So, Mr. Warzycha, how was the birthday party?
I’m glad it’s over.”
Oh. One of those. On the night that Crew Stadium turned 11 years old, it took 15,000 sighs of relief to blow out the candles as the Crew eked out a last-minute 1-0 victory over those would-be party poopers from Chivas USA. The Goats played keep away for most of the second half, but Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s 90th minute penalty kick conversion sent the home fans home relieved.
It was unusual to see a road team monopolize the ball in such a fashion at Crew Stadium. Columbus struggled to gain possession for most of the second half, and when they did get the ball, it seemed to be for the express purpose of turning it over.
It was a tough second half for us,” said Warzycha. “That was the best team that we played so far this year. There’s no doubt. They knocked the ball around and they are very organized.”
But like all good teams do, the Crew survived the onslaught on an off night. Goalkeeper William Hesmer commanded his area and left back Gino Padula made a pair of heroic goal line clearances to keep the clean sheet. With the goose egg, all things are possible. All it takes is one moment of brilliance to win the game.
Or one foul, a dangerous set piece, another foul in the box, and then a successful penalty kick.
THE WINNING SEQUENCE
In a rare second half foray into the Chivas end, Adam Moffat won the ball back for Columbus in the 88th minute with a nice recovery run. He poked the ball to Brian Carroll, who played the ball forward on the right side to substitute Emmanuel Ekpo. The Nigerian attacked the space he was given and was slightly slowed down when Jesus Padilla tugged his jersey from behind. The referee originally played advantage, but when none materialized, he awarded a free kick to the Crew, about 35 yards from the goal.
For the second time in as many weeks, Schelotto delivered an excellent ball in the closing minutes when two additional standings points were at stake. His free kick found the head of his favorite target, Chad Marshall, who was horse collared to the ground by Justin Braun. It was the type of penalty that makes the referee’s job easy.
In the 90th minute, Schelotto stepped up to the spot and drilled a shot just to the right of center. The ball nicked Zach Thornton’s glove, but was much too hot to handle. The Crew had their second last-minute victory in as many weeks.
At the end, we had a chance,” said Warzycha. “It didn’t come from the run of play, but everyone knows that we are very good at set pieces. Chad did a very good job of going for the ball, and it was a good ball from Guillermo. The defender didn’t have anything to do other than to grab him for a penalty.”
Meanwhile, Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez couldn’t hide his frustration. His team conducted one-way traffic for most of the second half, outshooting Columbus 10-4 during that time, yet came away with nothing.
I’m very angry,” Vasquez said. “I’m very disappointed. First of all, the foul that the referee gave leading to the free kick, and then for poor defending and lazy defending on the free kick. I have my doubts about the foul that led to that play, and that’s the empty feeling that it leaves you. We had chances. We played well against a very good team, yet we go home empty handed. It’s a very disappointing feeling.”
Schelotto spoke of the ending sequence, and as always, I will publish his comments in their original awesome Guille-speak.
In the second half, it was very hard for us to get the ball for our team in the Chivas box,” he said. “But we are very smart and work very hard on the set piece. We find the goal on set piece.”
After the set piece produced the penalty, Schelotto’s spot kick barely eluded the mountainous Thornton. Figuring that Thornton was instructed to hold his ground based on Guille’s history of shooting up the middle, Schelotto said he placed the shot where he wanted to.
I understand the situation because other players went to Thornton and say something, ‘Stay quiet, he will hit the ball hard about here.’ I thought for that, I choose a little more my right, his left.”
MARSHALL GETTING CALLS
It has been well known in MLS circles that you have two options when trying to defend a Crew set piece:
1. Ride Chad Marshall like a bronco, lasso him to the turf, or commit some other ridiculous rodeo act.
2. Watch Chad Marshall score on you.
Most teams routinely choose the first option, which is great for them as long as they can get away with it. In 2010, it appears that those days may finally be over. Saturday’s penalty was the second penalty awarded this season for a blatant takedown of Marshall on a set piece.
It’s good to see that the referees are cracking down on that,” said Crew captain Frankie Hejduk. “It’s been an issue in the past, so it’s good to see that the referees are watching the games and saying, ‘Wow, this guy is getting mangled on set plays.’ Now that they see that, teams aren’t going to be able to do that anymore. They’ll have to find some other way to mark him.”
We were laughing that he’s got two (calls) this year, so maybe they are making up for past seasons,” said Adam Moffat. “But it’s fair. He was going up for a free header, and when he gets a free header, he’s probably going to score. There haven’t been enough of those calls over the past few seasons, but it’s fair and well deserved.”
After a career of serving as roughed-up rodeo fodder on set pieces, Marshall is happy to see the tide turning at last.
I was joking earlier that it’s only taken me seven years to get those calls,” he said. “It feels good, though. I know the coaching staff has talked to officials about what happens on corners, so it’s nice to finally get those calls.”
PIRATE PADULA ROBS TWO GOALS
Gino Padula, the Crew’s swashbuckling left back, robbed Chivas with a pair of goal line clearances in the 58th and 59th minutes. On the first, he booted away a Jonathan Bornstein shot. On the second, he headed away a Blair Gavin chance. On a day where Hesmer was sharp in the net, it was nevertheless Padula who stole the show with his pair of dramatic saves.
Awesome, man,” said Hejduk. “He saved us twice. Good one on him. He got in good positions and had some great reactions. You need a guy like that to do things like that sometimes. Hats off to him.”
When asked if Hesmer owed him dinner, Padula laughed and said, “I dunno. Two-hundred dollars, maybe.”
Hmm. Going for the gold. Maybe he really IS a pirate!
The second half featured three notable altercations. The first came in the 57th minute, and it was some Crew-on-Crew crime. As goalkeeper William Hesmer went up to grab a ball, he was yanked to the ground by teammate Eric Brunner. Hesmer managed to hold on to the ball despite the miscommunication, but the two had a mutually demonstrative shouting match before going their separate ways.
It’s just something that happens,” said Hesmer. “I was upset because my teammate pulled me down, and he was upset because I didn't call for the ball. Those things happen and it really wasn't a big deal at all, even at the time. People seem to be curious about it, but much worse things happen in practice. It’s just part of the game.”
In the 79th minute, Schelotto found himself in the middle of a scuffle with a few angry opponents. This is not unusual because Schelotto can certainly be an irritant. However, in this case, the Goats had every right to be angry. While jockeying for position in the box, Schelotto got his arm up and elbowed Michael Umana in the head. After reviewing video of the incident, the league has suspended Schelotto for Thursday’s nationally televised match at New York.
And then in the 86th minute, as the Crew set up for a corner kick, Adam Moffat and Chivas goalkeeper Zach Thornton got into a little scuffle. Moffat had earlier irritated Thornton by buzzing around him inside the six-yard box on a previous corner, which had earned Moffat a talking to from the referee. So this time around, Moffat was the perfectly annoying gentleman, politely holding his hands behind his back while standing directly in front of Thornton on the goal line.
I was just standing my ground,” Moffat said. “I wasn’t moving around or blocking him or anything, and he got upset. The ref called me for a foul even though I did nothing.”
As the ball swerved toward his head, Moffat received more than just a foul call.
He got me in the nose with a punch,” Moffat recalled with a good-natured grin. “Then he said, ‘You (bleep).’ I was at the zoo the other day and saw a rhino that reminded me of him. He’s a big guy. You never want to mess with a rhino.”
ROGERS ROCKS THE HEAD BANDAGE
Robbie Rogers played most of the game wearing the Mario Gori Memorial Civil War Head Bandage after knocking noggins with Michael Lahoud in the 6th minute. Rogers’ right eye hit the back of Lahoud’s head, opening up a wound that needed two stitches.
Rogers found the Mario Gori Memorial Civil War Head Bandage to be more irksome than the eye gash itself.
That was annoying,” he said. “It was over this ear over here, but not this ear, and it was just really annoying. It’s part of the game I guess.”
FOLLOW-UP FISH STORY WITH JASON GAREY
In last week’s Notebook, I told the tale of my co-worker, whom I had dubbed the Catfish Ninja because he caught a catfish without a net and then winged the fish into the boat in such a manner that he speared the catfish’s poisonous dorsal spine directly into his buddy’s knee, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. Upon hearing this ridiculous tale, Crew angling expert Jason Garey had a hearty laugh at their expense.
On Saturday, Garey approached me with a goofy smile on his face. He said he had a fishing story for me.
I was crappie fishing up at Hoover Reservoir on Thursday when this big sucker hit,” he said. “It took me about fifteen minutes to get him to the boat with the small pole I was using because I loosened the drag to let him wear himself out so he wouldn't break the line.”
And what was on the line? An enormous catfish, of course.
I was crappie fishing, so I didn't have a net,” Garey said, recognizing that he was in the same predicament that my co-worker and his ill-fated buddy were in the week before. “As soon as I got him near the boat, I thought about your buddy’s story, and how I better not get stung or you’ll never let me live it down. The catfish weighed about 15 pounds, so I couldn't simply swing it into the boat because the line would have snapped.”
Without a net and without a sturdy enough line or pole, Garey had to dig deep into his bag of Louisiana fishin’ tricks.
I had to get a little country on this catfish,” he said. “There is a fishing method called noodling, where people get in the water and stick their hands into old trees and holes under the water looking for catfish. When the catfish see their fingers they clamp on and the fisherman then pulls them up out of the water using just their hands. I've never been noodling, but I've heard about it, so the only way for me to get this giant catfish into the boat was to stick my hand in his mouth and lift him into the boat. I did this with some trepidation, but I successfully wrestled the cat over the side of my canoe.”
Rather than a trip to the emergency room, this story concludes with a happy ending. Well, except for the catfish.
Said Garey, “He is currently marinating in some lemon, butter, and cajun spices in my fridge!”
MOFFAT AND THE CAVALIERS
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ shocking playoff exit, which may also pave the way for LeBron James’ defection from Northeast Ohio, has cast a pall over all Cleveland sports fans. Even the ones from Scotland.
Scotland…Cleveland…the last four letters are the same,” said Adam Moffat, the Crew’s resident Cavs fan.
Moffat could not believe how the Cavaliers went out with such a whimper, sleepwalking through a 32-point loss at home in game five and through large parts of game six. “They just gave up,” he said. “It’s disappointing. I didn’t even want to watch.”
Not only does Moffat have to endure ribbing from his Laker-loving in-laws, but he is also convinced that LeBron will be leaving the Cavaliers for the Chicago Bulls, even if such a betrayal wouldn’t be right.
He needs to win one for Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, first,” Moffat said. “He’s from here. If he wins one championship in Cleveland, I’ll let him go. I’ll call him myself and tell him he can go wherever. He can go to Europe if he wants. But to win one in Cleveland would be nice. He needs to do that first.”
Speaking of the Cavaliers, their epic roll over and die routine reinforced just how lucky we are to have this current group Columbus. Not only has this core group of Crew players brought home an MLS Cup title, but they have regularly shown the heart and resiliency of a champion. Even when things aren’t going their way, they are capable of sticking with it and making the crucial play when the result hangs in the balance. They are true fighters, rather than only-when-it’s-easy bullies. They are the anti-Cavs.
We haven’t played our best all season, yet we’re sitting on 14 points after six games,” said Moffat. “The good thing about this team is that we battle and get it in the end.”
Hejduk noted that while not every game has been a work of art, the Crew are the only team in the Eastern Conference with a positive goal differential. With ten goals scored and just five allowed, the Crew are at a tidy +5 after just six games.
People can be like, ‘Oh, they’re not getting goals’ and it’s like, ‘What do you mean? We are the best team in the east goal-differential-wise,’” Hejduk said. “That’s all you can say. We haven’t played great every single day, but we’re winning, we’re getting points, we’re scoring goals, and we’re not conceding that many. You can’t ask for more. We’re undefeated.”
Pride in their work, stubborn persistence in the face of adversity, and gut-check victories. We are all witnesses.
TUCKER’S LUCKY PEN
In an odd coincidence, after I had been thinking about how the Crew doesn’t mail it in like the Cavaliers, Crew director of team operations Tucker Walther insisted that the Crew’s string of last-minute victories is due to his lucky red Pak Mail pen.
It’s the red death pen,” he declared while triumphantly holding the pen in my face.
When I attempted to ascertain the origin of the pen’s magical powers, Tucker shot me down.
I don’t answer questions for the pen,” he said. “The pen speaks for itself. If you have a question, ask the pen.”
As hard as it may seem to believe, even I have my limits.
In the pre-game tunnel, Scott DeBolt, the Crew’s Vice President of Operations, was a sight to behold. He had two walkie-talkies and a cell phone clipped to his belt, a water bottle sticking out of his side pocket, a manila folder tucked into the rear of his pants, and a radio earpiece jammed into his ear.
He looks like a football coach,” said Derrick Smith of Radio U. “He just needs to jam the folder down the front of his pants instead of the back.”
When DeBolt wandered our way, I told him he looked like he was prepared for anything. He disagreed, saying, “If it rains, I’m still gonna get wet.”
True. I didn’t see an umbrella jammed into a sword sheath hanging from his belt. Maybe next game.
With Andy Gruenebaum set to come off of the injured reserve list, Crew backup goalkeeper Kenny Schoeni retired following Saturday’s game. A Massive Champion who spent parts of four seasons with the Crew, Schoeni has accepted a position with small investment banking firm in New York.
At 26, I was at a crossroads in my career,” he said. “I have some friends in the industry that were able to point me toward a great opportunity, and taking this opportunity at 26 is maybe ground I couldn’t make up if I played into my thirties and made the transition then.”
The perpetually smiling Schoeni expressed no regrets about his soccer career. “It’s been great to be a part of this team,” he said. “I’ll have a lot of memories of my time here with all of these guys and I am going to miss everybody.”
Likewise, Schoeni will be missed by those who worked closely with him.
He has helped us a lot in training every day,” said Crew goalkeeper coach Vadim Kirilov. “He pushed our goalkeepers to be better. This is not the highest paying league in the world, so you understand why he makes this move for his family, but it’s tough. It’s tough when you work closely with a guy for almost 300 days a year, and now he is leaving for a different direction. We’ll miss him, we respect his decision, and we all wish him good luck.”
Starting goalkeeper William Hesmer agreed with Kirilov, adding that the well-educated Schoeni (with an undergrad degree in neuroscience and a graduate degree in social ecology) exemplifies the rank and file players at the heart of MLS.
We have some very smart people in this league who are capable of making a lot more money outside of soccer than they do in it, and Kenny is an example of that,” Hesmer said. “We play soccer because we love it, and we want to be a part of soccer's growth in this country. Kenny made the decision that was best for him and his family, and I highly respect that. I am bummed to see him go, but I completely understand why he is doing it. He was a great teammate and someone who worked his tail off every day in training to make sure he was improving and our guys were getting better. On top of that, he's just a tremendous human being. I am going to miss having him around.”
I remember being so happy last year when Schoeni got a start in the season finale for his first and only game action with the Crew. Goalkeeper is a very unforgiving position. If you’re not the top dog, minutes can be almost impossible to come by. So for all his hard work behind the scenes, I was happy he got an official game. He may be leaving the sport he loves, but he is a Massive Champion and his name is in the record book forever. Nobody can ever take either of those accomplishments away from him.
With the dawn of his new career, soccer will go from Schoeni’s profession to his hobby. Should New York rec leaguers be on the lookout for a tall guy who is always smiling?
Maybe in the field,” said Schoeni. “There’s no way I’m playing goalkeeper in an adult rec league. I’m not that crazy.”
Questions? Comments? Need more comforting Crew-over-Cavs comparisons? 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.
So, Mr. Warzycha, how was the birthday party?