Sirk's Notebook: Mr. Numbers Nerd Edition
So this is what Toronto feels like. Ha, just a little futility humor to get things started. After Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders, the Crew are now winless in all five league matchups against Seattle, and all six matchups counting all competitions. In regular season play, they are 0-2-3 against Seattle, and it’s 0-3-3 when you factor in the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. On the bright side, Columbus earned its first home point against the Sounders after 1-0 and 4-0 losses the last two years.
“I guess it’s an improvement, but gosh, I wanted the three points so bad,” said Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers.
“I don’t know what it is, but eventually we will beat these guys,” said defender Chad Marshall.
They will get their next crack on Aug. 27 in Seattle. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the Crew’s comeback tie.
EARLY GAME EXCITEMENT!
With all of the scoreless first halves this year, Seattle’s 7th minute tally was an absolute stunner. It was the first time either team had scored in the first 40 minutes of any Crew game all year.
Seattle broke up a play about 80 yards from the Columbus goal, and then just 14 seconds later, Fredy Montero headed an Erik Friberg cross off of the right post and in. After laying the ball off to Friberg, Montero freely ran straight into the Crew penalty area, where he kept his nerve and snapped the header while surrounded by Chad Marshall, Julius James, and a hard-charging William Hesmer, who rushed off his line in vain.
“We turn the ball over in their half of the field and then three passes later the ball is in the back of our net,” said Hesmer. “That's always disappointing because we focus so much on transition. I think ultimately it boils down to our inability to make it hard for Friberg to swing in a cross, letting Montero run in unmarked, and me not staying on my line, giving myself a better chance to make the save.”
There was a rationale behind Hesmer’s hard charge, even if it didn’t work out in the end.
“Personally, I just tried to run at him and make myself big and possibly scare him off of the ball, but it was just too far out to try that,” he said. “I was better off staying on my line, even though I am not too sure I would've had a chance on it. It was a really good header and, ultimately, you have to credit Seattle for a good goal.”
THE CHAD MARSHALL PENALTY CLUB CARD
On set pieces, opposing teams do everything short of beating Chad Marshall with a metal folding chair. No matter how preposterous the assault, seldom do the league’s referees award a penalty. My theory is that Marshall has some sort of penalty card, where he gets a sticker for every time he’s fouled in the box, and once he fills up his card with stickers, he gets a penalty call.
In the 65th minute, Marshall must have presented his filled-up penalty card. As he went up to head a corner kick, Seattle’s Patrick Ianni tugged him down by his jersey, and this time the referee uncharacteristically pointed to the penalty spot.
“He got me,” Marshall said. “It was a foul. The ball was coming right to me and he pulled me down. I’ve got marks on my body from his fingers. I’m just glad the ref called it. Hopefully all this will stop now so that I can score some goals.”
Marshall freely admitted his frustration at all of the non-calls over the years, but he still harbors a quixotic hope that assault-free days are just around the bend.
“You don’t like getting fouled, not getting the call, and then sprinting back 95 yards,” he said. “So it’s nice. Hopefully you get a couple of calls like that and then it stops happening and then you can be more effective in the box.”
UNBROKEN FLOOR = SUCCESSFUL PENALTY
In 2009, while his teammates distracted the referee with a protracted argument, then-Sounder Tyrone Marshall infamously dug a crater where the penalty kick spot should have been. Crew legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto missed the ensuing penalty, and then after the game, uttered one of his most famous Guille-isms: “They broke the floor before the penalty.”
Tyrone Marshall is no longer on the Sounders, and they apparently haven’t hired a replacement excavator. As a result, Crew striker Emilio Renteria had a smooth striking surface. He knotted the score in the 67th minute when he shot the ball into the right side of the net as Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller dove to Renteria’s left.
“I looked at the goalkeeper and I hit it terribly, as you saw,” Renteria said through an interpreter. “I imagined that they saw video of last week’s penalty, so I decided to go the other way.”
And that’s all it took. Besides, the strike wasn’t that bad. It was certainly good enough for Renteria’s fourth goal in the last three games.
“I thought Emilio took that PK very well,” said teammate Robbie Rogers. “I’m happy that he keeps scoring goals.”
As the game wore on, the Sounders looked every bit like a team that had played another road game midweek. It was one-way traffic toward the Seattle goal.
“We had all the time and space,” said midfielder Kevin Burns. “I think they were just dead. They looked like they didn’t want any part of it anymore.”
“They were just trying to get out with a point,” said Marshall. “I’m sure they had some tired legs.”
Rogers, for one, wanted to no part of a Sounders pity party.
“I am not going to let them use that excuse against us,” he said. “We’ve had tons of games back to back before, so if they try to use it, I’m not going to let them. I really felt like we killed them in the second half, and even at the end of the first half. We had quite a few chances.”
The Crew sliced, they diced, and they… didn’t score another goal. A second goal seemed inevitable, but alas, it was not to be. The Crew had to settle for the draw and the Sounders escaped with a point.
“There were plenty of opportunities,” said Renteria. “Probably the most I have seen since the beginning of the season. There were a lot of opportunities on goal. It would have been nice to get another goal and to get the three points.”
Despite the disappointment, the Crew can take solace in that they have come back to earn a point in each of the two games this season in which they have trailed at the half.
“An early goal can be devastating, but I was proud of our response,” said Hesmer. “We controlled the game for the most part, and were really unfortunate to only walk away with one goal.”
“We want to win every game at home,” said Rogers. “Every game. But I am very happy with how we played tonight, so I am not going to complain.”
Given the epidemic of broken legs and ankles that has swept MLS in the last few weeks, one couldn’t help but hold one’s breath when Kevin Burns found himself on the receiving end of a 71st minute tackle that caught him just below the knee. As Burns slid to win a ball, Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso came in over the ball and spiked Burns.
The Crew midfielder received treatment on the field for about two minutes before walking off the field under his own power. Coach Warzycha sent Emmanuel Ekpo into the match in place of Burns, who suffered a contusion that produced an egg-sized knot on his shin.
“I went for the ball and then he went over the ball,” said Burns. “I won the ball and then his studs came in just below the knee. It went numb for a few minutes, and by the time I was ready to go, they were making the sub. It was a smart move by Bobby because it still probably would have taken me another six minutes to run it off.”
Given that Marshall rarely gets a penalty call when he’s victimized by professional wresting takedown maneuvers, Columbus Dispatch beat writer Shawn Mitchell pursued a logical line of questioning in light of Marshall getting the call on a foul that wasn’t as preposterously blatant as the ones that are often overlooked. Here’s a transcript of the amusingly deadpan exchange.
SHAWN: “Chad, if you took all of the times that you have been pulled down in the box, what percentile would you put that in, in terms of degree of—“
CHAD: “—I don’t know, Shawn. That’s a tough question. I’m too tired to try and figure that one out.”
SHAWN: “Is it one of the less….what’s the word I’m looking for here?”
ME & MERZ (simultaneously channeling our inner Jackie Chiles): “Egregious.”
Chad pauses to process.
MERZ: “Come on. You went to Stanford.”
CHAD: “Just for a couple of quarters. I didn’t like what I saw.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: SCORELESS HALF EDITION
The Crew already set the MLS record for consecutive 0-0 halftime scores to start the season, with five. That streak ended when Toronto scored late in the first half a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, the Crew continue to hold up their end of the bargain. They have yet to score a goal in the first half of any of their 10 competitive matches thus far in 2011. This includes all eight league matches, which has to be getting close to some sort of record, right?
I decided to check with the ever-helpful Rick Lawes over at MLS headquarters. After some database querying, Lawes revealed that the Crew are within one game of the MLS record for scoreless first halves to start a season. The Houston Dynamo set the record of nine back in 2007.
As for the overall MLS record, the Crew are barely halfway there. The New England Revolution once went 15 games in a row without scoring in the first half.
Crew head coach Robert Warzycha views the streak as an oddity that isn’t ideal, but also isn’t crippling when looking at the bigger picture.
“I think the most important thing is the result,” Warzycha said. “At the end of the day, you play for 90 minutes. Obviously, we would like to score first, but whether it is the first half or the second half, the result is after 90 minutes.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: COULD BE WORSE EDITION
The Crew’s winless streak against the Sounders is officially the longest winless streak to start a head-to-head series in Crew history. But that’s only because the Crew’s shootout win over the Colorado Rapids in the 1997 season opener is officially considered a “win.” If we treat shootouts as the draws they really were when the sport of actual soccer was being played, the Crew started 0-6-3 against the Rapids.
And just as a fun reminder, Toronto has yet to beat the Crew in 12 all-time matchups. Even with this 5-game (6-game in all competitions) slump against the Sounders, Columbus is still reporting a hefty profit on the current futility ledger.
MR. NUMBERS NERD: PASSING EDITION
Opta Sports, the stat tracking service that MLS hired this year, keeps track of the game at such a granular level that you’d swear it was baseball. I had some fun looking over some of the passing statistics from Saturday’s game. Here are some passing-related factoids:
* The Crew attempted 420 passes, and succeeded on 76.7 percent of them. By contrast, Seattle attempted 312 passes and completed 63.1 percent of them. Whether those numbers are the chicken or the egg, it’s no surprise that the Crew had a 57-43 percent advantage in possession.
* The following Crew players completed at least 80 percent of their passes: Ekpo (89.5), Burns (83.7), Rusmir (81.1), Gaven (80.8), and Mendoza (80.0). No Crew field player completed less than 70 percent of his passes.
For comparison, not a single Sounder completed 80 percent of his passes, and eight Sounders completed less than 70 percent. Leo Gonzalez was particularly awful, completing just 34.8 percent of his 23 passes. That’s Brady Quinn territory right there.
* The Crew’s most common passing sequence was Miranda to Gaven. The Crew’s right back completed 17 passes to the Crew’s right winger. For context, Miranda’s second favorite target was Renteria, who received five passes from the Chilean. The only other player-to-payer sequence in double digits was Robbie Rogers completing 10 passes to left back Rich Balchan.
* Only one Crew player completed a pass to every single player on the field, and it may not be who you’d think. Two players, Gaven and Julius James, came within a completed pass to substitute forward Andres Mendoza of filling up their pass card.
Alas, the only guy who pulled it off was Balchan. Here are his completed passes by recipient: Rogers 8, Burns 6, Ekpo 6, Duka 3, Renteria 3, Rusmir 2, Hesmer 2, James 1, Miranda 1, Marshall 1, Gaven 1, Mendoza 1.
MR. NUMBERS NERD: MISCELLANEOUS EDITION
More Opta statistical tidbits from Saturday’s game:
* Eddie Gaven led the Crew with 91 touches, followed by Miranda with 82 and Balchan with 80. It makes sense that the outside backs will get a lot of touches if you play on the ground, as they are the starting point out of the back, plus they have interplay with the wingers. But on the offensive end, Gaven was by far and away the focal point with his 91 touches. Excluding the back four, Rogers was next with 59 touches.
* The center back pairing each brought something different to the table. Julius James was credited with 7 tackles and 1 interception. Conversely, Chad Marshall was credited with 6 interceptions and no tackles. It seems that players don’t even try to beat Chad Marshall; they try to pass around him. And that rarely works either.
* Opta keeps track of “duels,” which occur when two players challenge for a loose ball. Each duel results in a winner and a loser. Marshall (71.4 percent) and James (66.7 percent) won the vast majority of their duels in the middle of the defense. Gaven (64.3 percent) and Rogers (57.1 percent) also won their duels out on the wings. The center of the midfield, however, struggled, winning just 9 of 28 duels, for a 32.1 percent success rate. Burns won 44.4 percent, Rusmir won 33.3 percent, and the normally pesky Duka won just 14.3 percent.
MR. NUMBERS NERD: CHAD MARSHALL EDITION
To the naked eye, Chad Marshall has been playing better than ever. Looking through the Crew’s games on Opta, I computed some of Marshall’s season totals through eight games.
Duels won: 80.8 percent
Aerial duels won: 73.7 percent
Passing accuracy: 86.9 percent
Fouls committed: 4
Fouls suffered: 9
One other fun note: In the Crew’s 1-1 draw at Toronto on April 23, Marshall won 100 percent of his duels and completed 100 percent of his passes. The only way he could have improved upon such perfection would be if he had headed home a goal or assisted on a William Hesmer tally.
BAD WITH NAMES
Before Danny O’Rourke left the locker room for the evening, he called out to Tucker Walther, the Crew’s director of team operations. Except he nearly addressed Tucker by the wrong name.
“I almost called you Duncan,” O’Rourke confessed. “How awful is that? What an insult. I apologize.”
Tucker brushed aside being compared to the Crew’s affable Kiwi, Duncan Oughton.
“At least you didn’t call me Rusty,” he replied. “I would’ve been (bleepin’ ticked).”
Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel was in the vicinity, but evidently didn’t hear the comment. Or he chose to ignore it. Wait, Rusty wouldn’t ignore something like that, so he must not have heard it.
The Crew’s most vocal Los Angeles Lakers fan, Robbie Rogers, was in no mood to talk hoops on Saturday night. His beloved basketball team was behind three games to none in their second round playoff series, all but snuffing out a potential three-peat.
“Gosh, don’t even bring it up,” Rogers said. “They are so bad. I am not even going to watch basketball anymore. I hope they get swept now, just to get it over with. It’s a bummer.”
From Robbie’s lips to the Lakers’ ears. The two-time defending champs went out like chumps a day later, quitting LeBron-style and losing by 36 as the Dallas Mavericks completed the sweep with a 122-86 laugher.
With no NBA title to celebrate this year, Rogers identified the perfect coping mechanism.
“It’s time to win another championship in MLS with the Crew.”
Questions? Comments? Pondering how many doubleheaders the Crew would have to play this year if soccer had rainouts like baseball? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @stevesirk