was downright poor, in fact, as the team fell hard last week to Vancouver. Between the shellacking there (a real low moment for the Sounders organization, a beating at home by a bitter Cascadia rival) and the 5-1 shellacking a few days earlier at Colorado, it’s no wonder that Sigi Schmid is contemplating a change in goal?

Will we see backup Marcus Hahnemann tonight? Schmid isn’t saying.  “We’re still looking at that,” Schmid said on Saturday. “We’re still deciding.”

Rolling the dice with Hahnemann may be Schmid’s best move; he could be the inspirational figure a fading team can rally behind. Something’s got to give with Seattle, after all.

Tonight’s match on ESPN kicks off at 9 p.m. ET.