On Friday, the Sounders FC added Christian Tiffert to their lineup, bringing in a dynamic central midfielder to complement their scoring options up front.
However, on Saturday it was like they made another roster addition when goalkeeper Michael Gspurning returned to the field after a 13-match absence because of a hip injury suffered on May 2 in a 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy.
After allowing a third-minute goal to Drew Moor, Gspurning looked like the man who posted three shutouts in his first six MLS starts, making three saves and thwarting several potential goal-scoring chances by punching clear and grabbing crosses into the box.
“It was a great feeling. Thanks to everybody who helped me out in these tough times – trainers, coaches, doctors and also the fans,” Gspurning said. “I’m just thankful that I’m able to play again.”
His first save came in the 15th minute off the boot of Conor Casey and he blocked it, then covered the rebound from an on-running Omar Cummings.
In the 21st minute, he punched away a rocket off the foot of Martin Rivero, then spent the rest of the first half punching crosses clear from danger and also standing up to a rugged collision with Casey on another cross.
Once the Sounders regained the lead in the second half, the Rapids put pressure on the Seattle defense, but the Sounders were up to the task. They dove in front of shots, to block some efforts and when one did get through, again off the foot of Casey, Gspurning dove to his left and gloved the potential equalizer.
“It was good to make the saves, but it’s not about me now. It’s about the team,” Gspurning said. “The team was winning and it’s good to be back with the guys.”
The 31-year-old goalkeeper came to the Sounders this year after playing six years in Austria and five in Greece.
He opened the season with three shutouts in his first six starts and kept the Galaxy scoreless for the first half of his seventh start before Bryan Meredith came on to finish the clean sheet. Including the Galaxy, three of those four shutouts came against three of the top six scoring teams in the league.
He thought his injury would initially put him out for a few weeks, but when it didn’t recover as planned, he was told to rest for a period of time before returning to the training field.
“It was pretty tough. Especially because I thought it was going to be a matter of two or three weeks,” he said. “It wasn’t getting better and we got the picture that it was a serious injury. It was a tough time.”
In his absence, Meredith and Andrew Weber went 3-4-6, keeping the Sounders in playoff position and within striking distance of the top teams in the Western Conference. They combined for a 1.33 goals against average and also got the Sounders into their fourth straight US Open Cup final with four victories in the tournament.
“We’ve certainly missed him, not to take anything away from the goalkeepers that played while he was gone,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a guy who has a calming influence on the backs for us, he’s got good experience. He is able to deal with crosses with his size, and punch things clear. Having him back in there for us gives everyone a little more confidence because they know the quality he has.”
Now with Gspurning back, the defense is returning to its early-season form. They are now 6-1-1 in his eight starts and with the addition of Tiffert are poised to make a run in their final 13 matches.