On the night that Brian McBride became the inaugural inductee into the Columbus Crew’s Circle of Honor, the Crew and the San Jose Earthquakes paid tribute by maintaining two circles on the scoreboard. In many ways, the 0-0 draw was almost an afterthought on a memorable night that was a veritable Crew time capsule. It was night where a scoreless 90 minutes got dwarfed by the enormity of 15 memorable years.
On the field, one of the Crew’s most notable goalkeepers of the past, Jon Busch, did battle with the Crew’s formidable goalkeeper of the present, William Hesmer. The clean sheets were well earned. Busch stopped a pair of breakaways by Robbie Rogers and Andres Mendoza. Hesmer stoned Simon Dawkins on a close-range volley and tipped a pair of scary chances over the crossbar.
“Hesmer was the man of the match,” said Crew defender Julius James, “and I think the other goalkeeper, if I was in the other room, he would win the man of the match also.”
Busch and Hesmer were certainly men of the match. But July 16, 2011, was about the Man of Honor.
FIRST MAN IN THE CIRCLE: BRIAN McBRIDE
As a founding pillar of the club, and still one of its most recognizable names, Brian McBride was a natural pick to be the founding member of the Circle of Honor. In eight seasons, from 1996-2003, McBride was the face of the franchise. He was a genuine star in this town. Even if people didn’t know anything about soccer, they knew Brian McBride. And if they knew anything about soccer, they absolutely loved Brian McBride.
He was the first draft pick in Crew history. He became the first Crew player to ever score a goal, ripping an upper-90 shot in the first half of the inaugural game. He scored one of the most amazing goals in Crew history that same night, heading a punt from his goalkeeper, Bo Oshoniyi, and then racing forward to volley his head ball into the net. A star was born on April 13, 1996, and he brought the Columbus Crew into the spotlight with him.
He was more than just a gate attraction. He was an ambassador for the club and the sport. He was the consummate teammate. He represented his country with distinction and class on the international stage, and in doing so, shined a more favorable light upon our town and our club. He was active in the community in a public sense, and he also performed many secret acts of kindness behind the scenes. And he scored goals. Lots and lots of goals.
McBride was the centerpiece to many good Crew teams in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, those Crew teams shared a conference with the early D.C. United juggernaut led by Marco “El Diablo” Etcheverry. Evil repeatedly triumphed over good. It wasn’t until his penultimate season in Columbus that McBride finally got to lift some hardware when the Crew defeated Los Angeles to win the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Fittingly, McBride and his teammates celebrated the title with Lamar Hunt himself.
And did I mention that he scored goals? Jeff Cunningham recently broke the long-standing tie between the two men in regular season goals to become the Crew’s all-time leading scorer. However, in all competitions, including all official regular season, playoff, U.S. Open Cup, and CONCACAF games, McBride is still at or near the top of many Crew all-time statistics. In addition to being one goal behind Cunningham in regular season play, McBride is still the Crew’s all-time leader in playoff goals (9) and U.S. Open Cup goals (8).
Courtesy of Big Soccer poster TrueCrew, who curates a statistical database of every official Crew game ever played, here are McBride’s current ranks in some major statistical categories, counting all competitions:
Points: First with 209. (Two points per goal, one point per assist.)
Goals: First with 79.
Assists: Third with 51. (Warzycha 71, Cunningham 56)
Games Started: Third with 195 (Clark 260, Marshall 207)
Minutes Played: Third with 17,312. (Clark 22,795, Marshall 18,567)
Appearances: Fifth with 203. (Clark 265, Cunningham 236, Marshall 211, Maisonneuve 208)
That’s an impressive body of work that has stood the test of time.
But statistics alone don’t do McBride justice. There have been players with half of the accomplishments who brandished twice the ego. One of my favorite McBride stories was told to me years ago by… I can’t remember now. Tucker maybe? Duncan? Anyway, the story went that a rookie walked off the field at the end of practice, heading toward the locker room. The rookie then received a helpful reminder to look back at the practice field. And what did the rookie see? He saw Brian McBride moving goals, picking up cones, and doing all of the mundane after-practice cleanup that is normally doled out to rookies on most clubs. The point was made. If Brian McBride, superstar, thought nothing of willingly pitching in to clean up after practice, there was absolutely no reason for a rookie to shirk the opportunity to do his part. McBride wasn’t the only player in those early days with such a helpful, selfless attitude. Far from it. But McBride was the team’s biggest star and, consequently, his ability to lead by example was second to none.
It’s almost a cliché to say that you’ve never heard a bad word about so-and-so, but it is true in McBride’s case. The man has been so highly regarded wherever he’s gone that it almost defies belief. But it’s real. Here’s another example of how well-respected McBride is amongst his peers. Saturday’s game marked the Crew’s first home game since Cunningham set the Crew’s regular season goal-scoring record, which he had shared with McBride. Word is that the Crew originally planned to have a formal pregame ceremony recognizing Cunningham’s accomplishment, thereby giving him a chance to soak up some cheers from the home crowd. Cunningham nixed the ceremony, saying it was McBride’s night, and he didn’t want to do anything to distract the crowd’s attention from where it belonged.
That evening, Cunningham and McBride shared a hug and had a smiling conversation.
(Photo courtesy of Janet Handler)
The halftime ceremony was brief, but emotional. McBride took the field along with former Crew teammates Mike Clark, Tom Presthus, Matt Napoleon, Duncan Oughton, Brian Bliss, Robert Warzycha, Mike Lapper, and Ricardo Iribarren. The PA recited a list of McBride’s numerous accomplishments. The scoreboard showed a tribute video featuring testimonials from Crew and/or U.S. National Team teammates Brian Maisonneuve, Todd Yeagley, Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan, Kyle Martino, Oughton, Warzycha, and Lapper, as well his national team coach, Bruce Arena, MLS commissioner Don Garber, Crew president and GM Mark McCullers, and Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, who said that McBride “has made a true difference, not just for the Crew franchise, but the city of Columbus.”
At the conclusion of the video, the conspicuous black drape dropped from the southwest facing of the upper deck, revealing McBride’s name in yellow lettering. McBride took a microphone and addressed the crowd. He thanked his teammates and the fans. He spoke of how great it was to play at Crew Stadium for the Crew organization. By the time he got to thanking Lamar Hunt and his own wife and daughters, his voice quavered as the emotions overwhelmed his typically stoic and measured demeanor.
McBride was clearly honored by his honoring. The Circle of Honor had come full circle.
At the tail end of the ceremony, Crew players applauded McBride as they came back onto the field to start the second half. Except for Cunningham, none of the Crew’s players have played with McBride. Alas, through word of mouth, his legend precedes him.
“Brian has been a special player everywhere he has gone,” said William Hesmer. “He’s been successful not only with his abilities on the field, but he’s a great human being as well.”
Creating the Circle of Honor can also provide a longer-term perspective for Crew players as the years go by.
“Players tend to be near-sighted and focus on the present, so I think a lot of guys know Brian as a rival and a guy who was scoring goals against us, not for us,” Hesmer said, referring to McBride’s career-closing stint with the Chicago Fire. “But the truth is that he’s done so much for the Columbus Crew, and this league, and U.S. Soccer, that I think it’s nice and a fitting tribute for the Crew to put his name up on the first stadium built for Major League Soccer.”
McBride wasn’t the only former Crew forward making a milestone return to Crew Stadium. Saturday’s game marked the first appearance of Massive Champion Steven Lenhart as an opposing player. When the San Jose bus unloaded before the game, it was all handshakes and hugs from Lenhart in the player tunnel.
When the game started, it was anything but. Julius James had the unenviable task of trying to corral the physical nuisance with the blond afro. James, however, seems to have mistaken “unenviable” with “fun.”
“I love battles,” James said. “I absolutely love it. I always look forward to them. Lenhart is an absolute great battler. He’s a scrapper. I have scrapes all over my body from him, and he probably has a couple from me too. I love the battles, and he’s a really good battler to play against.”
While Lenhart the battler is incredibly annoying when he is on the opposing team instead of yours, Lenhart the person was as chilled out and good natured as ever.
“It was awesome to be here,” Lenhart said. “It felt like the good old days. I don’t know if you noticed, but I kept passing to the yellow team. I kept thinking I was on the Crew out of habit. (According to the chalkboard feature on MLSsoccer.com, Lenhart completed just 10 of 19 pass attempts.) It was cool to be on the field with the guys. You’re battling on the field, but at the end of the day, they’re still your friends.”
And so after the game, there were more hugs and handshakes and laughs. Oh, and a prolonged staredown with Kevin Burns. (“Kevin loves a good stare,” Lenhart advised.)
Before leaving the field, Lenhart spent considerable time signing autographs and posing for pictures with the Columbus fans.
(Photo courtesy of Sam Fahmi)
“Columbus is cool,” Lenhart said. “The people are cool, man. They seem to look past the competition. I enjoyed my time here and the people were so cool tonight.”
He then proudly unfurled the Hudson Street Hooligans scarf that had been tangled around his neck. It was given to him by a fan.
“I’m a Hooligan,” Lenhart said. “I got the scarf. I guess this means that I am going to be at the game next Saturday against Portland. I’ll be there, and I’ll be painted yellow.”
While Lenhart seems to know the Crew’s schedule, a quick glance at San Jose’s schedule would tell Steve that he will be playing a game in Utah that night. I know he was only joking, but still, the thought of a San Jose player hanging out in the Nordecke doesn’t seem so outlandish when one realizes that Toronto FC players hang out there now.
O-H! I…CAN’T BELIEVE MY EYES!
On Friday, the Crew traded defender Andy Iro and midfielder Leandre Griffit to Toronto FC in exchange for midfielder Tony Tchani. After a terrific 2010 campaign, Iro captained the Crew during the CONCACAF Champions League series with Salt Lake in February, but by the time the regular season rolled around, he had lost his spot to Julius James. It would be fair to say that Iro became disheartened by a return to the bench.
From both halves of the Crew side of this deal, it seems like a winner. For Iro and Frenchy, as he was affectionately known to his teammates, it’s a chance to play. Iro, in particular, should instantly become a 90-minute player for that train wreck up north. Toronto needed a central defender and now they’ve got one. That’s good news for Iro. And for the Crew, they traded two non-starters to obtain the services of a talented young midfielder. To me, it seems like a win-win for everybody on the Columbus end of the deal.
Immediately after the trade, Iro expressed his gratitude to the people of Columbus via twitter:
“I wanna say thanks to all the Crew fans. It's been real”
“Seriously Crew fans. Even after not playing a minute in 15 games you still cheered my name. Loud! Hopefully Toronto fans are as great”
“Hey, some things can be misunderstood at times. I leave Columbus with fond memories and a ton experience. The Crew gave me an opportunity out of college and for that I owe a lot. Thank you. Good luck tonight boys and in all of your games except September 10th ;)”
(September 10 is when Iro and the Hapless Hosers visit Crew Stadium.)
But here’s the crazy thing. Despite having been traded to a rival team, and despite surely needing to pack for his departure to the Great Winless North, Iro opted to spend his Saturday night at the Crew game. Cheering for his friends. With the fans. In the Nordecke. While wearing his 2010 Crew jersey. It was both preposterously endearing and endearingly preposterous.
Andy Iro didn’t just pay lip service to Crew fans with a few tweets. He literally became one of them for one last hurrah in Columbus.
(Photo courtesy of Sam Fahmi)
MORE FANS IN THE STANDS
Iro wasn’t the only Massive Champion watching his former team from the stands. Rather than hiding out in a suite somewhere, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gino Padula sat on the same metal bleachers as everyone else. They were just two regular guys watching a Crew game. Could Saturday night have been any more surreal?
(Photo courtesy of Alison Horn)
LEGENDARY MEETING OF LEGENDS
With two mega-Massive Crew legends in the house, it was only a matter of time until their paths crossed. Sure enough, at the end of the night, Guillermo Barros Schelotto had a chance encounter with Brian McBride on his big night. I did not witness this meeting, so I will now turn it over to a firsthand account emailed to me by Greg Brooks.
“The McBrides must have gotten off the elevator and were heading toward the players' lot under the stadium,” Brooks wrote. “Of course, Brian was as gracious as he ever was, and stopped to sign an autograph or take a picture with anyone who asked. I was talking to Dina and his girls, and giving high fives to their youngest (who was telling me in her best toddler voice that their "power was out" back home), when I saw Guille and Gino heading toward the kicker plaza.
“Guille noticed a small crowd and turned around and saw Brian, who had basically just finished signing autographs and was ready to head off with Dina and his kids. Guille came over, with his hand extended and a genuine smile on his face, and said to Brian "Congratulations!" Brian, I think, was taken aback at the gesture and got a huge smile on his face, and asked Guille "How ARE you??" to which Guille smiled and nodded "Good, good," or something to that effect. Guille said "Congratulations" again and headed off.
“I really wish I was smart enough to pull out my phone and capture the moment, but it all happened so quickly. As if I needed a reminder as to why those two are my favorite Crew players over the years!”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: OLD HOME WEEK EDITION
With so many familiar faces milling around Crew Stadium, it was fitting that San Jose put so many familiar faces on the field of play. Goalkeeper Jon Busch made 84 regular season appearances for the Crew, forward Steven Lenhart made 63, and defender Chris Leitch made 37. All three of those players had more Crew appearances than SIX of the Crew’s starters on Saturday, and eight of the 14 players the Crew used that night.
The only Crew players to outrank any of the trio of ex-Crew Quakes were starters William Hesmer, Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo and Robbie Rogers, as well as substitute Jeff Cunningham.
And for good measure, San Jose had former Crew defender Tim Ward available to come in off the bench. Ward’s 17 regular season Crew appearances are still more than Bernardo Anor, Rich Balchan, Eric Gehrig, Josh Gardner, Justin Meram, and Tommy Heinemann. And Julius James equaled Ward with his 17th regular season appearance on Saturday night.
Obviously, the Crew did an offseason roster makeover, and some of these young players may be here for years to come, but on this particular night, I thought it was an interesting (if inconsequential) roster quirk.
If you squint really hard at this photograph of the McBride family, you will see that one family member is made out of Legos. Who is it?
Answer: Dina. It’s amazing what they can do with Legos nowadays! And apparently Brian was going to pull an Iro and wear his Crew uniform to the ceremony, but then he obviously got talked out of it before halftime.
THE HAMMER’S SHENANIGANS
In the days that followed the Crew’s disappointing loss to the Chicago Fire on June 12, William Hesmer decided to host a barbeque for his teammates. Wives and significant others were invited, and the idea was for the Crew family to spend some quality time together.
Andy Gruenebaum, and his accomplice/wife Lacey, had something else in mind. As the night wore on, they plotted an unusual abduction.
“Will’s got this wood giraffe that is like five feet tall, and he seems really attached to it. He was almost, like, TOO attached to it. I don’t know if it’s a family thing or what, but Lacey and I were like, ‘We gotta kidnap this giraffe.’”
The giraffe was acquired with the help Hesmer’s mother, Janet, when she visited a couple of years ago to help her son with his home’s décor.
“We saw Geoffrey and he was pretty cool, so we got him,” Hesmer said. “I love Africa, I love animals, and that was right after my Africa trip.”
(Yes, the giraffe’s name is Geoffrey Giraffe. For any Toys R Us attorneys who may be reading this, please note that Hesmer’s long-necked tree-muncher has no middle name. It’s just Geoffrey Giraffe, which is not to be confused with the Toys R Us mascot, Geoffrey The Giraffe.)
More concerned with the traditional duties associated with being the consummate party host, theft-prevention was low Hesmer’s priority list.
“I was running around like a maniac,” he said. “I was working the grill, watching the dog, making sure everybody’s cup was full…and then Gruenebaum thought it would be a good idea to kidnap Geoffrey. I’m really disappointed that none of my other teammates stepped up to stop this crime.”
“We waited for the right time,” Gruenebaum said. “The giraffe was located in the dining area. We had some people talking to Will to make sure he was distracted, and we were leaving anyway, so we were like, ‘Let’s get him out now.’”
And with that, Andy and his accomplice/wife whisked away the giraffe. Geoffrey was blindfolded and gagged and chucked into the back of Lacey’s waiting SUV. From the picture, you can tell that these two meant business. Their faces are the harrowing embodiment of ruthless criminality.
The fun was just beginning.
“The giraffe got to experience some things that night,” Gruenebaum said. “We were sending Will pictures as the night went on. The giraffe had a great night. He got to eat some Taco Bell…”
“He pumped our gas…”
“He went for a ride at Giant Eagle. He couldn’t buy any liquor because it was closed. He was pretty sad. I was too.”
“He found some friends at the grocery store. He felt right at home with these little monkeys…”
The Hebrew Hammer also introduced Geoffrey to some tasty cultural cuisine…
“He also found a lady giraffe…”
(When I noted that the above photo looks suspiciously like Geoffrey in drag, Andy replied, “All giraffes look alike!” There could be some merit to that. At the very least, they are so tall that it would be hard to get a good look at any differences anyway.)
But the night was not all fun and games. For example, Hesmer received this ominous photo in which it appeared that Geoffrey was on the verge of being executed with a toy gun.
“There was no actual ransom demand,” Hesmer said of the hostage photo. “It was just a really funny picture.”
While Andy and Lacey bombarded Hesmer with pictures, he did not have his cell phone near him, so he was oblivious as to what was happening to his beloved giraffe.
“I didn’t notice he was missing right away,” Hesmer said. “I looked at my phone the next morning and saw all of their escapades. It was pretty funny. They put in a good amount of time at two or three in the morning getting some really good pictures. It’s a cool story.”
GEOFFREY’S NEW ADVENTURE
I am happy to report that Geoffrey was not executed. Instead, the Gruenebaums brought him to the team’s practice facility at Obetz. It was there that Geoffrey got a Crew makeover.
Now completely kitted up as a goalkeeper wearing 3-D glasses, Geoffrey loiters outside of Hesmer’s locker at Obetz. He has proven to be good luck too. At the time of this interview, in the five games since Geoffrey appeared at Obetz, the Crew were 3-1-1 in league play, with seven goals scored and just three goals allowed. This has not escaped the notice of Crew goalkeeper coach Vadim Kirilov.
“We’ve done really well since he’s been there, so Vadim says he is our lucky mascot,” Hesmer said.
As time goes by, Gruenebaum feels that everybody involved with the kidnapping came out a winner. Especially Geoffrey.
“I think maybe the first night, with the gun, it was maybe a little tense for him,” Gruenebaum said of the giraffe. “But as time went on, we got to know each other, and in the end, I think he was much happier with us than with Will.”
Three years ago, this was the reception that Brian McBride got when he returned to Crew Stadium with the Chicago Fire for the 2008 Eastern Conference Final:
(Photo courtesy of Greg Bartram)
After completing his outstanding stint with Fulham in the English Premier League, McBride chose to go home. His wife and daughters had followed him to Columbus and then to London. He felt it was time to follow them home to Chicago, where they would make their permanent residence surrounded by family. It was a bitter pill to swallow for many Crew fans. An iconic Crew player suited up for a bitter rival. Ironically, the same virtues that made him so revered in Columbus had steered him to Chicago. It was only natural that Brian McBride would lay himself out there and take a beating in an attempt to do the right thing for those closest to him. He absorbed countless elbows while wearing black and gold. He would absorb countless insults while dressed in baboon-butt red.
So on that cold November night, McBride was called a traitor. He was booed. He was heckled. And he scored. Of course he scored. But in the end, the Crew triumphed and went on to win MLS Cup, while McBride suffered yet another crushing near miss. Afterward, McBride spoke highly of Columbus and the Crew. He reiterated that he had no ill will.
Brian knew it was just business. I’m sure it stung…how could it not? But his goal had stung the Columbus fans too. How could it not? Circumstances made this relationship messy. And that’s understandable. But as I wrote in A Massive Season, my hope was that the moment he retired, McBride would once again be accepted as the Crew legend that he is.
I think that is part of what made Saturday so special to me. It seemed that the entirety of Crew history was on display. Old timers were on the field at halftime with McBride. San Jose brought some beloved former Crew players back to town. Massive Champions like Schelotto, Padula, and Iro mingled with fans while watching the game as civilians in the stands. The promising young nucleus of future Crew teams battled on the field. Even Tony Tchani, acquired in a trade the previous day, was making the rounds fresh upon his arrival in Columbus.
Depending on where your eyes roamed, the Crew’s past, present, and/or future were constantly in view. Players come and go, and people can get mad at people, and things can go wrong for a spell, and life isn’t always pretty. But the community endures. On Saturday, whether obligated or not, all of these people found a reason to be at Crew Stadium, and the fans welcomed back every last one of them.
Yes, even the man once labeled a traitor. For three years, the Nordecke booed Brian McBride for his crimes against Crew-manity. On Saturday, the Nordecke repeatedly chanted “Thank you Brian!” They welcomed him with open arms when he came by to visit in the second half. McBride’s status as a local soccer icon had finally been restored in all its well-deserved glory.
Brian McBride, family man, had been home for three years.
Brian McBride, Crew legend, has come home at last.
(Photo courtesy of Sam Fahmi)
Questions? Comments? Have an answer to Tucker’s question about if McBride is now “honor-tied” to the Crew and therefore cannot be inducted into Chicago’s dastardly Ring of Fire? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via twitter @stevesirk