Replacing Kasey Keller was a huge void to fill but Austrian Stopper Michael Gspurning has waved away any pre-season worries by stepping in and excelling in the Seattle goal. After a superb goalkeeping performance on Wednesday against RSL, Mr Gspurning took time out of his busy schedule to chat about his life before Seattle and how much he loves his new home in the US. www.soccernightexclusive.wordpress.com

First and foremost for the British readers especially readers who are unfamiliar with Michael Gspurning. How would you describe your playing style and your strengths as a keeper ?

My playing style is to try and make everything look as easy as it can be. I will never insist on making a save for the camera. For me my main aim is to stay on my feet and be smooth in my movements. I never like to or want to speak about myself and my strengths I just recommend you to watch my games.

What age did you start and how did you get into soccer ?

At the age of 7 I joined my first club in my hometown. I loved playing soccer and my Mother wanted to send me there to learn about team spirit due to me being a single child.

Have you always wanted to become a professional soccer player ?

Of course, it was a dream as a kid. Even though you can’t be sure it can really happen.

Being a goalkeeper is not everyone’s cup of tea, how did it come about you wanting to pursue a soccer career in between the sticks ?

I have always been tall in stature and one time at practice the keeper was missing, so I gave it a go. I think many careers start like this.

During your growing up stages as a soccer player who would you say has been your biggest inspiration and why ?

I personally think everyone should have many idols, because one is not the best at everything. Edwin Van der Sar was definitely the man, I admired his style. He was always calm and controlled in his movements.

You came through the ranks at the most successful Austrian Club FK Austria Wien. How did it feel to be a part of such a huge organisation ?

At the age of 19 I moved to the capital city of Austria. I got the chance to make the transfer from my small hometown to one of the most famous clubs in Austria. I learnt a lot in this time. Also I grew on and off the field as a personality.

Being a young keeper it was hard for you to get into the line-up with two veteran keepers ahead of you. Did you have a feeling deep down that you was going to get your chance ?

No, it was a time for me to learn. It was tough but I was lucky to learn from two great keepers like Franz Wohlfarth and Wolfgang Knaller.

Unfortunately you didn’t manage to make a senior first team appearance for Austria Wien, who decided that it was right for you to move on ?

I decided after one year it was time to play in a minor league to make the next step in my career and use the experiences I gained in my year at Austria Wien.

You moved to DSV Leoben in 2001 who are in the First Division of Austrian Football. Did you feel that moving to a club in a league below was a step down ?

Like I answered in the previous question. It was definitely the right step. Sometimes you have to make a step backwards to come forwards.

At DSV Leoben you was a frequent figure in the starting eleven, how did it feel to eventually get some professional soccer experience ?

It was great to prove myself in games and I got the feeling that I was ready for professional soccer. My self-confidence increased within every game.

In 2003/04 season you claimed the award of the best Goalkeeper in the Austrian First Division. How did it feel to win such an accolade ?

It was amazing and for me as a young keeper, it was certainly a help for me to continue following the targets I had. You need the trust of the coaches and other people a lot more at the beginning of your career.

Do you think that winning that honour, it has given you the required confidence to become a successful keeper ?

Exactly. Not only did my personality improved, the older players and coaches gained more and more respect for me which helped me to boost as a leader.

After your impressive displays at DSV, you caught the attention of ASKO Pasching (Austrian Bundesliga) who eventually followed up with securing your services. What was your main objective for agreeing to the move ?

Despite a few clubs showing interest I felt that Pasching would be a smart move for me and my career.

You were signed to provide back up to Josef Schicklgruber. How did you feel knowing you was going to become a number two ?

It wasn’t a problem at the beginning, but after a year I should have become the number 1. Unfortunately it was a time when coaches didn’t trust young players especially goalkeepers. Nowadays it’s also because financial reasons are very much different. Iker Casillas, was 19 when he won the Champions League, but in Austria he wouldn’t have played due to his young age. Sounds crazy, but in my case the only thing coaches said to me after putting me on the bench was ‘you are young, you have time’. It was a catastrophe for a young keeper. Also many older players came to me and said that they didn’t understand why this was the case.

Despite being a second string keeper you gained some experience of playing in the UEFA Cup. What did you learn from playing in such a high standard of competition ?

I managed to get regular games, despite not being the clear number one at the club. And I used every day for extra practice. Mostly over an hour until the coaches sent me to the locker room.

Having grown up and played for teams in your home nation, what would you say were your career highlights during your time in Austria ?

The UEFA Cup games were always a highlight. We played  twice against Russian Giants Zenit St. Petersburg and Italian side Livorno. It was a great experience.

In 2007 you was signed by Greek Super League side Skoda Xanthi. How much of a decision was it to move from your homeland ?

It was my decision to move on, I simply had enough of hearing I am too young to become a number 1. I got the offer and said: Why not? One of the best decisions I have made in my life.

How quickly did you settle into your new life in Greece ?

For me it was easy. But that’s something personal. You have to bring the right attitude and you have to be ready to adapt as things are very different abroad. I saw many guys who couldn’t handle the differences between Southern and Middle Europe.

What did you miss most about Austria whilst playing for Xanthi ?

My family, of course. Nonetheless I was just happy with my new life and knew that Greece was my new home. I was ready for this step, I didn’t know it before I signed the contract, but I was.

You spent four seasons in Greece, what was the standard of soccer like in the league ?

At that time in Greece, it was a great league with many stars. (Rivaldo, Karagounis, Cisse, etc.). It was a very technical style of soccer.

In Xanthi you managed to succeed with a record for the most consecutive road game shutouts with eight. What was the main benefactor for you making some many shutouts ?

It was like how we have it now with the Sounders. A Great organization, great team, everybody did their job for the team, as well as this someone was always available to correct someone’s mistakes. A rhythm like this materialises in time.

Would you say your time in Greece was a success, due to you twice being named an ‘All Star’ and claiming 16 career high shutouts in the process ?

Of course it was. You have to know Xanthi was and is always a middle of the table team, without big money for changes. So, I am proud of achieving that personally and with my team.

During your time in Greece you played in the same team as two well-known English footballers Nathan Ellington and Jordan Stewart. How well did they do in the Super League ?

Both players showed their quality, but unfortunately they both went home to England after one season. You saw, it was tough for them to understand the mentality of the Greeks. We shouldn’t forget George Boateng who was one of my most impressive teammates.

What qualities would you say they both had in their short spells ?

Both Jordan and Nathan were great soccer players and guys too.

What do you miss about Greece ?

I spent 5 years in Greece, so I miss some things. But it was the right time to leave and open a new chapter in my life and career.

Moving to North America must have been a hard decision but an exciting one at that. How did your move to Seattle come about ?

Actually the move to Seattle was much easier than the move to Greece. The mentality and nature is pretty much like Austria and speaking English is so much easier than speaking Greek.

Being a married man with a daughter, was it a hard decision for you to move your career as well as your family to another continent in the world ?

I am a very lucky man because my wife supports me in everything I do. We didn’t need to discuss the whether to move or not move, for long. We see almost everything pretty much the same so that helps a lot.

Even though you are a native Austrian you are able to speak German, English and Greek. With no language barrier did it make the move that much easier ?

As I mentioned earlier, it was easier to come here. And my daughter learns English like a native speaker now, which is great for her.

How well are you and your family settling into life in USA ?

From the first moment we got here we were made to feel very welcome. Seattle is a great new home for us. We are totally happy with our decision to come to the US.

Was you surprised by the standard of soccer in MLS ?

The standard is very high, but I wasn’t expecting anything else. So many people may smile in Europe, but they have no idea what’s going on here and what has happened over the last couple of years. The MLS in one of very few leagues which is growing worldwide.

Kasey Keller retired at the end of the 2011 MLS season and a huge void was left. Was it easy knowing you had huge boots to fill ?

This is the most frequently asked question in 2012 for me. I know that Kasey is something special here. I knew I would fail if I tried to copy him. So, I decided just to be Michael Gspurning and bring myself to the team. Thanks again to the fans who have given me the chance and accepted me from the first day.

Apart from your hip injury midway through the season you have been a consistent figure this season. How does it feel to play for Seattle Sounders ?

I am so proud to be a part of this great club. Really, it is a great feeling to wear the Sounders number one jersey.

Century Link Field is one of the most hostile and stylish stadiums in MLS, why do you think Century Link Field is so special ?

Century Link Field is special because of the fans. I have never before witnessed a family feeling like we have at this club. It seems like the whole city is a part of the team.

The 2012 season has been a mixed one thus far for you and Seattle, with the play-offs to look forward and a penalty shootout loss in US Open Cup Final. How would you describe the season to this point from a team and personal point of view ?

We still have the best part of the season ahead of us. We are working on our future and don’t have any intention on looking back into the past.

What targets did you set out personally for the 2012 MLS season ?

I have one target with the team and that is to win MLS Cup.

With the play-offs coming up, what do you think is key for Seattle being successful and becoming MLS Champions ?

We know what we have to do. Although, we have to prove it on the field, like every other team has to.

Can Seattle Sounders win the MLS ?

Of course, why not ?

At the start of May you were forced off against LA Galaxy at half time with a hip injury. How much has that affected your season ?

It affected me during the time of my injury because it was tough to sit out and not be able to help the team. On the other side though, I was able to return fresh minded due to me being out for that time.

The Cascadia is a massive rivalry in the Pacific North West. Was you surprised by how intense the rivalry is ?

Actually, I was happy to see how respectful this particular rivalry is. Fans have great passion here, and are living for their teams and support them until the end. Though they wouldn’t start stupid riots in the name of soccer. It was different in Greece. Sometimes it was a shame.

Most famously in the 1-1 tie at Jeld Wen Field you chalked up an assist for Fredy Montero’s goal. When you took the kick was it intended to become as big as it was ?

It was an intended pass of course, but I can’t affect Fredy’s work. If everybody did his job, good things can happen.

Seattle Sounders have succeeded this season primarily due to the form of the devastating trio, Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales. Why do you think this has been a successful combination ?

All three players have a lot of quality and have had great seasons. To be honest, I wouldn’t change anybody in this team at the moment. The whole squad is full of character and quality.

What is it like to train every day and play in the same team alongside the likes of Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso ?

Our practice level is pretty good. One of the reasons we bring good performances, is down to the work and effort we put in every day into our training.

Sigi Schmid is one of the most successful coaches in MLS, what is he like to play under ?

Sigi Schmid is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. It’s not a surprise that he is the most successful coach in MLS.

What would you say is his playing philosophy ?

His philosophy involves combining the American and German mentality. A very good mix to have success in life.

A few months back Seattle Sounders bought in veteran keeper Marcus Hahnemann to provide back up for yourself and input some of his experiences, what is it like to train alongside him ?

Marcus is a very funny guy and you see how happy he is to be part of his home team. It’s great to have him in the team and I like to talk with him about private things as well as about soccer.

Do you learn much from such an experienced professional ?

I don’t just learn from Marcus. I’ve had countless teammates in my career and I have learnt from every single one. I feel I should be able to learn something from them, even if they are young guys like Andy Rose, Cordell Cato, Baba Sodade and Alex Caskey. I like to hear their experiences too and love to compare them with my thoughts from when I was at their age.

What will the Seattle Sounders/Michael Gspurning be looking to do in 2013 or at the present moment is that looking too far ahead ?

Now is 2012 and this is all that matters. Soccer is all about the here and now, not the past, not the future.

Where would you like to see your career in five years’ time ?

I truly hope I am still here and we have all achieved much more than we could have imagined.

What advice would you give to any young goalkeeper who is looking to follow in your footsteps ?

Mistakes will happen on your way and try to use every single day to follow your dreams.

Best Game You’ve Played In

Against PAOK in Saloniki, we lost 0-1 but the whole stadium of 35,000 fans were desperate to win because of my saves.

Best Save Made

I can’t say there is one special one.

Toughest Opponent Faced

My first game at the age of seven we lost the game 13-0, however I never lost by this amount again.

Best Player Played Alongside

Not one in particular stands out.

What Keeper Gloves Do You Wear

Adidas.

Team Supported Growing Up

The club I supported doesn’t exist anymore.

Goalkeeping Idol

Edwin Van Der Sar

Favourite MLS Stadium (Other Than Century Link Field)

BC Place – Vancouver.

Favourite Food

Every day my favourite food can change so I don’t have one in particular.

Favourite Drink

Water with a small amount of juice (cranberry, apple).

Favourite Film

Forest Gump and The Great Escape.

Favourite TV Show

30 For 30.

Favourite Music

Kit Man Nolan’s Music Before A Game.

First Car

Toyota Corolla.

Hobbies And Interests Outside Of Soccer

Spending time with my family and playing golf.

What Would You Do If You Won $1Million ?

I would probably spend some and save the rest.

I would like to personally thank Michael Gspurning for his time and efforts during the interview process. And remember if you can’t score past the Austrian Keeper you know you have been ‘ Gspurned’.

By Anthony Bedworth

@soccernightexcl

@maplesoccer123

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