“The Hebrew Hammer” must have the patience of a saint.
That statement could describe almost all backup goalkeepers to some extent, but for Sporting Kansas City’s Andy Gruenebaum it rings particularly true.
The 6-foot-1-inch keeper spent most of the first six seasons of his MLS career on the bench for Columbus, playing in just 26 of a possible 186 regular-season matches.
He pounced on his big chance in 2012, starting 33 matches and swallowing up a league-high 124 saves while amassing eight clean sheets. Shoulder problems last year limited him to 21 appearances with the Crew.
In December, just two weeks before his 31st birthday, he found out he was traded to the MLS champions. The good news: Gruenebaum was born and raised in the Kansas City area. The better news: Jimmy Nielsen, a pillar between the posts for years at Sporting KC, retired after lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in December. The bad news: The battle for the starting keeper spot begins with Eric Kronberg holding the No. 1 jersey.
“It is weird to be coming in. Kronberg and I were in the same draft class,” Gruenebaum said. “We’ve both been around a number of years. But it’s weird being the new guy when you’ve put that many years into the league. There’s no other place I would have rather ended up.”
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes “expressed to me that Kronberg had been a great teammate and deserved a chance to play. I kind of knew that coming in. They’re going to be playing a lot of games and they needed another experienced guy to really be there to play in some of those games, possibly, and be there in case anything happens. My job is to push Eric at the moment. I’ve been in a position where I haven’t been No. 1 and I’m just going to put my head down and work, and make them have to make a decision.”
In just a few practices, he’s already impressed Sporting KC goalkeeper coach John Pascarella.
“One thing I noticed in the first few days of training is that his work ethic in unbelievable,” Pascarella said. “That’s going to fit right in with our group.”
“The Hebrew Hammer” will be trying to forge a new place in that group and also enjoy a return to his hometown. He grew up in Overland Park, Kan., the largest suburb in the Kansas City metropolitan area, before going on to play at the University of Kentucky.
As a Wildcat, Gruenebaum recorded 22 shutouts in 66 starts during a four-year career. He also picked up a nickname that belonged to a couple of baseball greats years ago — Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen.
“My roommates in college used to stand behind the goal — it’s from a movie called ‘The Hebrew Hammer’ — and they started calling me that during the games,” Gruenebaum said after Tuesday’s scrimmage against FC Tucson at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium. “Every time I made the save, they would start the chant, and then it just kind of found its way to Columbus. I’ve just stuck with it ever since. It’s just a fun thing.”
Now, a new fan base can pick up the chant. Gruenebaum hopes they have plenty of reasons to hammer it home.