There's an old saying in sports that "you don't lose your job to injury." It's a silly saying because, well, it's not true. Lots of guys lose their jobs after being hurt, just ask Wally Pipp.
In the case of the Seattle Sounders' No. 1 goalkeeping job, though, head coach Sigi Schmid insists Michael Gspurning is still his man. This comes on the heels of a pair of solid performances by backup Marcus Hahnemann, who had a particularly outstanding game against Toronto FC on Saturday. Hahnemann's start came as a bit of a surprise, if only because Schmid had previously gone on record saying that if Gspurning was healthy enough to be on the bench, he was healthy enough to start. And Gspurning was on the bench in this one.
"We just think Marcus has had two weeks of training and Michael's really only had one week of training," Schmid said when asked if there was an open competition for the job. "And we felt Marcus did all right last week, so we wanted to come with him again and we wanted Michael to get another week of training."
I suppose that makes sense, but I also can't help but wonder what it would take for there to be a change.
Would Hahnemann have to play so well that removing him would be almost impossible? Would Gspurning need an extended run of poor performances? Is an open battle even healthy? Let's look at each of these questions:
Is Hahnemann playing particularly well?
My eyes says yes. Although he's only had to make a total of two saves in his two games, he's been very active in coming off his line and directing the defense. Both of those are arguably just as important, and maybe more important, that actual shot-stopping.
The stats aren't as convinced. Against FC Dallas, he only had two punches and against Toronto FC he had two punches and three "catches" which I assume means he grabbed what would have been a cross. Those are more active than Andrew Weber was in his two full games, but the Sounders also gave up 19 shots in Hahnemann's starts as opposed to 17 in Weber's. I'm not convinced that's the only way to measure "organizing", but no clearly better way comes to mind either.
Has Gspurning played poorly?
My eyes say no, but he hasn't blown me away either. Gspurning has not given up any "bad" goals, so that's obviously a point in his favor. He also doesn't have a catalogue of amazing saves, either, but as he'll tell you that's kinda by design. Good positioning should limit the opportunities to make highlight reel saves, after all.
The stats definitely don't suggest he's played poorly. A year after being among the leaders in virtually every statistical category, Gspurning is a bit more middle-of-the-road. He ranks seventh among qualified goalkeepers in goals against average (1.15) and eighth in save percentage (70.8). He also has six shutouts in 17 starts, which is the fifth best by percentage.
Should there be an open battle?
I can't pretend to be the most qualified person to answer this, but probably not. Any backup goalkeeper will tell you that it's his job to push the starter and that no one benefits from players resting on their laurels. At the same time, no coach wants to be in a position where they are potentially rotating goalkeepers.
I guess that leaves me siding with Schmid on this one. As tempting as it may be to ride the hot hand of Hahnemann (or right pinky as was the case on his win-salvaging save), Gspurning deserves to come back as the starter. Gspurning is less than a season removed from one of the best statistical seasons in MLS history and he's done nothing to show that he's not capable of doing that again. For now, at least, he seems to offer the best chance at leading the Sounders to silverware. But having someone like Hahnemann there if things go off the rails is very comforting.