THE BAD NEWS: For the very first time since the big bang, the Columbus Crew lost a soccer match to Toronto FC.
THE GOOD NEWS: Death and taxes are no longer certain.
On Saturday night at Crew Stadium, the heretofore hapless Hosers laid a 4-2 thumping on the Crew. Just like how the 13th time was the charm for the Crew, who won MLS Cup in the club’s 13th season, the Toronto FC equivalent was finally beating Columbus in their 13th all-time meeting. They even got to hoist a shiny trophy too, winning the Trillium Cup for the very first time.
There was a healthy dose of disgust in the Columbus locker room.
“We thought the game was going to be easy,” said goalkeeper William Hesmer. “We came out very soft and they were hard and physical and they took control of the game. I don’t know why we collectively went out there like it was going to be a walk in the park. Every game in this league, whether it’s the number one team or the last team, is tough. Sometimes playing the last place team is even tougher because those guys are fighting for their jobs. They’re pushing everything out there for their livelihood and to stay on the team. You need to be prepared for those fights, and we weren’t. Ultimately, this team has built its success over the years on defending and being hard to play against and never being outworked, but we’ve been outworked. We need to show that passion.”
“I don’t know if we came into this thinking, ‘They’re in last place and we’re good at home so it’s going to be an easy three points,’” said Chad Marshall. “We talked about how they’re a dangerous team that has had some good results lately, but we just didn’t come out and compete. It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing to tell you the truth. You can write off the Seattle game as a one-off something that happens, but then to come out here after a week off against the worst team in the league and give up four goals, that’s not good enough.”
Ah, yes. The Seattle game. Given this team’s track record, the 6-2 road loss was thought to be an abysmal aberration. It was expected that the Crew would return with a vengeance and take out their frustrations on their perennial punching bag from the Great Winless North. After all, a dreadful 1-0 loss to Chicago in June was followed by a historic win in Houston, which then touched off a two-month climb to the top of the Eastern Conference. But the Crew veered from the script. And they did so in the most shocking and disappointing way imaginable.
“Ten goals in two games honestly makes me sick,” said Hesmer. “It makes me want to go to Obetz right now and train with Vadim. [Goalkeeper coach Vadmi Kirilov.] It’s everything. It’s not just our back four, it’s not just our midfielders, it’s not just our forwards—it’s all of us. It’s all eleven on the field.”
And THAT’S what it took for TFC to finally tiptoe through the trilliums.
ANOTHER BAD START
As is their custom, the Crew fell behind early. Nick Soolsma gave TFC a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute when Torsten Frings’ long-range blast into traffic fell right to his feet. Soolsma thumped the ball past Hesmer from close range. The Crew protested for offside, but replays showed that a lingering Emmanuel Ekpo held Soolsma on.
The listless Crew fell behind 2-0 on a Ryan Johnson header that caught Hesmer off his line and gently looped down inside the far post. It was another goal that started off of a seemingly innocuous throw-in, which is the third such goal the that Crew have given up in the last two games.
After conceding the first goal for the 16th time in 27 games and falling behind by a pair at the half, the Crew started to play with vigor in a desperate game of catch-up. It’s a pattern that was strangely successful earlier in the year, but has backfired in a big way the past two games.
“I don’t know why we can’t come out and start the game the way we play after we get scored on,” said Marshall. “I just don’t understand it. The warm-ups are fine, but then we don’t come out with the right mentality.”
YAY! PRETTY GOALS! (AND ALMOST GOALS!)
The Crew got back in the game when substitute Tommy Heinemann capped a beautiful piece of interplay with a roof job that beat substitute goalkeeper Milos Kocic in the 67th minute. Ekpo hit Robbie Rogers in stride on the left side of the box. Rogers one-timed a rolling ball to the center of the penalty area, where Heinemann gained inside position on a pair of defenders and hammered it home.
“It was a good play,” Heinemann said. “We took the ball off them and quickly switched the point of attack. Robbie did great to get in behind and slide it across for the finish.”
After the Crew fell behind 3-1, Heinemann gave a slick, one-touch heel pass to Andres Mendoza, who lasered an 18-yard shot into the top of the net in the 86th minute.
“Jeff (Cunningham) put it in to me and then I laid it off to Andres,” Heinemann said. “That was a great finish by Andres.”
Alas, given the leakage at the other end, Heinemann’s one goal, one assist effort off the bench still wasn’t enough. Despite playing a part on two goals in 23 minutes, the situation cruelly dictated that every Crew partisan in the stadium was left to rue the chance he didn’t put away in the 75th minute. His diving header off of a Rogers cross went wide. It was a beautiful play that would have tied the game at 2-2 and perhaps altered the outcome.
“I think we were very close to tying the game,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “Tommy's header, I think needed to go in - or at least hit the target. That's what a forward lives for - a diving header, a beautiful goal - it would be. But you have to hit the target to score.”
“That’s my bread and butter,” he said. “I definitely want that back. I look for that ball all the time. That’s GOT to be a goal.”
UGH. UGLY GOALS.
In between the Heinemann and Mendoza goals, Toronto restored a two-goal lead when Julian de Guzman NFL football tackled Kevin Burns as he nonchalantly held the ball at the edge of the Crew penalty area. While referee Jair Maruffo was carefully swallowing his whistle, de Guzman popped back up and hit a low shot inside the left post in the 83rd minute.
After Mendoza’s 88th minute goal gave the Crew another breath of life, Toronto sealed it in stoppage time when Danny Koevermans outraced Hesmer to a ball some 35 yards from goal. Hesmer had been playing up as a sweeper, so he was already far out of his net. He pulled out of a last ditch challenge when it looked like Koevermans was going to beat him to the ball. After taking a touch past Hesmer, Koevermans launched the ball into the empty net to complete the 4-2 scoreline.
At first, I was perplexed as to why Hesmer pulled out of the challenge. After all, an empty net goal ices the game there. But Hesmer was looking at the bigger picture, which is something I had failed to contemplate.
“Maybe I could have gone in there hard and gotten the ball, but we’re out of goalkeepers,” Hesmer said, referring to injuries that have sidelined Andy Gruenebaum and Alex Riggs. “If I get a red card, who’s going to play on Wednesday?”
Had Hesmer been ejected, the Crew would have had to suit up not one but two non-rostered MLS pool goalkeepers for Wednesday’s game against Houston. Ultimately, he decided Wednesday’s game wasn’t worth the gamble on the small chance that he might cleanly win the ball and prevent the stoppage time clincher. In retrospect, especially after replays confirmed that he was beaten to the ball, I’d agree that it was a reasonable calculation on Hesmer’s part.
When Hesmer stated that he wanted to go out to Obetz right then and there and work with Vadim, it wasn’t an exaggeration. Hesmer pulled his goalkeeper coach aside and held an impromptu video session on his smartphone. The two men gathered around the little screen and had a quiet conversation while watching goals hit the back of the Columbus net. It was one of those jarring moments that makes one conscious of how far technology has come.
“I’m a big video analyst,” Hesmer said. “I think that’s the best way to learn, which is to watch and critique yourself. With the new MLS app, I’m at it as soon as I get in here. I use it to take a look at things. Sometimes I even look at it at halftime, to see what I did right or wrong.”
Hesmer has found the MLS app useful in other ways as well.
“I’ll see if the ref got a call right,” he said. “Sometimes I can go out (after halftime) and say, ‘Hey, you got that one wrong,’ or ‘Hey, that was the right call,’ and I’ll be certain. Whether that makes a difference or not, I don’t know.”
As stoppage time wound down, I was struck by a curious thought. The Trillium Cup competition officially started with Andy Iro’s rookie year. The Crew had never lost to Toronto in that time. The Crew traded Iro to Toronto on July 15, and now Toronto finally beat Columbus for the first time ever. Could it be that this whole unbeaten streak was nothing more than a matter of whichever team has Andy Iro can’t lose a Trillium Cup game?
“I wish it was something like that,” Iro said, “but the truth is that it was a great team performance. In previous years with Columbus, we had Toronto’s number, but tonight, it was a great team win. It was a little helter-skelter, but when you score four goals on the road you deserve to win.”
Toronto did it with an almost entirely new team. Having used an MLS record-tying 36 players this season, TFC’s starting lineup contained only TWO players (GK Stefan Frei and MF Julian de Guzman) that started in their 1-1 draw with Columbus back in April. Head coach Aron Winter performed a midseason demolition that brought 14 new players to Ontario this summer.
“To the coach’s credit, he made some bold moves,” Iro said. “He got rid of some fairly popular players and some players that had been in Toronto for a little while, but he made those bold moves. I knew, personally, that it was going to take a little while to settle in. You can’t throw 14 new players together and expect to win straight away. I think we’ve done a good job. We’ve lost only two games, I think, in the last nine. [Actually ten games: 5-2-3 in all competitions.] That’s not bad. And to come in here to Crew Stadium is a big win for us. It’s a little bittersweet for me, but I am proud of my teammates. It was a great team win for us.”
Returning to Columbus was indeed bittersweet for Iro, but he was very happy with how things went, not only on the field, but off of it.
“It was cool, man,” Iro said of his first trip back. “The fans took to me. That was great. I had a lot of friends in the stands. I know I only left six weeks ago, but it seems like such a long time. I obviously have many great friends on the team and in the city. I was here for four years coming out of college, and I really matured here, so Columbus means a lot to me. I miss this place and I miss the people. It was great to be back.”
TERPS’ UNFASHIONABLE FASHION
A couple of weeks ago, the Maryland Terps unleashed one of the most inelegantly unique football uniform designs in recorded history. For those who have not undergone the ocular assault, here are some images of the bifurcated mishmash that left millions of jaws agape and eyes a-gouged:
As soon as I saw them on TV, I immediately knew that I had to consult with three experts:
* Maryland Terp Robbie Rogers, who appreciates good fashion.
* Maryland native Dante Washington, who denigrates bad fashion.
* Former Crew (and current Houston Dynamo) striker Jason Garey, who I don’t think knows anything about fashion one way or the other unless it involves, like, hip waders or tackle vests. But he’s also a Maryland Terp, so why not?
I believe my exact question to Robbie was, “The Terps’ new uniforms…what the (bleep)?”
“The best!” he replied. “We have, like, ten uniforms this year! It’s so awesome.”
“I loved the Maryland uniforms,” said Garey. “A little state pride never hurt anyone. I think people are just jealous that Under Armour is taking over and bringing the University of Maryland sports programs right along with them.”
Dante shared neither Jason’s nor Robbie’s enthusiasm.
“So I turned on the TV,” Dante said, recounting the horror of that night. “I heard that the Terps had new uniforms. I saw a picture of a helmet before, but you don’t really pay much attention to it. You shake it off and go back to what you were doing. But when I turned on my TV….OH. MY. GOSH.”
The Baltimore native felt that the designers had their hearts in the right place, even if their eyes were clearly in the wrong.
“It’s about the Maryland flag,” he said, “but there are so many colors and designs in our flag that you can’t logically put it on a jersey or a helmet and have it make sense. They were the ugliest things I ever saw. But like they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Everyone is talking about Under Armour and their ugly Maryland uniforms.”
Some might assume that age has played a role in these diametrically opposed viewpoints regarding Terp aesthetics, but Dante has his own theory why someone like Rogers digs the new Maryland duds.
“That’s because he’s brainwashed,” Dante said. “It’s surprising to me because the guy has some style sense. I just don’t know what his line of thinking is for thinking they are sweet. He’s lying. Let’s face it. The only possible explanation is that he’s lying. He’s probably got some Under Armor deal on the side where he can’t say anything.”
Unfortunately, the eyeball-irking designs did not stop with the basic uniforms. Even lowering your head to avert your gaze in the presence of Maryland athletes would put you at extreme risk of seeing their footwear.
“You should check out the new Under Armour Maryland soccer cleats,” Garey said. “I think you’ll be impressed!”
“My friend sent me a picture of the shoes and they are of the Maryland flag,” said Rogers. “So sweet. I would wear them if I could!”
Once again, Dante was aghast.
“Next time you get to see the Terps play, look at the shoes,” he said. “The shoes are worse than the jerseys. Much, much worse. It’s like a soccer shoe gone wrong. Even the linemen were wearing them! It used to be that in soccer, goalies and defenders wore plain black shoes. Same with linemen in football. Now linemen are wearing hideously colored shoes.”
Dante took a moment to reflect on a growing body of evidence before laying out the only plausible conclusion:
“There world’s coming to an end, I tell ya. Linemen wearing ugly, funky-colored shoes was the first sign of the apocalypse, and now Toronto beating the Crew was the second sign. It’s all over. This is IT.”
Questions? Comments? Wondering if TFC’s victory may help their fans to cease obsessively obsessing over how unobsessively unobsessed they are over their obsession with obsessively insisting that Columbus means nothing to them? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via twitter @stevesirk