Sirk’s Notebook: Crew 3, Dynamo 0
On a melty and muggy Saturday night, the Crew somehow found the energy to pound the skeleton of Houston’s MLS dynasty into dust. So thorough was the Crew’s 3-0 dismantling of the Dynamo that Houston head coach Dom Kinnear had this to say when asked for his team’s plan of attack against the Crew:
“There aren’t a lot of weaknesses there. You just have to outfight them.”
It’s a rare night when the Crew can be outfought. This night was not one of them. After a disappointing home loss to Kansas City, the Crew have spent the past two weekends showing the world just how scary good they can be, dismantling New York and Houston by a combined score of 5-0. And don’t look now, but with a game in hand and a game against the Galaxy, the Crew once again control their own Supporters’ Shield destiny. It’s the end of July, and every conceivable trophy is still in play. As Bill Archer likes to remind Crew fans, “These are the good old days.”
RENTERIA ON A ROLL
Saturday marked another start and another goal for everyone’s favorite dance-a-holic, Emilio Renteria. Not only that, but Renteria sent Bobby Boswell to the showers as the Dynamo defender earned a pair of yellow cards in his desperate attempt to defend relentless Venezuelan.
In the 34th minute, Renteria gave the Crew a 1-0 lead by cashing in on a goalie blunder. Rookie goalkeeper Tally Hall came out of his box to challenge Renteria for a long pass, but then, having won the race, decided in midstream to backpedal into the box and fall on the ball. But with 185 pounds of biceps, triceps, lats, delts, pecs, abs, gluts, thighs, and calves bearing down on him at full speed, Hall lost his nerve and flubbed his attempt to flop on the ball. As it rolled past the prone Hall, Renteria ran on to the ball and walked it into the empty net, finishing on his third touch. He then got to dance for the Nordecke.
When asked if it was the easiest goal he ever scored, Renteria smiled and said through a translator, “Si. Si. We talked before the game that their goalie is a rookie and that he could make a mistake. We said to follow the play, and that’s how I scored that goal.”
It was the second close-range empty-netter scored by the Crew this month. My attempts to compare his empty-netter to Adam Moffat’s against Chicago were lost in translation. Thankfully, Adam Moffat speaks a little bit of English, so I had him compare the two close-range empty-net goals. Moffat blasted his, whereas Renteria walked his into the net.
“He did a good job,” Moffat said in his deadpan analysis. “He could have hit it a little bit harder. I guess I can understand being cautious, but mine was a better goal.”
IRO SCORES AGAIN
Andy Iro iced the game in the 84th minute. The Crew had been playing up a man since Boswell’s ejection in the 73rd minute, and it only seemed like a matter of time until the Crew would put the game out of reach. Schelotto served a free kick from the left channel, and Iro finished not with his head, but with the outside of his left foot after reaching his leg around Dynamo defender Andrew Hainault. (Or as my friend Mateo would so eloquently put it during a later phone conversation, “Iro used that defender like a stripper pole.” I wish I had thought of that.)
“They’re a big team, man,” Iro said of the Dynamo. “We weren’t having too much success from the free kicks. They are probably the only team that can outsize us. It’s just one of those things where Hainault was pretty tight to me, but I noticed he was just kind of staring at me. He was more concerned about me not getting to the ball than the ball getting to me. So I kinda tracked back and stuck me leg up. Luckily, it was a decent finish.”
I dubbed the goal to be “a half Lenhart.” Crew striker Steven Lenhart is known for his flying ninja kick goals, whereas Iro’s was more of a standing karate kick.
“Steve always comes off the field with bumps and bruises and a broken nose,” Iro noted. “I’ve got to keep these looks, man. I am going to stay on me feet for the most part. I’ll leave the acrobatics to Steve.”
Leandre Griffit made for the best story of the night. Just 2:34 after entering his very first MLS match, Griffit scored in the 90th minute to give the Crew their final 3-0 margin. It was a breathtaking goal by the Crew, whose breath should have been taken well before the 90th minute on such a hot and humid night. With the game already in hand, the Crew defended a Houston throw-in into their own box, and then sprung into action. While subs Griffit and Jason Garey were involved in the counter, most shocking was to see starters Adam Moffat and 37-year-old Guillermo Barros Schelotto making full-field sprints. How they found the energy and the willpower on such a night, I will never know. I guess that explains the championship rings.
Garey floated a long diagonal ball to Moffat into the Houston box. The Scot brought the ball down, held it, and then played a perfect little ball to the onrushing Schelotto. The Argentine was denied at the left post, but Griffit collected the rebound near the end line. He cut it back to give himself a little bit of an angle and then fired the ball over Schelotto and through Tally Hall and into the net. Perhaps the coolest part of all is that Schelotto was starting to sit up, but saw that Griffit was about to shoot, so he quickly laid back down, creating a screen and then a path for the shot. Guille has gone from being John Rambo to doing Jackie Chan fight choreography.
Anyway, the goal was a thing of beauty for Griffit, who scored while his brother and sister were in town to visit him.
“It’s special to score in front of my family,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘You have one chance to score, so I am just going to score.’ I shot and I scored. Come into the game, score, and then go home. That’s pretty much perfect.”
Griffit may have been excited, but part of the fun of this team is seeing how excited they are for each other. You could see the rest of the team light up when “Frenchy,” as he is known, scored his goal.
“He’s been playing very well in training, so it wasn’t a surprise to any of us,” said Danny O’Rourke. “He’s crafty. He’s a very good passer and he’s deceptively strong on the ball. And tonight, he didn’t give up on the play. He took a tough-angle shot and scored it. It was a good shot. We were all really happy for him because he’s going to be a very strong addition for us down the road.”
“(It was) a good finish,” said Iro. “I think he’s a great player, and now people are just getting to see his quality. He came in late, after our preseason, and he’s been patient and worked hard to get his fitness level up. The quality is there.”
Griffit admitted that training for three months before seeing game action was frustrating, but now he sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“It was tough,” he said. “I’m not a rookie and I played on some big teams, so when I first got here, I was thinking (I would play) in two or three weeks. But things are different here—the food, the life, the humidity. Everything is different. At first, it was tough on me. You think you’re good, but you miss something all of the time. I think the coach did a good thing to make me wait and to work really hard, because now I am at the top of my fitness.”
There will be some Mr. Numbers Nerd segments about Frenchy’s goal a little later in this Notebook.
In two games against the Dynamo this month, the Crew barely allowed Houston to sniff the goal, shutting them out both times. A large part of that was due to the center back tandem of Chad Marshall and Andy Iro matching up against Houston’s big forwards, Brian Ching and Cam Weaver.
“Their two center forwards, Ching and Weaver, are huge,” said O’Rourke. “They have a lot of success against most center backs in the league because of their size. But against the against the best defender in the league in Chad Marshall, and a guy who has been playing really well of late in Andy Iro, they can’t really have their way in the air. Those guys are big too. For the outside backs and defensive midfielders, it’s easier for us because we know our guys are going to win it, so we just need to track around for second balls and keep possession. That makes a huge difference because if Ching and Weaver win those balls, we have to chase runners and it puts us on our heels. It changes the game, so credit to Chad and Iro for holding them out.”
FRANCIS GOES 90
Rookie left back Shaun Francis went 90 minutes in his first career MLS start. The young Jamaican has shown ample speed and skill in his time with the first team.
“When your first start is against Houston, it’s a testament to him,” said Iro. “He’s really shown against Dane Richards, Corey Ashe, and guys that have been in the league a few years now that he can handle it. He’s strong and athletic, he’s willing to listen, and he can get forward as well.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: FRENCHY THE FIRST-TIMER EDITION
Griffit’s debut goal is full of statistical intrigue. For starters, Frenchy became the sixth Crew player to score in his MLS debut. Here’s the list, complete with the players’ game status and the time of their goal(s):
04/13/96 vs DCU: Brian McBride (Started / scored 29, 86)
04/13/96 vs DCU: Pete Marino (Started / scored 48)
06/21/97 vs MET: Thomas Dooley (Started / scored 71)
07/16/05 at CHI: Eric Vasquez (Started / scored 54)
04/01/06 at KCW: Kei Kamara (Started / scored 33)
07/24/10 vs HOU: Leandre Griffit (Sub 88 / scored 90)
Griffit also became the eighth player to score in his regular-season Crew debut. In addition to the six players listed above, two other players scored in their first regular season game in black & gold after being acquired from other MLS clubs:
04/02/05 vs LAG: Ante Razov (Started / scored 54)
5/13/06 vs COL: Ned Grabavoy (Sub 60 / scored 74)
MR. NUMBERS NERD: FAST FRENCHY EDITION
Of course, the number one question on everyone’s mind was if Griffit’s goal two minutes into his MLS debut was some sort of record. Crew-wise, it most certainly is. Brian McBride had the old Crew record for an MLS debut, scoring 29 minutes in. For a Crew debut, Ned Grabavoy had the old record, scoring 14 minutes in.
In terms of the league, it may seem shocking that Griffit did not set the record. He merely tied it, and perhaps even more shockingly, it’s a four-way tie. According to the always helpful Rick Lawes at MLS HQ, Frenchy joins Josh Wolff, Sal Caccavale, and Michael Kraus as men who have scored two minutes into their regular season MLS debut.
However, not all four of these are equal in my eyes. Three of them have extenuating circumstances, so let’s rank them.
#4 Sal Caccavale (New York Red Bulls)
On May 19, 2007, Caccavale entered the game in the 88th minute and scored against the Crew in the second minute of stoppage time. He actually scored some four minutes after entering the match, but he officially scored two minutes into his career because of the stoppage time technicality. Here’s the craziest thing…it was the only game of Caccavale’s MLS career. Despite taking four minutes to score, he officially finished his career with two minutes played and one goal scored. But since he needed a technicality to join the list, he’s #4, even though he has the best story.
#3 Michael Kraus (Kansas City Wizards)
On March 28, 2009, Kraus entered the match against the Colorado Rapids in the 67th minute and bagged his first career goal in the 69th. The extenuating circumstance here is that Kraus had played 31 minutes against the Crew the previous fall in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. So Kraus had taken the field in a do-or-die playoff game before making his official MLS regular-season debut the following spring.
#2 Leandre Griffit (Columbus Crew)
Frenchy’s extenuating circumstance is that, like with Kraus, the goal came in his second appearance in all competitions. On July 6, Griffit played 14 minutes against the third-division Charleston Battery in the U.S. Open Cup. I’m putting Frenchy above Kraus because Frenchy’s goal was in his first game against MLS competition, period, whereas Kraus’ prior appearance was an MLS playoff game.
#1 Josh Wolff (Chicago Fire)
On May 23, 1998, 21-year-old rookie Josh Wolff entered the Fire’s blowout of Colorado in the 84th minute. In the 86th minute, he scored his first career goal to give Chicago a 5-0 lead. Hardly a pressure cooker, but there are no extenuating circumstances whatsoever. He’s the only player of the four in this exclusive club who literally scored two minutes into his very first competitive game with his MLS club.
ENGLAND VS. SCOTLAND
After the season opener against Toronto, a bit of a smack talk war erupted between Englishman Andy Iro and Scotsman Adam Moffat. Iro had scored a goal that day and promised to “let (his) footie do the talking.”
Since that time, Moffat had caught up to Iro in goals scored, but on Saturday, Iro reclaimed a 3-2 edge. I figured it was time to check in on their little goal scoring feud.
“I think Moffat should be pretty embarrassed about things if I end up with more goals than him,” Iro said, “especially because he shoots from anywhere. Left foot, right foot, it doesn’t matter. He should technically end up with more goals than me, but given that the guy hits the corner flag more often than not, I’m betting that I am going to end up on top at year’s end.
“One of these times one his shots will take three deflections and actually go in, knowing that Scottish luck of his, so I will have to keep scoring. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of free kicks near the box. He likes to hang back at the edge of the area on those, so you can bet I will be going to goal instead of nodding one back his way.”
Moffat, naturally, had an opposing viewpoint.
“He’s 6-foot-10, so I would expect him to get more goals, to be fair,” Moffat said. “But it’s a long season. He’s just like England. He’s good in the qualifying, but when it comes to the real competition—[makes farting noise.] I feel like I’ve got about 10 in me for the year. Iro is probably done.”
When told that Iro was going to leave the rough and tumble goal-scoring acrobatics to Steven Lenhart because Iro had to protect his looks, Moffat scoffed.
“It looks like he’s been hit in the face a few times before, hasn’t he? I don’t know why that should factor into it. I should break his nose so he can get that fixed.”
WAYWARD MOFFAT ROCKETS
Iro wasn’t joking about some of the Moffat Rocket’s misfires.
“I almost killed a Crewzer,” Moffat said. “I almost pinned a Crewzer against the back wall of the stage. Almost had her. She’d have been dead. And I got Manu (Emmanuel Ekpo) in the back at practice the other day. He laid one off for me and then I smashed it right off his back.”
When advised that hitting the very people who lay off balls for you is not a good way to encourage people to lay off balls for you, Moffat agreed.
“Yeah, I’ve got to stop doing that,” he said. “It couldn’t have been that bad because Manu laid another one off to me. He just got out of the way really quick. There was just kind of an outline there.”
OPEN CUP UPDATE
For those who didn’t see the update to the last Notebook, please know that there was an error in the section about D.C. United’s streak of hosting U.S. Open Cup matches. I had written that United’s semifinal against the Crew would be their 21st consecutive home game in the Open Cup. This information was taken directly from page 143 of the 2010 D.C. United media guide. Well, it turns out that page 143 was not correct. It had listed road games at Richmond in 2004 and 2005 and at Chicago in 2006 as home games, and it had completely omitted a 2007 road game at Harrisburg. Thanks to Craig Merz for bringing this matter to my attention. In light of this new information, the semifinal between D.C. and the Crew at RFK Stadium on September 1 will be United’s 15th consecutive Open Cup home game, not their 21st.
A week ago, Danny O’Rourke gave me the following impersonation of the Crew’s schedule: “Hi, we’re going to need you to play 15 million games in three weeks. Oh, and you’re going to wear black in Houston. Thanks.”
Given the Houston-like weather in Columbus on Saturday, I asked O’Rourke if it was indeed easier to play against Houston in yellow instead of in black.
“Uhh…yes?” he said, seemingly caught off guard by such a stupid question. After a few more questionable yeses, he eventually worked his way to a tentative declaration of “yes.”
After playing seven home games in 29 days, the Crew aren’t home for nearly four weeks. I asked O’Rourke if he was looking forward to mixing it up a little with some road trips.
“Yeah,” he deadpanned. “It’s like a summer vacation.”
Note to self: Danny prefers home games.
Here’s the official scoring summary from the halftime mascot soccer game. Teams are denoted by the goal they defended. East defeated West by a 3-1 score.
EAST: Brutus the Buckeye (unassisted) 1st minute
EAST: Crew Cat (unassisted) 4th minute
WEST: State Farm Bear (unassisted) 6th minute
EAST: Crew Cat (Columbus Zoo Ostrich) 8th minute
MVP: Stinger, who made some crucial saves for the East team to prevent equalizers when the score was 1-0 and 2-1. He left the Subway Sub incredibly flustered and preserved the lead that the East would never relinquish.
Special thanks to the Crew’s official mascot wrangler, Amanda Baltzley, for the official scoring on the third goal. It was a tangled mess of mascots from where I was.
QUIP OF THE NIGHT
Someone asked Andy Iro what the motivation is to keep dominating in a game when you are already dominating.
“Win bonus,” he said, prompting a round of laughter by everyone within earshot.
Questions? Comments? Leaving the Crew for law school in Chicago? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via Twitter @stevesirk
Steve Sirk is a contributor to TheCrew.com. His first book, “A Massive Season”, which chronicles the Crew’s 2008 MLS Cup championship campaign, is currently available at the Crew Gear store and Amazon.com. This article was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.