Sirk's Notebook: Chad is a Mean Guy
The Columbus Crew are doing it right, but wrong. The old soccer maxim is to tie away and win at home. Had the Crew followed that blueprint, they’d have nine points on the season. They are currently sitting at eight points, which is just one point off from the unrealistically ideal blueprint. The thing is, they’ve gone about it backwards. Columbus has played two home games and has two wins on the season, but those two data points make a Venn diagram that does not overlap. Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union left the Crew winless (0-0-2) in a pair of home games, but 2-1-0 in the road.
Crew head coach Robert Warzycha was keenly aware of this bizarre reversal when he addressed his team after a lackluster first half that saw the Crew fall behind 1-0.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘We’re playing very tough road games and we won because we did something well,’ I said, ‘Why don’t we do something well here at home where it’s much easier to play? It’s much easier to play in front of your fans.’”
The Crew did rally for a draw courtesy of a Dominic Oduro strike, but one can’t help but feel that the two home results have been a missed opportunity for the Crew to get well ahead of the curve. Their record is in solid shape overall, but they’ve just gone about it backwards. On the unexpected bright side, road trips to Montreal and Chicago loom before the next home game.
To a man, the Crew’s players expressed disappointment in a disjointed first half that saw Philadelphia launch jailbreak after jailbreak toward the Crew’s goal, finally resulting in a 34th minute Jack McInerney tally on a three-on-the-goalie breakaway. Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum successfully stopped a similar three-on-the-goalie jailbreak in the season opener against Chivas USA, but he had no prayer this time.
“I think it starts with our midfield,” Gruenebaum said. “We got stretched a little bit and didn’t win enough battles there, and from that point, we were stretched and allowed too many through balls.”
Midfielders Edie Gaven and Danny O’Rourke agreed with their goalkeeper’s assessment.
“I think we were making it tough for ourselves,” said Gaven. “We were losing some balls in some very bad areas and when we did that they were kind of all over us at that point. They probably could have scored three or four goals if they had a little bit better finishing.”
“Sometimes it’s good to start the game a little more direct,” O’Rourke said. “We have before. We did against DC. We got caught in possession a couple of times and that’s when they countered on us. We always like to get our outside backs forward, but in doing that, we can’t lose the ball or we’ll get countered. That’s what happened on the goal and a few other chances.”
For the players, the slow start was a head-scratcher.
“I don’t know what it is in terms of why we came out flat,” said Gruenebaum. “I really don’t. Throughout the week, I thought it was just a normal week, I didn’t sense anything off or anything like that. I don’t want to sit here and make an excuse either way. This is on us. We have to come out and have more energy and be the more dominant team at home. I feel like we let when slip away a few weeks ago against San Jose, so it’s another tough result to get another tie. We need to do better.”
“There’s no excuse to come out like that,” added right back Josh Williams. “It’s inexcusable.”
After a strong performance two weeks ago in Washington, Dominic Oduro remained in the starting lineup despite Jairo Arietta’s return from national team duty. Oduro rewarded Warzycha’s faith by knotting the game with a blistering near post strike in the 72nd minute.
The play started out innocuously enough. Danny O’Rourke won the ball amongst some blue shirts along the right sideline, about 35 yards from goal. After an uncharacteristic dribbling burst, O’Rourke split two defenders with a pass to Eddie Gaven, who picked up his head and then rolled the ball into the box toward the path of a streaking Oduro. From a tight angle, the Ghanian then crushed the ball just inside the near post and into the roof of the net.
“I was just trying to get it on frame,” Oduro said. “From that angle, it’s really tough. I was trying to get it on target and I think I hit a good ball. It was a good goal for me, and I think we needed that.”
“Danny played me a really good ball,” said Gaven, “and I just took a touch and I saw Dom make a really good run to the right side of the box. I just played it to him and he did all the rest. Great shot by him; great goal. It was nice to get one.”
O’Rourke is infamous for never having scored a goal in his career, so it was fun to see him provide a rare offensive jolt, even if he was unjustly denied an assist on the play.
“I mean, that’s what Danny’s known for,” said a smiling Josh Williams. “That’s why he’s in there, right?”
I noted that O’Rourke was where Williams normally would be during one of his offensive forays. It seems that Danny O wanted to show Josh how it was done.
“He just kind of cut in front of me there and butted me out of the way,” Williams joked. “But no, it’s good for Danny. He’s known as a destroyer and as someone who can break up the play and switch the ball when asked, but for him to hustle like that, that’s part of his game too. He never gave up on the play and that sparked us. We saw him create that, get it to Eddie, and then Dom just smashed it. It was a great finish.”
DOM WARMING TO COLUMBUS
After Oduro scored his goal, he raced to the front of the Nordecke and stood atop the signboards while revving up the crowd.
“I was excited,” he said. “It was beautiful. Those fans are amazing. They were chanting the whole time and I just wanted them to know that this our house. I was telling them that this is our house and we have to believe that and win our home games as much as possible.”
Oduro has not been shy about interacting with Crew fans. He frequently converses with them on Twitter and even went out to a U.S. National Team watch party. He’s working hard to make Columbus feel like home.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m trying to blend in. I’m getting out there and seeing what Columbus is like. I still haven’t straightened everything out in terms of where to go to have fun on a day off, but so far, the fans have been amazing to me. Whenever they see me outside, they try to make me feel welcome, which as a player is really good for me.”
WILLIAMS AND THE CROSSBAR RENEW ACQUAINTANCES
The Crew almost took the lead in the 82nd minute when Oduro’s flick header found Josh Williams. The right back had to play the ball off a big bounce, and his looping header came down on the crossbar.
“I didn’t think it was going in,” Williams said. “I knew I got too much of it. That was kind of what I wanted because I saw the bounce and I saw him coming out, so I knew I needed to get it over him, but it skipped a little higher than I thought it would and I had to reach for it at the end.”
Gruenebaum made some crucial saves down the stretch to preserve the draw. There was an acrobatic fingertip deflection of an Antione Hoppenot blast, the gut-catch of a Jack MacInerney attempt, and then a tricky save on a Keon Daniel free kick in the 94th minute. Although the shot was from a tight angle, Daniel slipped a shot under the Crew’s two-man wall, trying to sneak it inside the near post. Gruenebaum safely scooped it away from the goal line.
“I saw it under the wall the whole way, so I wasn’t screened or anything,” Gruenebaum said. “My body was behind the goal line, but I was able to just push it out well before it got to the goal. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but you just have to make do.”
CHAD’s 20,000 MINUTES (GIVE OR TAKE A COUPLE OF ZEROS)
In the 59th minute, Chad Marshall became the first Crew player to reach the 20,000-minute mark in regular season play. Marshall is now only the fourth player in MLS history to surpass 20,000 minutes while playing for just one team, joining Cobi Jones (Los Angeles), C.J. Brown (Chicago), and Logan Pause (Chicago) in that exclusive club.
“We’ve got a couple guys that when we talk about the core, when we talk about reliability and the rocks, Chad is a staple in this organization,” said Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers. “To reach 20,000 minutes is remarkable. The emotion that I feel is pride. I’m proud of him and I’m proud to have him as part of this club. He means a lot to us.”
Marshall took a different view.
“It feels like I’m getting old,” he said. “These records and stuff only come to old people. It means a lot. I’ve been here a long time, since I was a teenager, so it’s cool to get these accolades.”
Gruenebaum wanted to set the record straight.
“I think that’s awesome and he deserves to be recognized for that,” Gruenebaum said. “It’s hard to play that many minutes for anybody, especially with one team. It’s a great milestone for him. Rightfully so. He said it just means he’s old, but I’m the oldest guy on the team, so as long as he knows that.”
“Yeah, he’s real old,” Marshall agreed. “The guy’s got fake hips already.”
When the Crew announced the milestone over the PA system, the crowd treated Marshall to a lengthy ovation.
“That was cool,” Marshall said. “The ball was in my area. It would have been nice to give the fans a little wave, but I didn’t think it was appropriate at the time. “
After the game, as Marshall and Williams received treatment in the trainer’s room, Mr. Milestone received an over-congratulatory text.
“Chad actually got a text from his uncle congratulating him on playing 20 million minutes,” Williams said with a laugh. “He was really serious. It was like, ‘Congratulations on your 20 millionth minute with the Crew.’”
“Yeah, that was my uncle,” Marshall said. “He said congrats on 20 million minutes and I think he said it all serious. We worked it out where I played something like more than 222,000 games over 6,000 years for the Crew.”
They don’t let just anybody into Stanford. Marshall nailed it. Playing every minute of every game, the fastest a player could hit 20 million minutes would be in the 20th minute of his 222,223rd game, which would be in his 6,546th season.
“20 million minutes is pretty impressive,” Williams said. “I’m pretty sure that’s something that will never be beaten. Maybe Eddie (Gaven.) Eddie’s probably around 18 or 19 million right now.”
ODURO’S BONUS WIN BONUS
Dominic Oduro has not only been endearing himself to Crew fans, but also Crew sponsors. Oduro is an indefatigable advocate for Papa John’s pizza. Eating Papa John’s seems to make Oduro fast, whereas eating as much pizza as he does would make most people drop the “s” in “fast.”
“I guess Papa John’s gives you wings,” Oduro said with a smile.
Anyway, MLS teams receive a $4,500 win bonus for each victory, which is then divided amongst the players. As if that isn’t enough of an incentive, Papa John’s also offers a 25% discount the day after a Crew victory. For Oduro, that’s a bonus win bonus.
“It’s extra motivation,” he chuckled. “Regardless, I would buy Papa John’s no matter what, whether it’s a discount or no discount. But that discount is an incentive for me that’s in the back of my head. I know I’m going to get 25% off if we win, so if I can save a dollar or two, that’s nice.”
RELIVING GBAUM’S SAVE ON DERO
In the previous match, a 2-1 win at D.C. United, Gruenebaum made a save for the ages on United star Dwayne DeRosario. After making one diving stop, Gruenebaum lunged back to stun DeRosario with a two-handed goal line save. I brought it up to Gruenebaum on Saturday mainly because it was my first chance to talk to him since it happened.
“Yeah, it was a good save, and I’m happy to be a part of it,” he said. “But at the same time, you have to forget about it. You have to take the good with the bad. I feel like I made a mistake on the first goal, so I was happy to make that save and preserve a win. But you have to keep an even keel. If you’re asking if I’m over it, yeah, I’m over it.”
I wasn’t really asking if he was over it. I just wanted to talk about it in the manner of those old Chris Farley skits on Saturday Night Live. (“Remember the time you made that crazy save on DeRo in D.C.? That was awesome,,,”) I admitted to watching it over and over because I still couldn’t believe it.
“But if I do that, it’s like reading press,” he said. “If I go out and read every positive article that’s out there, I don’t think that’s healthy. And I don’t think it’s healthy to read negative stuff either. So I just don’t read. I can’t even read.”
CREWBACCA AND COMPANY
Who knew Chewbacca was a Crew fan? Well, “Crewbacca” spent Saturday evening in the Nordecke.
Photo by Sam Fahmi
Not only that, but Darth Vader also made an appearance!
Photo by Sam Fahmi
At first I just assumed that Vader was chasing down the rebel wookie, but based on his post-game actions, it appears that the heavy-breathing villain is also a Crew supporter.
“I actually signed Darth Vader’s helmet,” said Josh Williams. “I signed it in black, so it probably won’t show up too well. I didn’t realize we were going to have a celebrity guest like that. Keep the celebrities coming. That was pretty cool.”
Gruenebaum seemed mildly impressed by the intergalactic visitors from far, far away, but he was more impressed by a mid-week visitor that he missed connections with at Thursday’s Crew Stadium training session.
“Did you know Slash was around?” he said. “I had left, but then Slash came around and played a little guitar in the locker room.”
Did he play Sweet Child O’ Mine?
“No, he kept it really soft, I guess,” Gruenebaum said. “He did some covers. He did ‘Fast Car’ and a Bruno Mars song. Apparently. I’m really upset that I missed it.”
Lest anyone doubt Gruenebaum’s story, Justin Meram tweeted the following photographic proof of Slash’s appearance:
Photo by Justin Meram
I am going to slip something serious in the middle of all the usual Notebook silliness. On Monday, the New England Revolution announced that defender Kevin Alston has been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a rare but treatable form of leukemia. Alston is on an indefinite leave of absence as he undergoes treatment.
If there is any MLS fanbase that understands that some things are bigger than the game of soccer, sadly, it is the Crew’s. Kirk Urso and Connor Senn are never far from our thoughts, and that empathy radiates outward. After the announcement of Alston’s diagnosis, I received an email from Dr. Patrick Ward, an oncologist and long-time Crew fan. He is very passionate about helping and treating those diagnosed with leukemia, so I wanted to pass along part of his email to me while I presumably have your attention.
“I was saddened to hear the news of New England Revolution player Kevin Alston's diagnosis of acute leukemia,” Ward wrote. “He is in Boston, and there is excellent medical care available to him there.
“I wanted to reach out to you to ask, if you are planning to write about him, to get people to go to BeTheMatch.org (or just marrow.org) and encourage them to sign up to be HLA typed & registered as a potential stem cell donor. Unfortunately, minorities such as blacks & Latinos are very under-represented in the national marrow donor registry, so when one of them needs a bone marrow transplant, it is often difficult to find a suitable match. A recent reminder of this problem is the case of former Crew midfielder Andy Williams' wife, Marcia, who had a form of acute leukemia called M6 AML, or erythroleukemia. She needed a transplant and they had a hell of a time finding a match. So if I may implore you to tell folks that if they want to help this kid, go to marrow.org. Get registered. Get tissue-typed and be a donor. It is incredibly easy and painless. It just takes a commitment of time and effort. In so doing, you very well may save a life. I'm sorry if that sounds trite - but it really is true.”
If you have the desire to physically help Kevin Alston or others in the same situation, the information is now there for you thanks to Dr. Ward. And if you want send some moral support Kevin’s way, you may do so by emailing GetWellKevinAlston@gmail.com.
So there’s my sneak-attack public service announcement. Back to the silliness…
After the home opener, I noticed that the 2008 MLS Cup star on Gruenebaum’s locker room nameplate had been covered up with a handmade Star of David. Also, above the Hebrew Hammer’s locker was another sign reading, “Reserve league champs” with another Star of David.
Both photos by Steve Sirk
On Saturday, I asked Gruenebaum what was up.
“This one is for MLS Cup,” he said, pointing to the larger star on his nameplate. “I changed it to the right star. And then this one is back to back reserve league champs. I didn’t put the other star on there because I wasn’t too much a part of the second one. We are back to back reserve league champs and I think that is important.”
I noted that nobody else has stars over their lockers commemorating the Crew’s 2011 and 2012 reserve league titles.
“Nobody else takes pride in it like I do,” he said. “Chad has 20,000 MLS minutes, but I had probably 20,000 reserve league minutes and nobody cared about that either.”
SIKA’S GREEN PANTS
My Slovenian brother, Crew radio broadcaster Neil Sika, caused a stir by wearing green pants to the game on Saturday:
Photo by Steve Sirk
“I took all of that leftover fake grass from the Easter baskets and wove them into these pants,” Sika explained.
The locker room offered some reactions to Sika’s sartorial shocker.
“Wow,” said Josh Williams. “That’s a confident man right there. Good for him. That’s not an easy look to pull off. Fortunately for him, he’s on the radio.”
“He always has some special kind of outfit,” said Gruenebaum. “It’s like he just doesn’t have an identity. You’re either born with it or you’re not, and clearly he’s not. It is what it is. He’s a good looking guy. That’s all I’m going to say. It’s the hair that’s more shocking, actually.”
“I mean, look!” said Duncan Oughton, clearly repulsed by the photo. “Look at it! It’s not St. Patrick’s Day! It’s not Easter! It’s absolutely shocking! I try to dress poorly sometimes, but I think he thought he looked good in that. All I would say is have a word with yourself, Neil. If you are your own dresser, get dressed with the lights on.”
MEDIEVAL TIMES (DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY TRACK)
I was glad to see so many people enjoyed last week’s Medieval Times Notebook. I had been giddy with anticipation since the first few pieces fell into place. As soon as I saw the legendary group photo, I knew I wanted to do something with it, and thankfully the guys were receptive to the idea when I pitched it to them.
The end result was entirely about the players. Starting with Eric Gehrig and Justin Meram, and then going on down the line, the players sat down for lengthy and detailed interviews and provided so many hilarious comments that it was immediately apparent that I should just step aside and let them tell the story in their own words. I had been sitting on some of those interviews for six weeks and the comments were still making me laugh as I prepared the story for launch. Everything that readers laughed at was 100% because of the players.
When I first attempted to talk to Matt Lampson, he told me it would take “at least 45 minutes” and he didn’t have the time. He offered to email me instead. It was well worth the wait. I had already assembled all of the other interviews into a narrative, so I figured I’d just patch in some of Lampson’s comments where appropriate. But when the email arrived, I was blown away. Lampson’s omniscient narration took the whole project from something really funny to something every bit as legendary as the night itself. It tied the whole thing together in a way I never conceived.
So once again, a huge thank you to Eric Gehrig, Justin Meram, Josh Williams, Andy Gruenebaum, Daniel Withrow, Kyle Hyland, Konrad Warzycha, and, of course, the one and only Matt Lampson, for opening up and making that story into something that far exceeded my initial goofy expectations. The credit is all theirs.
RANDOM BANTER: DANNY & CHAD
The following conversation took place after the locker room was all but empty. As I talked with Danny O, Chad Marshall was still at his locker, several feet behind my back. The following ridiculousness ensued once Danny decided to talk about some new footwear. This is merely two close friends turning an interview into an absurd conversation. (Judging by my two hard-hitting questions in this stretch, it’s not like the interview could be truly classified as “derailed.”)
SS: So how about Chad’s 20,000 minutes?
DO: Chad’s my friend! Can you just write that?
SS: Uh, sure.
DO: Chad, I got new boots! What do you think?
CM: Those are pretty fresh!
CM: I can’t pull off boots.
DO: I don’t think I can either. And they hurt my feet, so…
CM: I think you have to get a haircut twice a week to wear boots.
DO: Mitchell does it every six weeks, (expletive!)
CM: Then you should see other people in between.
DO: Oh, hi! My name’s Chad Marshall! I just hit a milestone so now I can say whatever I want!
CM: Yeah, I feel that way.
DO: You really do.
CM: I’ve been around a long time. I feel like I can yell at whoever I want.
DO: You do.
CM: That’s just because I’m mean. But now I have a reason.
DO: Oh yeah? Well I’m not tucking my shirt in! Sue me!
SS: So, um, did you see Darth Vader and Chewbacca were at the game?
DO: Darth Vader asked me to sign his helmet, but then he gave me a black marker. Will (Hesmer) was a big Star Wars fan. I miss Will and Cole (Grossman.) I have no more friends on the team, except for Chad. And he’s being mean to me.
CM: Chad is a mean guy. That’s the title of the next Sirk Notebook. “Chad is a Mean Guy.”
Questions? Comments? Grateful that the mean guy has played 20 million minutes for the Crew? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk