OBETZ, Ohio – Andy Gruenebaum wasn’t going to let a mild right knee sprain suffered against the Seattle Sounders in a 2-0 win on May 23 keep him out of the lineup.
He was on the field three days later against Chicago and again Saturday at New England, allowing one goal in 180 minutes to help extend the Columbus Crew’s unbeaten streak to six.
“You’re never going to play 100 percent healthy and if you are, God bless you,” the Crew goalkeeper told MLSsoccer.com.
Because of season-ending hip surgery for incumbent William Hesmer, Gruenebaum has played all 13 matches this season. The total is three more than his previous season highs in 2007 and 2009 and half the number of his 26 career regular-season matches prior to this year.
“Mentally, I’m fine," Gruenebaum said. "Physically, I feel all right and looking forward to getting more games in. When you’re playing games consistently, you have to be that much fresher. Not that I wasn’t that way before, because I always felt ready if need be, but it’s easier to put what your body's needs ahead of everything else when you’re the starter.”
Gruenebaum is serious about taking over in goal. He started the first 10 games of 2007 and had a 1-4-5 record despite a 1.50 goals-against average. Hesmer then took over for the remainder of the season and the rest is history.
In 2008, Gruenebaum played one match – the second-to-last of the season after the Crew had clinched the Supporters’ Shield – as Hesmer led them to the MLS Cup championship. Gruenebaum subbed for the injured Hesmer for a third of the 2009 season but his only games the next two seasons were in 2011 when he blanked Portland and Real Salt Lake in consecutive outings.
If there was any doubt that Gruenebaum has capably replaced Hesmer this season they were removed following sterling seven save efforts vs. San Jose and Seattle and the six stops against the Revolution in a 0-0 draw for his fifth shutout of the year.
“He’s been playing out of his mind,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We have so much confidence in him and his ability to be able to save shots from inside the box, outside the box, anywhere.”
Gruenebaum said playing regularly has built his confidence.
“The game slows down a little bit more each time,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time so that helps, too. I channel all that experience.”
What he hasn’t experienced before is talk he could be named to the MLS squad that will face Chelsea in the All-Star Game on July 25 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
“It would be an honor obviously,” Gruenebaum added, “but if you tell me I can be an All Star and we won’t make the playoffs, I’m not going to take that deal.”