By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — Bryan Meredith couldn’t have known it at the time, but failing to make the Sounders FC roster last spring was the best thing that could have happened to the young goalkeeper.
If not for that perceived setback last year, Meredith might not be preparing to make his fourth straight MLS start this week as Sounders FC starter Michael Gspurning continues to recover from a hip injury.
Meredith, a second-round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, was released by the Sounders heading into last season, but was still able to stick around and train with the team. Unlike a backup goalkeeper on the team, however, Meredith was also able to gain valuable game experience while he played for the Kitsap Pumas of the Premier Development League.
That combination of Sounders practice by day and Pumas training and games at night allowed Meredith to grow tremendously in his first year as a professional. It helped him get a spot on Seattle’s roster late last season, keep it this year and eventually earn the starting nod when Gspurning went down.
“That helped me a lot,” said Meredith. “Training here definitely helped me improve from last year to this year, then I also got the game experience with the Pumas. … I definitely feel like I’m a lot better goalkeeper.”
When Meredith came off the bench last month against Los Angeles, he had never appeared in a Major League Soccer game, but he helped preserve a shutout victory against the defending champs. He kept a clean sheet again against Philadelphia, then ran his scoreless streak to 225 minutes with another shutout in Dallas, a victory that included a spectacular save that earned Meredith some face time on SportsCenter. Sounders FC and Meredith finally conceded a goal last weekend in a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, but he remains confident in the abilities he honed while maintaining a grueling schedule last year that on several days consisted of a practice in Tukwila followed by a ferry ride to practice with the Pumas at night.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better situation for Bryan,” said Peter Fewing, who coached
Kitsap last season and is currently the men’s soccer coach at Seattle University. “He comes into the Sounders, who don’t have a spot for him, but he can train with them. … He’s training with Kasey Keller, he’s training with (Sounders FC goalkeeper coach) Tom Dutra in that environment, then he’d get in games with us.”
Oddly enough, it was a game against his current team that helped Meredith prove he should eventually be playing for Sounders FC. When the Pumas played Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup last year, it was a game that, on paper anyway, should have been a blowout. Thanks in large part to several big saves by Meredith, however, Kitsap made a game out of it before eventually falling 2-1 to the eventual Open Cup champions.
“That was one of the biggest games of his career,” Fewing said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh boy, this guy can play.’ That was a big eye-opener for everybody. … That was really a make-or-break game for him. What that game did was give everybody on the Sounders staff a chance to see him and say, ‘Oh, that kid’s all right.’”
That game, along with the work he has put in in practice early this season, helped put Meredith in a position to back up Gspurning, but as confident as he was, a part of him still needed to prove it to himself in an MSL game-day setting. He got that chance when Gspurning went down and has been running with it ever since. And while he knows this starting job is temporary, Meredith hopes he is showing his team and all of MLS that he should someday be a starting goalkeeper.
“You never really know if you can hack it out here until you actually play,” he said. “It’s very important to be able to come out and be able to play well and compete at this level.
“It’s definitely been a dream come true, it’s been exciting for me. I’m just hoping to take advantage of the opportunity and keep playing well and proving myself, and hopefully I can someday step in and be a full-time number one.”
Sounders FC will begin its quest for a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup later this month, and on Wednesday Seattle learned it will open its title defense on May 29 either in Atlanta or at home, depending on the outcome of a second-round matchup. Under a new format, MLS teams enter the Open Cup — a knockout tournament that crowns the club champion of America — in the third round following games between lower-division teams. Sounders FC will play the winner of a second-round matchup between the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League and the Georgia Revolution of the National Premier Soccer League. If Atlanta wins, it will host Seattle, but if the Revolution wins, Sounders FC would host at Starfire Sports Complex at 7 p.m.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.