Ehh, Lamar Hunt wouldn’t have wanted a flashy high-scoring game on his day anyway. That would have been too over the top. The statue unveiling was more than enough. Accordingly, the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas honored his presumed wishes and played to a humble 0-0 draw on Lamar Hunt Legacy Day.
As Columbus Dispatch beat writer Shawn Mitchell said outside the locker room, and then later wrote on his blog, “If you like fouls, cautions, goal kicks, and midfield 50-50s, then this was the game for you.” A more succinct game summary cannot be found.
The draw left neither team satisfied.
“It is quiet in our locker room,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha. “Dallas is a very good team, and they were very organized in the back, but I think our players know we should always get three points at home.”
Despite setting an MLS record by running their road unbeaten streak to 10 games, Dallas also seemed displeased with the single point.
“There are some guys in the locker room who are not happy with the tie,” said Hoops coach Schellas Hyndman. “I am walking in there happy with a tie because I saw the goal cleared off the line and I saw how much pressure we were under, but that’s the competitive nature of players. It’s very hard to play against the Crew.”
THE NEAR MISSES
For as much as the 0-0 result seemed apropos, the Crew were inches away from winning 3-0. But each time the Crew made the play that seemed to guarantee a tally, the Dallas defense made an equal and opposite reaction play to deny the Crew at the last possible moment. Chad Marshall had a shot blocked inside the six-yard box in the first half, Guillermo Barros Schelotto had a second-half shot cleared off of the goal line by Dallas defender Zach Loyd, and the Hoops’ Heath Pearce made a critical sliding play to thwart what would have been a Jason Garey tap-in.
The Garey play caused the biggest gasp in the stadium as it appeared that the Crew forward flubbed a sitter in the 39th minute. Emilio Renteria did his “bull in a penalty area” routine, blew past his man, and scorched a skipping pass across the goal mouth. Garey waited at the back door, ready to knock it home, but replays showed that at the last possible second, Pearce slid across to make an ever-so-slight deflection on the ball. The result was that instead of dropping to Garey’s eager instep, the ball skipped up, causing Garey to whiff.
“I was ready to just finish it off, but Pearce slid in and slightly deflected it, which made it jump up and go right through my legs,” Garey said. “If he hadn't touched it, I would have finished it easily on the ground. That cross had a lot of heat on it, and he made a good play on the ball. I couldn't react in time to the deflection.”
The best analogy I can think of is when someone smashes a shot in ping-pong, and the ball catches the very back edge of the table. You’ve already committed to your swing, but the ball changes trajectory just enough that it no longer goes where you anticipated, and there’s not enough time to react.
Dante Washington, Bill McDermott and I discussed the play in the tunnel after the game.
“I don’t think people appreciate how impossible that can be, when the ball takes a slight deflection at the last second,” said Washington, the guy with 52 career MLS goals. “It’s the worst feeling because you know you have a goal, and then in a blink, the ball goes right by you. There’s not much you can do when the deflection is that close.”
“With how fast that cross was coming, NOBODY could have finished that play after that deflection,” said McDermott. “Except for me. In 1969.”
Emilio Renteria seemed invincible on Saturday. At times, he resembled NFL Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith. In the open field, defenders bounced off him just as they did Brown. And when Renteria found himself in a crowd of defenders, his legs never stopped churning, as he’d do his best to move the ball and the pile, just like Smith.
“The guy who caused us the most problems was Renteria,” Hyndman said. “He was a handful. He was physical and kept us on our heels. That was one player we weren’t ready for.”
“Emilio’s a good player,” said Warzycha. “I think he created a lot of problems and had a very good game for us.”
Through the translation of assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren, Renteria summed up his play thusly: “I tried to do my best to keep the two central defenders busy. I tried to score, but unfortunately I could not.”
SHEA VS. O’ROURKE
Filling in for suspended right back Frankie Hejduk, Danny O’Rourke found himself doing battle with the Hoops’ large, lanky, and gifted all-star in the making, Brek Shea. But that’s the thing about O’Rourke—you can stick him anywhere and put him in any situation, and he will battle his way through it and get the job done.
Shea was Dallas’ most dangerous player on the afternoon, but he only truly victimized O’Rourke on one occasion. In the 35th minute, he cut to the center and turned O’Rourke inside out. His low shot narrowly missed the near post. Otherwise, O’Rourke’s dogged determination gave Shea plenty to deal with in kind.
“With Frankie out, we knew somebody had to go over there, and we weren’t sure who it was going to be,” said Hyndman. “I think maybe O’Rourke was nervous at first because of Shea’s physical presence, size, athleticism, and speed, but as the game went on, I think Danny did a much better job at handling him.”
“I think Danny got better throughout the game,” agreed Warzycha. “I think he figured out how to play him. Obviously, with the pressure in the second half, Brek had to defend a lot, which helped Danny. I think Danny did very well against him.”
O’Rourke credited his defensive mates for providing him help.
“We knew going in that Shea and Ferreira were the two guys their team ran through, and then Cunningham when he comes on,” O’Rourke explained. “We knew we had to shut them down. Our center backs and defensive midfielders shut Ferreira down in that place where he likes to hold the ball. Shea’s a big guy and he’s physical, so I knew it was going to be a battle all day. Chad did a good job of coming over on headers when they had goal kicks. It was good battle. Shea’s been in form as of late and I knew it was going to be a good challenge.”
The unveiling of the Lamar Hunt statue in Founders Park at the south end of the stadium grounds was a grand success. Surrounded by literal family (sons Clark and Dan, and wife Norma) and his extended Crew family, the bronze likeness of Lamar emerged from the secretive black shrouds and looked over the assembled crowd with his arms folded and his sleeves rolled up—the exact studious-but-involved pose that many folks witnessed during Crew Stadium’s construction.
Plenty of people in Columbus have their own Lamar Hunt story, but I will once again share mine. While I would get the chance to chat with Lamar on several occasions during my first go-round with TheCrew.com, my story predates my involvement with the Crew, when I was just some random guy. In 1997, when Lamar was trying to get his stadium built in Dublin, he held an open house for Dublin residents up at Soccer First. He explained what he was trying to accomplish, outlined the basic framework of his deal with the city, and then took questions from supporters and skeptics alike.
When the meeting officially ended, Lamar stood off to the side and invited people to come up at look at the stadium model. Pro or con, he also held one-on-one or small group conversations with anyone who approached him. As the crowd thinned out, I saw Lamar standing there by himself, so 23-year-old me mustered up a bit of courage and walked up to Lamar Freakin’ Hunt, Legendary Sports Pioneer & NFL Heavyweight. I introduced myself and then proceeded to thank him for not giving up on Columbus or the Crew.
He offered a gracious and soft spoken thank you, but I felt the need to elaborate, seeing as the Browns had been torn from Cleveland just two years prior.
"You don’t understand, Mr. Hunt," I said. "I come from Cleveland. The heart and soul of my hometown was just ripped out by an owner who had far less reason to move his team than you have now. You have no ties to the area, there was the whole hockey ownership issue, and unless something happens, the Crew won’t have a place to play next year. Nobody could blame you if you skipped town and never looked back. So I thank you for trying to stick it out, even if it means building the stadium yourself. As someone who has had to endure what we all did in Cleveland, it means a lot."
He started to speak, then hesitated.
"Well, let me explain it like this," he finally said, in his gentle Texas drawl. "In the time the Crew has been in Columbus, there are many people who have bought tickets, come to the games, and have become attached to this club. They are a part of the Columbus Crew. I owe it to those people to do everything I can to keep the club here."
He then thanked me for being one of those people, and with that, I excused myself, partly because there were others waiting to speak with him, and partly because I didn’t want to say or do anything stupid to destroy that moment.
Imagine my surprise maybe 10-15 minutes later, as I stood there studying the stadium model, when I felt a gentle pat on my shoulder and then heard that familiar drawl asking me, “So what do you think of the design, Steve?” I then proceeded to get my own personal tour of the stadium mock-up, as Lamar explained all of the various design elements and sought my opinion about each and every one, then asked if there was anything I felt they overlooked or if there were any other suggestions that I might have.
I walked out of that building with my head in the clouds. It got even better when I ran into Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald in the parking lot, and then he and I proceeded to have a friendly conversation about the stadium plans, the Crew team, and soccer in general. Like Lamar, Fitz was also one to ask a lot of questions and then listen to the answers with genuine interest.
As I drove home that night, I couldn’t believe that I had lengthy one-on-one conversations with one of the most famous and accomplished sports owners in American history and also the head coach of my favorite soccer team. I was just some random dude, and they both made me feel like the most important person in the world when we talked. They were genuinely good people.
Anyway, that’s my own personal Lamar story, with a little bit of Fitz mixed in. I wish dearly that both men were still around in the flesh to witness the last three years of Massiveness, but even though they have both passed on, Crew Stadium feels a little more complete now that Lamar has joined Fitz in being memorialized within its gates.
Out of respect, I always make a point to pat the Fitz memorial rock after each game. Now I will be sure to visit Lamar as well.
MR. NUMBERS NERD: NIL-NIL EDITION
Soccer haters love to state that the games always end in a 0-0 tie, but in the 12 seasons that Crew Stadium has been in operation, Saturday’s match marked only the 6th time in 220 Crew Stadium matches in all competitions that a Crew game has ended 0-0. That’s just a 2.7% chance of seeing scoreless tie.
The Crew’s scoreless draws at Crew Stadium:
05/22/1999 vs. Tampa Bay Mutiny (TB won the post-game shootout, 4-1)
05/05/2001 vs. Miami Fusion
08/31/2002 vs. New England Revolution
05/01/2003 vs. Dallas Burn
04/07/2007 vs. New York Red Bulls
08/28/2010 vs. FC Dallas
Over the past few years, it has been established that the last two players to leave the locker room on any given day will be Danny O’Rourke, followed by captain Frankie Hejduk. This year, a third consistent lingerer has emerged in Andy Iro.
“I used to be one of the first people out the door in order to move on to the rest of the night’s activities,” Iro said, “but it had a negative impact on me game.”
Now in his third year, Iro has emerged as a dependable starter in the center of the Crew’s defense, getting the job done not only on the defense end, but also chipping in offensively with set-piece goals. He said his newfound patience with his postgame routine is part of that success.
“It’s part of aging,” he said. “You’ve got to do what you need to do to make your body feel better tomorrow, especially at this stage of the season, with so many games and so much travel. You do whatever you can to stay as close to 100 percent as possible. You have to keep fit and stay healthy, and proper rehab after the game is a large part of that.”
Hejduk and O’Rourke are big proponents of various postgame stretches, rubdowns, and other such recuperative treatments.
“I started to look at other guys to see what they did,” Iro said. “I think I am an observant guy, and so I looked to see what other professionals are doing. I could see it paying dividends for them, and so I talked to the trainers and I can feel the difference myself. If it takes me 30 minutes longer to get out of here, so be it. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait for me to do the right things for my body. It’s worth it.”
True to form, the last three players to leave the locker room on Saturday: Iro, O’Rourke, and Hejduk…and Hejduk didn’t even dress due to suspension. There was no rehab work to be done, but Hejduk came down to visit his teammates after the game. And even then, he was the last guy out the door.
PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF FRUSTRATION
O’Rourke and Iro had a fun go at each other about public displays of frustration on the field.
“What’s with you throwing your arms up?” O’Rourke asked Iro while impersonating an exasperated Iro.
“That’s an issue that I am trying to resolve,” Iro said. “I learned that from the best.”
“Chad?” O’Rourke asked.
“No, you!” Iro shot back. “ Actually, you just go…(gives an exaggerated shoulder shrug, head shake, and sigh). Now that’s passed on to me. That’s terrible. I’ve got to stop that.”
Then Iro turned to me.
“Sometimes it happens to anyone when you get frustrated, but Danny is the biggest baby out there,” he said.
“Don’t make me turn around,” said O’Rourke as he prepared for a video interview with his back turned to us.
“The question is,” Iro pondered, “what will Danny do if he DOES turn around?”
“You don’t want to know,” O’Rourke warned.
“Are you going to wrestle me?”
“No, I’m not going to wrestle you! That’s stupid. You’re too big…I WILL hit you though.”
Iro and O’Rourke then went into one of those ultra-intense boxing weigh-in staredowns, but the intensity quickly dissipated due to the absurdity of watching the (officially listed) 6’0” (ish) O’Rourke trying to engage in a forehead-to-forehead staredown with the 6’5” Iro.
FANTASY FOOTBALL: BABY CARROLL WATCH
In terms of fantasy football freakdom, I never thought anything would top O’Rourke filling me in on the day’s exploits of his fantasy team as we stood on the confetti-strewn field at the Home Depot Center just moments after the Crew won MLS Cup 2008. But now we have a contender. There is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over Sunday’s fantasy football draft, and the Crew’s fantasy geeks are getting anxious. Katie Carroll, wife of Crew fantasy football commissioner Brian Carroll, is on the verge of giving birth to the couple’s first child
“BC’s been talking to the kid every day, saying ‘Don’t come September 5th. Don’t come September 5th,’” explained Carroll’s longtime friend William Hesmer. “We’ll see if it works.”
Hesmer is already concocting alternative plans in case the baby disobeys a direct order from Commissioner Carroll.
“We may have to hold the draft in the delivery room,” Hesmer said. “If we do, whoever drafts who at that moment (when the baby is born), that’s the name of the kid. If Chad Marshall is up in the 12th round and he decides to pick Rashard Mendenhall, and then Katie pops out little Carroll, then the baby is Rashard Mendenhall Carroll. That would be a good way to name it since they can’t seem to put it together.”
Marshall, overhearing the conversation, said, “In that case, maybe I will take Jahvid Best.”
“There you go,” said Hesmer. “If Chad picks Jahvid Best, then it’s little Jahvid Best Carroll.”
A little while later, I caught up with the Crew’s moist rabid fantasy player, Danny “Taking Life More Seriously” O’Rourke, and told him I had heard about the possible delivery room draft location.
“That is false,” he said. “We had dinner with Mrs. Carroll last night and we told her that the fantasy football draft takes precedence over any baby being born. Brian’s going to have that kid around for the rest of his life, but this fantasy draft is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We said we would be more than happy to cover her taxi ride home from the hospital. So her choices are to either hold it and keep the baby in, or deliver it without a father for the first day. After all, it’s only fair. BC’s been committed to this for much longer. This is his third year as fantasy football commissioner, but this baby thing has only been going on for about nine months.”
And how did Mrs. Carroll react to Danny’s suggestions?
“She took it in stride,” he said, giving a confident nod that suggested that they had reached an understanding.
Then O’Rourke waved off Hesmer’s baby-naming suggestion.
“First of all, nobody gives a (crap) what Will says, so don’t listen to him,” O’Rourke said. “That was actually my joke. I said BC had to name his kid after his first round pick. I think it will be Maurice Jones Carroll.”
As the Carroll baby drama drags on, the rest of the group will be sweating it out until Sunday. Head athletic trainer Dave Lagow, entering his rookie season in the Crew’s league, explained the importance of the fantasy draft.
“The fantasy football draft not only gives you one day of great joy,” he said, “but it also gives you four months of joy.”
“Or in Pat Noonan’s case, agony,” O’Rourke retorted. “Please write that. I hope he reads it because his team was terrible last season and he deserves to be reminded. Last year, he took Stephen Jackson and made a big deal out of it. Noonan knew I had the man-crush on Jackson and he knew he was going to pick him because he picked before me, so he bought a life-sized poster of Jackson. Everybody knew it but me. So when we Skyped him in last year and he made his pick, he unveiled the life-sized Stephen Jackson poster just to rub it in my face.”
The emotional scars were still visible nearly a year later. But then Danny’s mood brightened.
“But you know what? Noonan’s team was awful and he ended up trading Jackson to me anyway.”
ON THE JERSEY FIASCO IN MEXICO
CONCACAF has officially entered the “That’s not me, Carl” zone. Allow me to explain.
When I was in high school or college, a local Cleveland station did an investigative report on auto emissions testing stations. In some instances, if a person’s car could not pass the emissions test, a friendly employee would be willing to run his own vehicle in its place, producing a passing result for a nominal cash fee.
Reporter Carl Monday caught one such fellow on tape and then confronted him about his actions. The man denied any wrongdoing. Then Monday invited him to watch the video playback, which clearly showed the man, just minutes earlier, accepting cash from a customer and pulling his own vehicle up to the testing station.
“That’s not me, Carl,” came the retort.
Monday stated that the guy on tape looked just like him. And that he has the same car as him. With the same license plate. And so on.
With every piece of video evidence came defenses ranging from, “That’s not me, Carl” to “That may look like me, but it’s not me, Carl” to “I don’t know what to tell you, Carl, but that’s not me.”
This segment became the stuff of legend to me and my friend Jeff. Anytime we witness a blatant lie with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, to this day our first response is to say, “That’s not me, Carl.” And that’s what I said when I read CONCACAF’s official explanation of Emilio Renteria’s disallowed goal from the Crew’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League loss at Santos Laguna.
A quick recap of the facts. Renteria was forced to leave the field of play after a Santos elbow opened a bloody gash on his head. After getting his head bandaged and changing out of his bloody shirt and into an unnumbered shirt, Renteria was presented to the fourth official for inspection. The fourth official then presented Renteria for re-insertion into the game. The referee then waved Renteria onto the field. Something caused Renteria to pause, and turn back toward the sideline. At that time, the fourth official motioned him back onto the field and the referee once again waved for him to stay on the field.
The Crew then took their restart. Duncan Oughton played the ball to Renteria, who whipped in a cross to Andy Iro, who headed the ball home to give the Crew a 1-0 lead. The referee pointed to the center circle, signaling a goal. As the teams began to line up for the kick off, the Santos bench engulfed the fourth official, vociferously arguing some point. The fourth official then called the referee over. After some more heated discussion with the Santos bench, the referee waved off the goal and issued a yellow card to Renteria.
At the time, the officials told the Crew bench it was because Renteria entered the field without a number on his shirt. Of course, that would be immaterial since he was approved for re-entry by both the fourth official and the referee. The ref’s only option at that point would be to send him off again for another shirt change. The only way to truly negate the goal was to say that Renteria was never allowed on the field in the first place.
So that’s what CONCACAF did. Despite ample video evidence clearly showing that Renteria was waved onto the field on multiple occasions by the center referee, and despite the fact that the referee would have blown the play dead the moment Renteria touched the ball if he had truly not been given permission to enter, the official party line is that Renteria was never given permission to enter. In other words, “That’s not me, Carl.”
I’m with Crew president Mark McCullers on this one. As he said on the Crew Xtra television program, officiating is never going to get better until people actually acknowledge problems and mistakes. CONCACAF has gone the “That’s not me, Carl” route and left it at that. It’s insane.
How hard can it be to just admit that the referee screwed up? It happens all the time in our American sports. Look at the recent cases involving NFL referee Ed Hochuli (http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=09000d5d80aeabaf&template=with-video&confirm=true) and Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce. (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100602&content_id=10727590)
CONCACAF cannot be expected to alter the outcome of the game, as there is no way to know how a call in the 29th minute could have impacted the game. Maybe the Crew would have gone on to win had the goal stood as it should have. Then again, maybe they would have lost 5-1 and had three guys blow out their knees for good measure. We will never know what happens in that parallel dimension.
But even though the result must stand, it should not be difficult for CONCACAF to admit that the referee made an error, apologize to the Crew, and rescind Renteria’s yellow card. And it would be in CONCACAF’s best interests.
Right or wrong, the perception amongst many American fans is that the CONCACAF competition is tilted toward Mexican and Central American teams because referees are easily cowed by those powerful clubs and their rabid fans. A fiasco like the disallowed goal only serves to fuel that perception. If CONCACAF goes on record as admitting the error and rescinds the yellow card, people would appreciate the honesty. It wouldn’t undo the mistake, but honesty would go a long way toward the perception of legitimacy. However, by playing the “That’s not me, Carl” card, fans are left with the undeniable images of a referee waving a player onto the field, signaling for a goal, then waving off the goal and carding the player for coming onto the field… all this after being verbally berated by the home team’s bench….and then giving an official explanation for the bizarre decision that is easily and thoroughly refuted by the video evidence.
One assumes that CONCACAF believes that somehow admitting the error will nourish and embolden its critics, but that’s not true. Honesty is always a better policy than blatant cover-ups and delusional denials. “Sorry for the mistake” always engenders more respect than “That’s not me, Carl.”
DUNCAN AND GUILLE
I would like to think that anyone who reads my drivel is already an avid reader of Shawn Mitchell’s legitimate reporting, but just in case this somehow slipped through the cracks, I highly recommend reading Shawn’s blog post titled “Duncan Oughton: Auto Thief.” It features the unbeatable combination of Duncan being Duncan and Guille being Guille.
I will close with Notebook Hall of Famer Brian Dunseth’s retort, via Twitter, to this classic bit of reportage: “Typical Duncs…How’s Guille going to get the smell out now?”
Questions? Comments? Hoping someone reaches for a wide receiver in the late rounds of the fantasy draft so we get the pleasure reading about little Syndric Steptoe Carroll? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.