Olivia defiantly flicked her crusty eye boogers onto the albino skunk-skin rug as she poured herself a shot of Windex. Well, since the Crew aren’t much for grabbing attention right at the beginning, I figured I would give it a try. After posting their eighth 0-0 halftime score in nine competitive matches in 2011, the Crew rebounded to score two goals (including an 18-pass masterpiece) before hanging on for dear life in a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Before the excitement commenced in the second half, the visitors from the Pacific Southwest mapped out a blueprint of boredom, putting their entire team behind the ball in an effort to frustrate Columbus. The Crew’s record against foes from the Great White North speaks for itself, so the Whitecaps opted to bunker in with the hopes of obtaining a 0-0 Canadian Win.
“This is nothing surprising,” said Crew coach Robert Wazrycha. “I said before the game that they were going to come over here and defend, and that's what they did in the first half.”
The Crew had the lion’s share of the possession, but the Whitecaps succeeded in exasperating the home side.
“At halftime, I came into the locker room very upset,” said midfielder Dilly Duka. “We were definitely possessing it. We wanted to put them away in the first half, but they were barricaded in. It was very annoying.”
For better and, at times, worse, the second half would be nothing like the first.
BUSTING THE BUNKER
The Crew wasted no time changing the game in the second half. In the 49th minute, Crew left back Josh Gardner beat three Whitecaps on the dribble before playing a ball to Robbie Rogers. Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers broke up the pass, but deflected the ball toward his own net. Emilio Renteria hustled after the ball and got taken down by Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolley for a penalty kick.
“It was a play started by Robbie,” Renteria said through an interpreter. “I went for the goal and the goalie wrapped his arms around my leg.”
Renteria buried the shot low to his left to give the Crew a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute. Unlike the penalty kick Renteria took last year, Saturday’s shot did not rock the goal from its moorings. Renteria had no reason to regret choosing placement over power.
“The most important thing is for the ball to go inside the posts for the score,” he said.
The Crew took a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute when Renteria ran on to a pass from Dejan Rusmir and hammered a left-footed shot into the corner of the goal from ten yards out. It capped an incredibly lengthy display of possession and passing. More on that in a minute. But first, who knew that Renteria had a left foot? He sure didn’t.
“I almost never score with my left, but this is the first time,” he said. When asked to confirm that this was indeed the very first goal he had ever scored with his left foot, Renteria reaffirmed that it was. Apparently all of his other goals were scored by his right foot. Or his head. Or, like, his trapezoids.
Renteria celebrated both goals with various gestures. There were phone calls, heart taps, blown kisses, heart-shaped hand signals, and the like.
“That was for my girlfriend who was up in the stands,” he explained.
Since strikers are rarely satisfied, surely he wasn’t content with giving his girlfriend a just two goals. Was he thinking of the hat-trick?
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “And I was thinking of the fourth.”
MASSIVE PASSING SEQUENCE
At 57:57, Chad Marshall tackled the ball away from Omar Salgado at the edge of the Crew penalty area. What followed was 18 passes involving nine players over the course of four complete sideline-to-sideline switches that would lead to Renteria’s goal 55 seconds later.
58:02: Sebastian Miranda collects the ball deep in his corner and plays the ball to Eddie Gaven up the right side.
58:08: Gaven drops the ball to Marshall at the edge of the Crew penalty area.
58:09: Marshall quickly rolls the ball forward to Dilly Duka
58:10: Duka splits two defenders with a pass to Robbie Rogers in the center circle.
58:11: Rogers one-times a drop pass back to a shifting Duka who has now moved to the center of the field.
58:12: Duka squares the ball to the left to Gardner.
58:16: Gardner squares a ball toward the center to Kevin Burns.
58:18: Burns hits a long flighted ball across midfield to Gaven on the right sideline. (It would be the only pass that left the floor in the whole sequence.)
58:24: After a controlling touch and two forward dribbles, Gaven squares the ball to Dejan Rusmir.
58:29: Rusmir dribbles across the middle of the park and squares the ball to Gardner, who is rushing up the left side.
58:34: Gardner advances the ball into the final third on the dribble, then lays the ball off to Duka on the left sideline.
58:39: After dribbling into the middle, Duka plays the ball to the foot of Gaven, about 25 yards from goal.
58:40: Gaven gives the ball right back to Duka on the first touch.
58: 42: Duka plays the ball out to Miranda on the right sideline.
58:44: Miranda plays a one-touch pass to Gaven.
58:46: Gaven advances the ball to Duka.
58:48: Duka plays the ball to Rusmir, just to the right of center, about 25 yards from goal.
58:50: Rusmir pokes the ball into a vacant patch of grass in the center of the Vancouver box.
58:53: Renteria runs on to the ball and hammers a left-footed shot into the corner of the net from about ten yards out.
“It was definitely a lot of passes on the floor, really quick, and we caught them,” Duka said.
You can watch a cool MLS video here, although the video misses the first pass because the broadcast cut to a shot of Salgado on the ground while Miranda made that first pass to Gaven. Nevertheless, it’s cool to see the whole sequence play out in fast forward with a little counter dinging after each successful pass.
Now THAT is a team goal. It would be awesome if the box score looked like this:
59th CLB Renteria 3 (Rusmir, Duka, Gaven, Miranda, Gardner, Burns, Rogers, Marshall)
Given the Crew’s impenetrable defense thus far in 2011, a 2-0 lead seemed like a stone cold lock for three points. But then, inexplicably, Vancouver made it interesting. The Whitecaps cut the lead in half in the 69th minute thanks to Omar Salgado’s first career goal. The 17-year-old found a seam between Julius James and Josh Gardner, then snapped off a terrific header to beat Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer.
The goal-producing counterattack began with what appeared to be an incredibly stupid pass by Emmanuel Ekpo. As Gaven showed for the ball, Ekpo smacked an impossible-to-handle pass into Gaven’s chest from relatively close range, rather than making the sensible pass to Gaven’s feet. As it was, the ball trampolined off of Gaven’s torso and Vancouver was on the scoreboard just moments later.
However, despite how bad it looked to the naked eye, Hesmer emailed to absolve Ekpo of blame.
“Manu had a bad turnover in the middle, that, once you see the replay, was actually caused by one of the … bumps (on) the field,” he wrote. “It popped the ball up, making him hit his pass into Eddie's chest.”
I went back and looked at the replay, and sure enough, during the close-up replay of the turnover, you can not only clearly see the ball hop up on Ekpo just as his foot is about to make contact, but you can even see the bump sitting there before the ball even bounces up off of it. It was truly a bad hop and not a dumb play.
“From there,” Hesmer continued, “Sebastian was high up the field and Chad was forced out wide to cover for him. Salgado was then able to find space in between Julius and Josh, and he put a good header back against the grain.”
From Hesmer’s point of view, the disaster was all laid out like dominos once the bump victimized Ekpo while the defense was shifting into an attacking posture. Given that it was the first goal the Crew had allowed at home in almost six months, clearly there had to be some sort of fluke explanation. The replays confirmed it.
(That’s not to take away from the excellent cross and finish by Vancouver. They capitalized beautifully.)
Once the Whitecaps got back in the game, things got dicey for the Crew. They played nothing at all like the team that had so perfectly snuffed out the Sporks two weeks earlier. Instead of keeping the ball and playing high pressure soccer in the Whitecaps’ end, the Crew teetered on the brink of disaster.
In the 73rd minute, Gardner made a sliding goal line block that thwarted what appeared to be a sure equalizer by Vancouver midfielder Nizar Khalfan.
“All I did was react to it,” Gardner said. “The ball came across and I turned and slid. I just did what I could to try and keep it out. “
“Josh's save on the goal line was tremendous,” said Hesmer. “However, if it had been a goal, I was going to go crazy because their player was offside. Great play by Josh though, and great work from him all night filling in on short notice.”
Gardner was making his first MLS start since 2006. He learned just before the game that he would be filling in for Rich Balchan, who had taken ill.
“We prepare as if we’re starting even if we’re not starting,” Gardner said, shrugging off any notion of heroics. “That’s my job as a pro.”
Hesmer’s job as a pro is to make a big save when his team needs it most. He rose to the occasion in 77th minute when Salgado found the ball in the Crew’s penalty area. Hesmer charged out and got a bump on Salgado to break up his first attempt, and then made a sprawling, close-range save when Salgado turned and fired on his second attempt.
“I was just happy that Terry Vaughn didn't call a penalty,” Hesmer joked. “I stood my ground and the kid ran into me. He quickly regained his feet and I was there to smother the shot.”
There were more anxious moments as the clocked counted up to 90:00, and the final whistle brought sweet relief for the players and the fans. Afterward, the Crew knew that they didn’t do the best job of finishing off the Whitecaps.
“When we’re killing the game off 2-0, we should be knocking the ball around and making them run,” said Marshall. “For whatever reason, we were giving the ball away cheaply.”
“I think they made some subs that brought them some energy,” said Hesmer, “and we didn't match it or play intelligently enough to see out the game the right way. We got sucked into a wide open style, when we should've been more conservative.”
Warzycha feels that his team will build on the experience.
“It was a good lesson for us,” he said. “I think you have to learn somehow that some of the games are very easy, but this one was difficult in the end. I think that's a good experience for the guys.”
On Wednesday, April 27, Eddie and Paula Gaven welcomed their newborn son, Zachary, into the world. Even with the help of Paula’s mom, sleep has been tough to come by for the Gavens.
“I’m basically running on a lot of hot coffee,” Gaven said. “I normally have one cup before a game, but today I had three cups just to make sure I didn’t fall asleep while I was out there.”
Gaven may not have fallen asleep on the field, but he also wasn’t entirely with it. For example, a gash in his back required five sutures to close, but Gaven wasn’t aware of the bleeding until teammates pointed it out in the locker room. He has no recollection of the event that caused the laceration.
“I’m a really mean guy, so I must have made somebody mad,” he joked.
Given Gaven’s mild-mannered nature, one might have assumed that baby Zachary announced his presence in this world with a few delivery room whispers.
“No, he’s very loud,” Gaven said. “He’s, like, my-ears-are-ringing loud. And every time I’m the one to hold him, he cries his head off. I give him to my wife, and he’s perfectly calm.”
Gaven has his theories as to why that might be.
“It could be the beard and the hair,” he said. “I think maybe I scare him. I may need to groom myself for the sake of our baby.”
Whatever the reason, a loud baby means that the apple has rolled a little bit away from tree.
“In terms of vocality, the baby does not take after me,” Gaven said. “But my mom said I was loud when I was a little baby, so maybe he will grow out of it and mellow out like I did.”
In the meantime, Gaven will have to grab his sleep when he can get it.
“Between this gash in my back and a newborn baby, I’m probably not going to be sleeping much,” he said. “I’ll need to sleep standing up.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: LAWNMOWER EDITION
Before the game, it was surreal to see Brett Tanner, the Crew’s director of stadium grounds, operating the remote control sprinkler system. When it comes to Crew games, Mother Nature usually takes care of watering the field. Relentlessly.
The fact that it had rained for almost two solid weeks has created some headaches for Tanner, most notably out at the Obetz training facility. The fields there have been so waterlogged that the grounds crew cannot use the riding mower because the weight would put ruts into the playing surface. That means the grounds crew has had to tackle their mowing duties the old-fashioned way—with push mowers.
Can you imagine push-mowing a soccer field? It took three mowers two hours to cut the playing surface. What is normally a 45-minute job with the riding mower gobbled up six man-hours for Tanner and his crew.
But here’s the fun part. The Crew’s push-mowers have a 21-inch cutting width, so to mow the playing surface of a 115x75 yard soccer field—and I wish to stress that this is only the grass found between the lines— requires 8.04 miles of lawnmower pushing!
Tanner wanted nothing to do with my calculations.
“I’ve done that math before,” he said. “Needless to say, I put that number away and have tried not to think about it since. It’s not fun, but we make the best of it. We’ve got to do what we can so the team has the best conditions possible.”
COLORS (PT. 1, VANCOUVER)
Columbus Dispatch reporter Tom Reed was once again on a quest to identify the visiting team’s jersey color. One game after correctly noting that Kansas City dressed in periwinkle, Reed wanted to know the official color of blue worn by the Whitecaps.
Someone suggested navy blue. Someone else suggested “midnight blue.” I figured it had to be some trendy, club-specific name like “Van-BLUE-ver.”
Alas, we were all wrong. A Whitecaps staffer advised us that the official color is “deep sea blue.” So whatever you do, do not call Vancouver’s navy blue shirts navy blue. It’s “deep sea blue.”
If the Crew were a recent expansion team, their colors would be “hard hat yellow” and “road tar black.”
COLORS (PT. 2, HESMER)
Since Vancouver dressed in their nav— uh, I mean, deep sea blue, Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer got to dress in his goal-scoring white. I seem to associate Hesmer with his all-white goalkeeping kit, probably because of all of the photos and videos of that goal he scored in Toronto last year. My theory was that since he owns Canadian MLS teams on both ends of the field, he forced Vancouver to change out of their all-white uniforms so he could wear his own favorite all-whites.
Like most theories of mine, it was complete garbage.
“I don't have a favorite color, and I don't get much of a say in what I wear,” Hesmer said. “I really don't like the neon or flashy colors. I would say my three favorites are the black, white, and blue kits. My only request to (equipment manager) Rusty (Wummel) is that he puts me in the same color from top to bottom.”
The penultimate weekend in April saw MLS stars Steve Zakuani and David Ferreira suffer a broken leg and broken ankle, respectively. However, the trend was set earlier that week when Crew legend Duncan Oughton suffered a broken fibula during an impromptu training appearance at Obetz.
“Coaching is dangerous, apparently,” Oughton said. “I was on the sideline, and someone got hurt, so they asked me to jump into training.”
The wet and slick field conditions turned an innocuous sliding challenge from Robbie Rogers into something grisly.
“Robbie came sliding in,” Oughton said. “I stepped out of it, but Robbie kept sliding through and then I heard a crack and tear. It cracked my fibula and tore my ligaments.”
“Yeah, I feel bad about that,” Rogers said. “I slid and I just couldn’t stop. I just kept sliding. It was like I was on a slip-n-slide. His foot got caught under me and I heard these cracks. I feel bad because he didn’t even want to train.”
In a weird twist of fate, Oughton had never broken a bone below his beak during his playing career, but then he broke his leg in his first post-retirement training session. Although Brian Mullan received a 10-game suspension for his brutal tackle on Zakuani, Oughton is not seeking justice for his own broken leg.
“Purely accidental,” Oughton said as he hobbled on his crutches toward the Crew Stadium elevator. “I should be the one to get a suspension for even going out there. And I have! It’s called not being able to walk for about the next four weeks.”
Since the tackle happened at practice, Rogers is amenable to a more fitting punishment.
“It happened at training, so I should be suspended from training,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have to go to training for two weeks.”
Somehow, I have a feeling Judge Warzycha would commute that sentence.
THE MARSHALL PORTRAIT
When most people picture Chad Marshall, they surely envision him thoroughly owning an MLS forward while looking annoyed that the forward even bothered to try in the first place. But a month ago, Kyle Martino tweeted this awesome photo of Chad Marshall to the world:
Martino took the original photo while enrolled in a photography class during his playing days with the Crew. The tweeted photo is Martino’s cell phone photo of Martino’s original camera photo of Marshall.
“I think I just tore a hole in the universe,” Martino joked when contemplating the fact that he was taking a photo of a photo he had taken.
Martino was delighted and amused to come across the portrait, which hangs above Danny O’Rourke’s locker at Obetz. This weekend, I finally caught up with O’Rourke to find out why his locker is decorated in such a manner.
“Chad is my inspiration every day,” O’Rourke said. “That’s the normal Chad. On the field, he’s Superman, but that’s Clark Kent.”
Questions? Comments? Ever push-mow more than 8.04 miles? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via twitter @stevesirk