Sirk's Notebook: Crewsmas Edition
Justin Morrow is a nice guy. He grew up in Shaker Heights. He won two state championships on the Crew Stadium field with Cleveland St. Ignatius. He’s a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
That’s all well and good, but now he’s just The Guy Who Ruined Crewsmas.
Morrow’s grinchy left-footed strike in the 73rd minute lifted the San Jose Earthquakes to a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew, spoling the Crew’s home opener, a holiday the fans long ago dubbed “Crewsmas.” All the good little boys and girls of Crewville wanted for Crewsmas was three points, but they had to settle for one point thanks to Morrow. Alas, we can’t always get what we want for Crewsmas.
Crew defender Josh Williams is a longtime friend of Morrow’s. After the game, they had a friendly chat, but as Morrow turned and jogged toward the San Jose locker room, Williams spoke for all of Crewmanity when he chucked a wad of ankle tape in Morrow’s direction and shouted, “Why did you have to bang one in on your hometown team?!?”
CREWSMAS JOY: GLAUBER GOAL
Crewsmas was much more festive when the Crew took a 1-0 lead in the 68th minute on a corner kick goal by Glauber. After Ethan Finlay won a corner kick, Federico Higuain swerved a driven cross that met Glauber’s head on a near-post run. Glauber’s low and powerful header made the net jiggle after it found the only bit of space between San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch and near-post defender Rafael Baca.
Heading into the season, it was obvious that set pieces were going to be a Crew strength. Higuain has too many tall targets at his disposal. Gone are the days when three people could mug Chad Marshall on every set piece. The Crew have two corner kick goals by defenders this year, and neither has come from Marshall. That’s bad news for the rest of MLS.
“Me, Josh, and Chad we talk about going to the correct space,” Glauber said. “One can go first, one can go this way or that way. We talk about searching for the best space. On this one, we do the correct movements and the correct running and I am very happy to score.”
Glauber also gave proper tribute to Higuain’s perfectly driven corner kick.
“He has a great service,” Glauber said. “We need to do the correct movements because the ball is really perfect.”
For Finlay, it was proof that being active on the wings can generate deadly scoring chances even if the defense succeeds at blocking crosses.
“Getting to the byline and whipping in crosses for our attackers or winning corners is really what it’s all about,” he said. “We have a lot of big guys like Chad, Josh, Glauber, and Tyson that can get in there and finish goals for you, like we saw today.”
For Glauber, his first Crew goal was a special moment, but the final score left him wanting more.
“It was great for my first game here to get the first goal,” he said. “The more important thing is to win, but I feel happy when I am helping my team. I hope in the next games I don’t score, but we win. That is more important for me and the Columbus Crew.”
MORROW RUINS CREWSMAS
San Jose left back ruined Crewsmas in the 73rd minute by tying the game with an 18-yard left-footed strike into the far side netting. The goal was the result of mismatched numbers. The Crew were overloaded toward their left side, as both right wing Ethan Finlay and right back Josh Williams were pinched in. When San Jose’s Ramiro Corrales got the ball and saw a wide open Morrow out to San Jose’s left, Williams had to make a split-second decision.
“It was kind of like an in-between play for me,” he explained. “Corrales was the midfielder on my side and he likes to tuck in and then they overlap him. I was caught in between whether to stay back or attack Corrales. Corrales was in the middle of the field and I tried to cut off that angle a fast as I could but I couldn’t get there fast enough.”
Williams actually did get there fast enough, but as he slid to break up the play, Corrales’ pass split Williams’ legs and found Morrow in stride. At that point, Morrow decided to mix it up.
“There was a play earlier where I got open on the left side and I looked up and crossed it,” Morrow said. “This time, I looked up and decided to shoot, which probably threw the goalie off a little bit. It felt good. I knew it had a good chance.”
Morrow’s low drive glanced off of Gruenebaum’s outstretched fingertips and nestled in the side netting, just inside the far post. He hit it precisely where it needed to be in order to find the net.
“It was a hell of shot,” said Williams, who played club ball alongside Morrow with Cleveland Internationals. “Justin’s a really good friend and I have been playing with him for a long time, so it’s good to see him have such a successful career so far. He’s always been such a nice kid. But I don’t want to see him score against us. He can do that stuff to other teams.”
FIRST HALF HAMMER MOMENTS
Gruenebaum had some notable plays in the first half. How about in the 13th minute when reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski unleashed a hard shot from the 18 yard box that Gruenebaum caught cleanly while diving to his right?
“He hit it pretty good,” Gruenebaum said. “He came up to me and said, ‘Man, you made that look so easy.’ I said, ‘Well, it was in my breadbasket. I’d like to think I’d hold on to that more times than not.’ He hit it well, for sure. Especially on his left.”
And then there was the Hebrew Hammer’s adventurous foray in the 30th minute. After San Jose dumped a sky-high ball to the right of the Crew’s penalty area, Gruenebaum leaped over San Jose’s Adam Jahn to head the ball out of bounds. The play was offside anyway.
“Actually, I saw out of the corner of my eye and the guys were all yelling offside,” Gruenebaum said. “But I thought I would keep going even though I knew he was going to blow the whistle. I just thought I’d go for a little journey. I knew it would be alright. It was good. I won the header. I still got those jumps, man.”
So by dominating in the air with headers, Gruenebaum is the Chad Marshall of goalkeepers.
“I don’t know about that,” he said.
With wind chills in the 20s and the stadium’s flags blowing full force in opposite directions—on the same flag pole—suffice it to say that it was brutal game for spectators and players alike.
“It was tough,” said Crew defender Chad Marshall. “It’s tough to hit long balls. It was very slow. With the wind it was hard to pick people out. It was freezing so you couldn’t feel your face, hands. Just tough conditions.”
“You couldn’t play a long ball,” agreed Crew winger Ethan Finlay. “We didn’t have many options for that sort of thing. It had to be on the ground, and even when it was on the ground, you couldn’t really strike a ball. The ball was very cold and very hard. And you could see from the wind that Andy’s goal kicks weren’t even getting to the half line. So that was a little frustrating.”
Ben Speas made it clear that going against the chilling wind wasn’t an excuse.
“You’ve just got to deal with it,” he said. “It was the same thing for them in the first half.”
On a frigid, windy evening, goalkeeper is undoubtedly the worst position to play. Without the warming benefit of constant locomotion, it’s hard to keep one’s self from freezing. Or from the aches and pains associated with one’s advancing years.
“Why is it when you’re cold, your hip hurts?” wondered 30-year-old Gruenebaum. “That’s how you know you’re old—when it’s cold out, your hip hurts. So I’m just caning around out there.”
Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch should be used to this sort of weather after five seasons in Columbus and three in Chicago, but now that he’s entering his fourth season in perpetually-pleasant San Jose, Saturday’s wind chills hit him hard.
“I’m turning into a Cali boy,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I’m getting soft. I was good until the last ten minutes, but I prefer 70 degrees every day. It could be worse. It could have been snowing like in New York.”
Busch had an interesting way of keeping himself warm throughout the match. When the ball was at the other end of the field, I noticed Busch jumping around to make pretend saves. He’d go up for a shot or a cross, or reach across his body, or get down low to get his paw on an invisible blast.
“I was trying to keep my footwork and to stay warm,” Busch said when asked about his phantom performance. “I play imaginary soccer. I always win those games, so that’s a good thing.”
“Yeah, Buschy does that,” said Gruenebaum, who was Busch’s Crew teammate in 2006. “He likes to build his confidence. He’s in his own head. Honestly, his fake saves are pretty average. He makes the fake saves look better than they truly are. He’s always trying to win Fake Save of the Week. I’ll do better to beat him out for Fake Save of the Week next time.”
Whether or not Busch wins Fake Save of the Week, his imaginary soccer helped him get through the blustery evening.
“My hips didn’t bother me at all,” said the 36-year-old. “That only happens to old goalkeepers.”
QUICK QUIPS FROM FROZEN FELLAS
“That’s Ohio.” – Ben Speas, on making his second career home start, both of which were played in miserable weather conditions.
“I wasn’t. I didn’t. I was freezing.” – Josh Williams, on how he was keeping himself warm during the match.
Glauber’s go-ahead goal was perfectly timed to make amends for the error that led to Vancouver’s game-winning goal the week before. In British Columbia, Gruenebaum made a poor decision to play a ball to Glauber’s feet in the middle of the field while he was under pressure. Glauber’s first touch failed him, the Whitecaps picked his pocket, and a few seconds later, the Crew fell behind for good. In his postgame comments in Vancouver, Gruenebaum placed the blame for the goal on himself because he put Glauber in a bad spot. This week, Glauber turned the tables and dedicated his goal to his goalkeeper.
“It was not just for me, but for Andy too,” Glauber said. “We do the hurt together, so when I score, I scored it for him. When I make the goal, I look to him and say we scored it together. It is for us.”
Touched by his teammate’s gesture, Gruenebaum asked me to turn my recorder back on so he could say a few words.
“Carlos would not have headed that home,” Gruenebaum said of the Crew’s previous #4, Carlos Mendes, who is Gruenebaum’s good friend and has zero career MLS goals to his name. “Carlos would not have scored that goal. Carlos would have headed that ball out for a goal kick, easy. But we have Glauber now. Glauber scores goals. I’m Team Glauber.”
Gruenebaum then leaned his face into the recorder to quickly deliver a hushed message.
“Carlos, come back to me.”
The Hebrew Hammer’s heart is clearly conflicted.
POSITION OF HONOR: CREW RIGHT BACK
Josh Williams entered the 2013 season at the top of the depth chart at right back. Big deal, right? Actually, yes. Williams is only the fourth player in Crew history to hold the top spot on the depth chart at that position. Obviously more than four people have lined up at right back due to injury (such as Hejduk’s torn ACL), suspension, international duty, or a random tactical choice here and there, but assuming full health and availability, the Crew’s right back history is as follows:
1996-2002: Mike Clark
2003-2010: Frankie Hejduk
2011-2012: Sebastian Miranda
2013-????: Josh Williams
That’s it. Only four men have been top of the ideal depth chart at the position, and Miranda was the first man to hold it for fewer than seven years. And in an unwitting but fitting throwback, Williams wears Clark’s #3 jersey. Williams was incredulous over the fact that he is only the fourth man to be the Crew’s top dog at right back.
“Is that true? That’s unreal,” he said. “That’s unbelievable. This is the 18th year, right? That’s a hell of a stat, man. I know about Mike Clark. I used to follow him and he was a great player. And then Frankie. I came in at the very end of his tenure, but I always like seeing Frankie around. He’s such a good guy. And then Seba had some good years here, so those are good guys to come after. Let’s hope I can keep the legacy going and stick around for a while and be here for as long as they were.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: BUSCH FIT TO BE TIED EDITION
Part way through the game, Peter Hirdt at Elias Sports Bureau tweeted an astonishing fact: Jon Busch had started nine career regular season games against the Columbus Crew, and eight of those games ended in a tie. Saturday’s result officially made it even more preposterous. Busch now is now 1-0-9 with a 1.00 goals against average versus his former team in regular season play. He had a regular season record of 35-24-23 as the Crew’s goalkeeper from 2002-2006.
Busch seemed totally unfazed by the curious statistical oddity of his 1-0-9 record against Columbus. “I had no idea of my record against the Crew,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
I, on the other hand, love paying attention to that stuff, and it blew my mind. Inspired by Hirdt’s tweet, I dug up Busch’s regular season starts against the Crew as a member of the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes:
|July 5, 2008||CLB||2||vs||CHI||2|
|October 12, 2008||CLB||2||at||CHI||2|
|April 25, 2009||CLB||2||vs||CHI||2|
|July 11, 2009||CLB||0||at||CHI||0|
|September 20, 2009||CLB||2||at||CHI||2|
|October 2, 2010||CLB||0||vs||SJ||0|
|May 14, 2011||CLB||0||at||SJ||3|
|July 16, 2011||CLB||0||vs||SJ||0|
|May 19, 2012||CLB||1||at||SJ||1|
|March 16, 2013||CLB||1||vs||SJ||1|
So that’s 0-0-5 with Chicago and 1-0-4 with San Jose. It’s also 0-0-5 at Crew Stadium and 1-0-4 elsewhere.
Again, this is regular season only. On June 10, 2008, Busch was the winning goalkeeper in Peoria, Ill., when the Fire knocked the Crew out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, 3-2, in overtime. (So even that game was tied after 90 minutes!) And then later that year, on November 13, the Crew defeated Busch and the Fire, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference Final.
It’s the Crew’s lone win against Busch in 12 games, spanning all competitions. Talk about picking your spots.
CREW HISTORY: THE RAMIRO CORRALES TRADE
San Jose midfielder Ramiro Corrales is a living piece of history. Of all the players who were a part the inaugural 1996 MLS season, he is the sole on-field survivor. Everyone else has retired and gone on to other pursuits. (Saturday’s well-tenured head coaches, Robert Warzycha and Frank Yallop, were players in 1996.)
Corrales is a living historical artifact not only for Major League Soccer, but also the Columbus Crew. After all, he can also be referred to as The First Bad Soccer Trade in Columbus Crew History.
In February of 1996, the Crew selected 18-year-old Corrales with the 81st overall pick in the inaugural MLS player draft. On March 4 of that year, a month before the first ball was ever kicked, they dealt him to San Jose for a 2nd round supplemental draft pick.
“I remember getting the call that I was drafted by Columbus,” Corrales said on Saturday. “I think I was the youngest guy and I was just happy that I got drafted. Before I even came here—I had the flight and everything ready—Laurie Calloway, the coach in San Jose, called me and said, ‘You’re staying here. We worked out a trade with Columbus. You’re staying home.’ I was happy because I am from the San Jose area.”
The Crew turned that 2nd round supplemental pick into Michael Robles, who never made a single appearance with Columbus. Meanwhile, Corrales made his 298th career MLS appearance with his start on Saturday night. On the surface, that’s a pretty lopsided deal.
Not wishing to bury him on a 17-year-old trade but nonetheless curious as to what went down, I broached the subject with the Crew’s first GM, Jamey Rootes, who is now President of the NFL’s Houston Texans.
“That was a long time ago,” Rootes replied via email, “but I recall we wanted him as a player to develop for the future. I believe there were some significant concerns from his family about location given he was so young and we obliged. I believe that this selection and how we handled it demonstrated both Timo's eye for emerging talent and his compassionate heart.” [Note: Timo Liekoski was the Crew’s first head coach.]
It seems weird to think of an 18-year-old as super young in today’s MLS, but back then, Corrales would have had to move across the country to play in a start-up league for little pay at the age of 18. It was a completely different era, full of uncertainty. Rootes’ recollection matches Corrales’ memory of his family’s wishes.
“Yeah, I think it was a case where I was so young and they wanted to keep me home,” he said. “The league was brand new and I was the youngest one back then. There were not a lot of young kids back then. It was mostly older guys.”
Having won two MLS Cups with his hometown team, Corrales is grateful for how his career has worked out since that benevolently lopsided trade 17 years ago.
“I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “I love San Jose.”
Although he was a Crew draft pick, a trip to Columbus isn’t an MLS homecoming for Corrales, but it is for Jon Busch. The agile and feisty goalkeeper broke into MLS with the Crew and played in Columbus for five seasons from 2002-2006. He played an integral role in the Crew’s first trophy, backstopping Columbus to the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
“I love coming back here,” Busch said. “My wife comes every time we play here. We’ve got friends here and we spent a lot of time here. We come back every winter as well to see everybody. We love coming here and I love playing here. You know it was my first true place to play and I still have a very special place in my heart for it.”
AT THE END OF A LONG DAY’S WORK
This picture of Tucker Walther, the Crew’s director of team operations, makes me laugh. It was taken well after the locker room had emptied out, so the loosened necktie gives it that “end of a long day” vibe. Of course, the tie wasn’t Tucker’s. Ethan Finlay accidentally left his behind, so Tucker threw it over his own neck so that it didn’t get mixed up with all of the team’s laundry.
Photo by Steve Sirk
After more than two hours spent out in the freezing cold, it would be perfectly reasonable for fans and players alike to head for warmer environs the moment that the final whistle blew. Alas, some hardy fans stuck it out in the hopes of getting some autographs. They were rewarded.
Here we see Chad Marshall signing autographs in a conventional manner:
Photo by Steve Sirk
But then Josh Williams took it to the next level. A group of fans wanted a photo, so Josh leaped up onto the railing so that he could pose with them on their level.
Photo by Kevin Zerbey
“I don’t really know those guys,” Williams said afterward. “I just jumped up there spur of the moment. I think it caught them off guard too. It was like, ‘Whoa!’ But I wanted to stick around to say thanks to all of the fans who stuck around and supported us through the cold. It’s the least I could for them.”
Question? Comments? Think a tie makes a better Father’s Day gift than Crewsmas present? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk