Kronberg 1, Manchester United 0

Former Montgomery High star Eric Kronberg, left, makes a stop vs. Manchester United on Sunday in Kansas City. (AP photo)

Last weekend Carol and Dave Kronberg celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in Kansas City. What did they get in the way of a gift?

A dirty, sweaty pair of goalie gloves.

And that was undoubtedly the best gift they could have received or that their son Eric could have given them.

You see, Eric Kronberg had just finished playing 45 minutes and a little stoppage time in goal for the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer.

His coach, Peter Vermes, in a preplanned move put Eric in goal in the second half of an exhibition game against Manchester United.

Yes, Man U.

Yes, the Red Devils.

And Eric, playing with only nine players in front of him, shut them out.

Kronberg – a product of, in order, Santa Rosa United, Montgomery High, Fresno State and Cal – got on the field for the first time this season and it was spectacular.

“The plan all along was to give me some minutes and some experience,” Kronberg said on Tuesday from his Kansas City apartment.

“When I went out onto the field I tried to erase the thought from my mind that it was Manchester United I was facing. Once you walk out there you have to realize at that moment they are just soccer players like everyone else.”

Well, yes … and, no. Everyone else doesn’t happen to have the credentials of Man U.

The Red Devils only happen to be one of the most popular soccer clubs on the planet, in the 1998-99 season they won the treble (Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League) and five years ago they sold for something like 800 million pounds.

For the record, Kronberg made five saves, the Wizards held their halftime lead to win 2-1 and only one of those he recalled as being difficult.

“A couple of those were reaction saves, but right off the bat, about a minute into the second half, they got through and I had to come out and clobber some guy. That was probably the best thing that could have happened. It got me into the game right away.”

And it wassn’t like Kronberg was playing against 11 guys the Red Devils had just called up from some farm team. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov were on the pitch. Although Wayne Rooney wasn’t.

“No, he didn’t play,” Kronberg said of Rooney. “In fact, I didn’t even see him. But Giggs, Scholes, Berbatov … those are world-class players.”

Kronberg didn’t exchange jerseys with anyone afterward, cause goalies usually don’t do that.
But he did shake hands with his Man U counterpart.

“I went over shook (Edwin) Van der Sar’s hand. He has been one of my idols and that was my thrill. He gave me one of those, ‘Good game’ comments.”

Kronberg, 27, finished at Cal and was a fourth-round MLS draft pick by the Wizards where he started out as a third-string goalie.

He later backed up Kevin Hartman for a couple of seasons, played for Miami FC (division below the MLS) for three months, hurt his shoulder, went to Croatia and trained last year (“It was fun, but it was cold and hard and a different experience”) to get back in shape.

Now he backs up Danish goalie Jimmy Nielsen who was just recently named to the MLS all-star squad.
“He (Nielsen) is a very good goalie, a good guy and a true professional,” Kronberg said. “I don’t know what his plans are for next year, but if he stays here maybe I’ll need to start looking around. I’m at the age where I need to get on the field.

“But it’s hard to get any playing time. We (Wizards) are in the middle of the table and we still could get into the playoffs so they (coaching staff) won’t change up much now.”

The Wizards next play Saturday when they entertain Toronto FC and they come to San Jose on Aug. 14 to face the Earthquakes.

In the meantime, Kronberg will keep plugging away on and off the field.

One of his delights is shopping at Costco.

“But it’s nothing like the Costco in Santa Rosa,” Kronberg admitted. “Although I must say I know a guy at the Costco here who is a big Wizards fan. Everytime he sees me walking into the store he gets me a free hot dog.”

Doesn’t get much better than that … unless you shut out Man U.