Michael Gspurning had as good of a first season in Major League Soccer as one could hope for with the Sounders FC in 2012.
His 0.73 goals against average was the third-best mark in MLS history and best ever by a player from outside of the CONCACAF region. He finished the regular season at 12-4-5 with eight shutouts. His post-season statistics were nothing to scoff at either – 2-1-1 with two shutouts and a 1.00 GAA.
When asked how he follows up that type of campaign, what could possibly go better for him in his second MLS season, he responds with a smile as wide as the armspan of the six-foot-five goalkeeper.
“Just health,” he said, through his Austrian accent. “If I stay healthy, the rest will come. The rest, I will do myself.”
A hip injury caused Gspurning to miss 13 matches in 2012 and likely also cost him some hardware in his personal trophy case. A finalist for the Goalkeeper and Newcomer of the Year awards, Gspurning missed out on both.
Now, he takes solace in an award he did take home though when he was named the Castrol Goalkeeper of the Year – an award given to the best statistical goalkeeper of the season based on the Castrol Index.
“It’s a great honor, of course. It’s also a great honor to be a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year and for Newcomer of the Year,” he said. “Now I have to prove that I can even raise the level. Last year, I was the new guy and now everybody knows my quality and I have to play the same game and even better.”
Teams around the league may now have a better knowledge of how he plays, but that familiarity goes both ways.
Gspurning now has a better understanding of the league he joined last year after spending the first 12 years of his professional career in Austria and Greece. And his teammates also have an awareness of their starting goalkeeper – when he leaves his line to punch balls and when he stays home, how he handles certain shots and how he communicates with his defense.
“He’s not an unknown factor. They aren’t looking around wondering who the new guy is behind us,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said of the defenders in front of Gspurning. “Now, he’s a respected part of the team and he’s one of the team leaders. We’re already further along in terms of our locker room. They know what his presence is in the locker room and that’s a big plus.”
After spending a year away from Europe for the first time in his life, bringing along his wife and daughter with him, he returned to his native Austria over the winter with his daughter to visit family.
When he came back, he found he pined for the city of Seattle and the days on the training field at Starfire.
That’s another reason for the grin across his face as the Sounders combated bitter-cold weather to get through their first three sessions of the preseason.
“It’s just coming back on the field and practicing and all of those things that made you want to start to play soccer as a kid,” he said. “We’re not even thinking about the games. It’s just a good feeling to be back on the practice pitch again. It’s a new chance to have success.”