Instead, Michael Gspurning plans on being himself, and both he and Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid believe that will be enough.
"If you know soccer, you know the name Kasey Keller," Gspurning said on a conference call. "He played in the biggest leagues of Europe, and he is of course a hero in Seattle because it is his hometown. ... For me it's a big challenge. It's a big task to be the guy who's playing now and be the goalkeeper in Seattle after Kasey. But for myself, it doesn't help me if I say 'Kasey's the hero, I have to be like Kasey.' This is the wrong way to face the situation."
Gspurning, whose signing was announced by Sounders FC on Wednesday, has spent the past four seasons playing for Skoda Xanthi in Greece's top professional league where he was an all-star in the Greek Super League. The 30-year-old also has played in the top league in Austria and for Austria's national team. That resume will help Gspurning come in confident in his own game, not worrying about filling the shoes of a U.S. soccer legend.
"If I play like the last year in Greece, we will have a lot of success also," he said. "For me in Seattle, it's up to me to bring my performance so people can say after a few months, people will say, 'Hey, we had Kasey -- he is an idol, he is a legend -- but now we have Michael playing, and he is also great.' If I achieve this I accomplished my mission and we will both be fine."
And while Schmid doesn't expect Gspurning to be a Keller clone, he also admits that following Keller will be easier for an experienced player like Gspurning than it would for a lesser-known young player.
"You don't replace Kasey Keller, you look for another goalkeeper," Schmid said. "Keller is an icon in American soccer and he's always going to have a special place in this club. ... But I think to come in as a young goalkeeper with this being your first starting experience, then the pressure can increase if you end up having a misplay in the early couple of games or having a bad game and then all of a sudden (the media) will start comparing him to Keller, and the guy might start reading that and might get nervous. So we thought it might be better to get a veteran guy who had his own reputation and established himself already, because then it makes it a little bit easier and the shadow that Kasey leaves behind will be a little easier for that player to deal with."
Schmid and Sounders FC began looking at Gspurning a year ago when Schmid and his wife were vacationing in Europe. Schmid contacted a former player to ask about potential replacements for Keller, who had made it known he would retire after the 2011 season. The first player Schmid looked at ended up staying in Europe, but Schmid also ended up checking out Gspurning and liked what he saw. Gspurning's contract with Skoda Xanthi expired this month, making the move to Major League Soccer that much easier.
Gspurning and his wife visited Seattle last summer and both were impressed with what they saw both in the city and the Sounders FC organization.
"I was impressed with the organization and the coaching staff, the guys working in the offices," said Gspurning, who is also excited to raise his two-year-old daughter here. "Everything impressed me. From that moment, I was thinking that this was a possibility for me to play professional soccer and to make the next step in my career. Fortunately, we continued speaking and after a while we were ready to sign the contract."
Describing his style of play, the 6-foot-5 Gspurning said he won't always be making highlight-reel plays: "This is not so much my thing. I'm very tall, and for this reason I can catch some balls -- I don't want to say easily -- very economically where maybe a small goalkeeper makes a big saves and it looks good on the television."
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.
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