Driving around Seattle with Chris Henderson, it seemed like a match made in heaven for Michael Gspurning.
The 30-year-old Austrian goalkeeper was on a visit in July, checking out the city as a prospective destination after his contract expired in December with Greek club Skoda Xanthi.
Driving across Lake Washington to CenturyLink Field, he was stricken by the beauty of the lake with Mt. Rainier acting as the backdrop. In the stadium, he was blown away by the support, seeing over 20,000 on hand for a 2-0 Champions League preliminary round victory over San Francisco of Panama.
When he returned to Greece after four days in Seattle, he felt he had no choice but to sign with the Sounders FC to be their goalkeeper in 2012 and beyond.
“We were driving over the lake and it was such a great moment. The city is so beautiful,” said Gspurning. “I was fascinated by the city. I was fascinated by the people in the office. I was fascinated by the stadium and the best fans in the league. I also really liked the football on the field. It’s a really good team.”
On Wednesday the club announced they had signed Gspurning to a multi-year contract to take the goalkeeping reins after five successful seasons with Skoda Xanthi.
Prior to his time in Greece, Gspurning played for Austria Vienna, DSV Leoben and ASKO Pasching in Austria. However, he rose to prominence with Skoda Xanthi, one of the smaller clubs in the top division in Greece. In 2008 and 2009, he was named to his two straight All-Star teams and earned three caps for the Austrian national team.
With an expiring contract, though, Xanthi wanted him to sign an extension in the summer. After declining, he was also offered the chance to sign with Panathinaikos in Greece, which would also give him the opportunity to play in the UEFA Champions League.
However, Gspurning was looking for a change of scenery and Seattle provided that, while still offering some of the familiarities of his native Austria. Although Xanthi would sign a French goalkeeper to replace Gspurning in the long-term, Gspurning used the time since his July visit to prepare for the 2012 season in Seattle.
“I knew that if I didn’t sign a new contract, they would sign a new goalkeeper. It wasn’t a problem for me and it wasn’t a problem for them,” he said. “It’s not the perfect situation, but I always kept my future in mind, so my training has been great so I would be ready when I came to Seattle.”
At 6-foot-5, Gspurning comes to Seattle with a size that the Sounders hadn’t seen don the goalkeeper gloves in their three years in Major League Soccer. However, his size isn’t his only strength.
“He’s a big boy,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. “He covers a lot of the goal. He’s got good feet, so we might be able to play through him a little more. He’s very good on crosses and he takes up good angles.”
Added goalkeeping coach Tom Dutra, who estimates that he watched 30-40 hours of game footage of Gspurning before offering his endorsement, “He’s very difficult to beat. He’s quicker getting down for a guy his size. He’s going to have to adjust to the league because the league is going to be different. He also passes all the off the field tests.”
Among the other things that attracted Schmid and the Sounders to Gspurning was that he came from one of the mid-level teams in the Greek top division and he had to fight to keep the club at that level.
That, coupled with his desire to come play for the Sounders, made him an ideal candidate.
“He didn’t play for a big club, but he was a very important player for his club and as a result he was probably played a larger role in keeping them in games,” Schmid said. “He had other offers, but he turned them down to come to Seattle. He wanted to come to Seattle and we want players who want to be here.”
He will get the opportunity to show that desire early, as Seattle will host Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on March 7 at CenturyLink Field. They open the MLS calendar on March 10 at home before playing the second leg of the quarterfinal tie with Santos March 14 in Mexico.