Michael Gspurning has some enormous shoes to fill, but the Austrian goalkeeper seems more than willing to give it his best shot.
In just one 20-minute phone call, newest Seattle Sounders signee Michael Gspurning told the assembled media an awful lot about himself. Despite a pretty thick accent, and clearly looking for the right words to say at various times, he was thoughtful and even eloquent at times.
We found out that this has been a deal almost a year in the making. We learned that he's a goalkeeper who takes much more pride in making difficult saves look easy than in making sure his highlight reel is full. We know he's well aware of the man who preceded him as the Sounders goalkeeper, but that he doesn't seem remotely intimidated by that fact.
But there was something else that could prove to be the biggest reason for the Sounders essentially anointing him their next goalkeeper: He really seems to want to be here. Like, really.
That may not seem like such a big deal, but it's not everyday that you hear about a player coming to Major League Soccer from Europe with such enthusiasm. Sure, they'll put on a happy face and tell us they are looking forward to the opportunity. They might even go as far as buying a home in their adopted homeland.
But I have yet to see someone like Gspurning fawn over his new city quite like he did. He talked about having his breath taken away while driving across Lake Washington and seeing Mount Rainier in the background. (He was, of course, here during those glorious six weeks of summer we were treated to this year.) He pointed out that his 2-year-old daughter will now get to learn English as her mother language. He talked about the Sounders' facilities and staff as if they were as good or better than any he'd ever worked with. He expressed a certain wonderment over the support the team receives. He even voiced some genuine enthusiasm for playing in CONCACAF Champions League against Mexican and Central American teams.
"I want to stay for years," Gspurning said. "I don’t want to go home early. I told Adrian (Hanauer) 'This is really nice here. Everything is professional, everything is good. ... Maybe I never want to go. You have to keep me now.'"
Considering he's still just 30 years old -- Kasey Keller just retired at 42 -- and has never suffered a major injury, it's safe to say Gspurning could have another decade of high-level competition in him.
For that to happen, of course, a lot of things will have to fall into place. The most important is that Gspurning actually plays well, something that is hardly guaranteed. You need to look no further than last season when the New York Red Bull brought in Bundesliga veteran Frank Rost with the assumption that he could save them from their goalkeeping doldrums. Instead, he struggled and went just 4-4-3. Now, he appears to be heading back to Europe.
Obviously the struggles of one goalkeeper are hardly proof of anything. There are other reasons to be at least a tad bit cautious about Gspurning's prospects, though. For one, his style is one that MLS is not really accustomed to. Gspurning expressed a fondness for passing and helping start the offense from the back. That's all fine and good, but it does put a lot of pressure on the Sounders' fullbacks to be much better in possession than they've been in the past. If Zach Scott is the Sounders' starting right back for First Kick, this could end up being a disastrous plan.
The Sounders clearly know the bargain they've made. Coach Sigi Schmid said the team watched hours of Gspurning's film and the team's moves this offseason now seem to have been in preparation for playing this kind of style. Assuming they can find a dynamic right back to replace the departed James Riley -- who, for all his strengths, was not a particularly good ball handler -- this could be the start of something very exciting. The Sounders could very well be laying the foundation for a team that essentially plays defense by keeping the ball away from their opponents; a very poor, and perhaps homeless man's Barcelona, if you will.
We're probably getting a bit ahead of ourselves, at this point. Even if Gspurning doesn't magically transform the Sounders into MLS Cup contenders all by himself, it is an undeniably positive sign that a player who clearly had options to play elsewhere in the world, is so smitten with our city, our fans and our team. Sure, we've now known Michael Gspurning for all of 24 hours, but he definitely knows how to make a first impression. I have no doubt that he'll be one of the fan favorites by the time the Sounders open their season on March 7 against Santos Laguna. The trick will be if he can maintain that status beyond then. If he does, he could end up being here a very long time.