Things that the 2012 Columbus Crew are probably good at:
- Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.
- Making it through the intersection on a yellow light.
- Sticking a hand in between the elevator doors just as they are about to close.
- Dragging the garbage can to the end of the driveway while the truck is at the next door neighbor’s curb.
- Determining which wire to cut in order to defuse a ticking time bomb.
I don’t know these things for sure, but based on the fact that the Crew’s last five game-winning goals have occurred in the 86th minute or later, it’s probably a safe assumption. The latest Massive Miracle was an 87th minute Milovan Mirosevic tally that lifted the Crew to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night. A goal that happened a minute after the Crew finished squandering a two-goal lead. A goal set up by a slide tackle. A goal for which Mirosevic was clearly offside.
“Over the course of the season it will feel sometimes like nothing is going your way, but then other times you will get a lucky bounce,” said Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. “I think that's pretty standard for any team.”
This run of victories has been anything but standard.
The Crew blitzed the Union in the final moments before halftime when Jairo Arrieta collected a couple of long passes and hit paydirt in the 44th minute and in first half stoppage time.
“The first one was a great play by Seba on the cross,” Arrieta said through interpreter Ricardo Iribarren. “I controlled the ball and was able to finish to the near post. The second was a clear from Andy and I used my body to defeat the defender. I was able to shoot it away from the goalie with my left foot. It was good that I was able to score those two goals to give us the advantage in the first half and helping the team to win.”
LOSING THE LEAD
They say that the 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer. That is ridiculously false, except for in the rare occasions when it isn’t. The Union cut the lead in half in the 65th minute on a Danny Cruz penalty kick. Crew goalie Andy Gruenbaum took down Antoine Hoppenot for the PK.
In the 86th minute, Jack McInerney equalized for the Union when a cross deflected off of Crew midfielder Chris Birchall and fell to him in space for a simple finish.
“It's really annoying,” Gruenebaum said of losing the 2-0 lead. “It was a great run on the first one and I got him. The PK's a PK. The second one was pure luck..The ball deflects off of Birchall and goes right in between Chad and I. He's right there and all he has to do is finish it. It was a good finish, but we’ve come back before and we did it again.”
In that moment, the Crew saw their playoff lives flash before their eyes. A draw wouldn’t have eliminated them, but there is little margin for error, given Houston’s schedule, their points deficit behind the other contenders, and their low standing on the goals scored tiebreaker.
“It was awkward because Chad and I were like, ‘did that just happen?’”Gruenebaum said. “We were in that mindset. They couldn't have had a luckier deflection. I sat there for a second and then it was like, ‘Whoa, we need to win this game!’ So I jumped up and got the ball out of the net.”
“I was really disappointed giving up that goal, but I knew we weren't out of it,” said Crew defender Josh Williams. “Our last four wins had been late, but that goal was definitely a huge hit to our confidence. But everyone looked around, and we lifted each other up and kept fighting like we've been doing all year. Everyone was flying around and good things happened.”
The Crew grabbed the lead in the very next minute. Milovan Mirosevic worked a give-and-go with Federico Higuain, but the Mirosevic’s drive to the goal was interrupted by a last minute lunging tackle. Before Philadelphia could clear the ball, Josh Williams came sliding in at the 18 yard box to knock the ball to Mirosevic, who was a yard offside. Somehow, the flag stayed down, and Mirosevic buried the ball into the upper left corner as Philadelphia howled in protest.
“I tried to do a 1-2 with Pipa (Higuain), and then I don’t know where I was,” Mirosevic said. “I was out of the play and then I saw Josh’s foot, and the next moment, it bounced to me and I just kicked it. I didn’t have enough time to look at the line and then receive the ball. I just receive the ball and kick it.”
THE CREW ON ANOTHER COMEBACK
The fifth straight win in the 86th minute or later is new one on many players, including Fedrico Higauin.
“It has never happened to me before, but that is the beauty of this game,” Higuain said. “It’s part of the game. We work hard and we fight until the end. The important thing is that we didn’t give up. We did whatever we could to get the three points, which right now is keeping us in the playoff race.”
As great as it is, picking up ten additional points in the closing minutes, it’s also not the ideal way to go about it from a player’s perspective.
“It’s great for a neutral, but it’s not great for the guys in this locker room,” said Crew midfielder Chris Birchall. “In the last couple of minutes, and we’re conceding, it makes it a bit nervy. But it takes character to score straight away, and we did that.”
“It has been like this for the last five wins,” said Mirosevic. “I don’t know if it is luck. We are happy about it, but for sure we have to improve because we are winning the game at home for two goals, and then they score with five minutes left. Maybe if the game doesn’t finish like that, we are out of the playoffs already.”
Williams appreciates the resiliency, but doesn’t like that the Crew have to rely on it so often.
“I think we believe we're going to score the whole game,” Williams said, “but it seems Ike as soon as it gets to the 85th minute, we almost ramp it up a little bit. Everybody bombs forward and things have been going our way. Goals have been falling for us. I don't necessarily like it because that means we have been putting ourselves in bad situations, and when you get into the playoffs against better teams, you're not necessarily going to get those opportunities. As long as we're winning, I don't really care how we do it.”
As I began to walk away, Williams amended that last thought.
“A wins a win,” he said, “but I want to win better.”
J-WILL’S BIG ASSIST
If MLS had an award for Almost Goal of the Week, Williams would have won it several times already. On Saturday, the role was reversed. A blown call allowed him to collect a slide tackle assist on an 87th minute game-winner.
“I wouldn't call it one of my better assists, but it was probably my most important assist,” Williams said. “I was just trying to make something happen, so I just threw myself in the way. I read what he was going to do there and I just tried to make a play. Luckily -- and thank God I finally get to use the word 'luckily' for once-- it worked out for us. I was happy just to be a part of it.
“I actually saw the replay,” Williams continued. “He looked like he was offside, but I'll take it. It's about time something went our way. Or my way. I think I still have some credit left, though.”
GBAUM FIRST ASSIST
Gruenebaum’s assist on Arrieta’s second goal was the first of his MLS career. He did not view himself as a Schelotto-like carver of opposing defenses.
“I was just trying to clear the ball because there was a forward running at me,” he said. “I saw that Jairo was one on one and it just kinda got a lucky bounce. He did well to fend him off and finish. I'll take it. “
As we walked toward the parking lot, Danny O’Rourke walked with us.
“Does Danny have any assists?” the Hebrew Hammer wondered.
“Nine?” ask the Hammer incredulously. “Danny does? Damn.”
It seems as though the Hammer has given up on the thought of passing O’Rourke in career assists like how fellow goalkeeper William Hesmer passed O’Rourke in career goals in 2010.
THE TRINI NOSTRADAMUS
In the lead up to the Philly game, Kevan George and the TheCrew.com’s Cody Sharrett played a game of FIFA ‘13 on Wednesday, with Kevan controlling the Crew and Cody controlling the Union. The result was eerily prescient. The Crew won 3-2 on a 90th minute goal from Milovan Mirosevic. In real life, Milo’s 3-2 winner occurred in the 87th minute. Spooky stuff.
When told of this coincidence on Saturday night, an astonished Mirosevic said, “Same thing next week, please!”
I caught up with Kevan this week to talk to about his role as a FIFA shaman. He’s a fortune teller.
“I would like to think so,” he said. “And before the (video) game, I told Cody that Milo would score the winner on a volley, but it ended up being a header. On Saturday, I didn’t even think of it until later that night. I got a text from Aaron Schoenfeld saying, ‘Did you realize that it ended 3-2 and Milo scored the winner?’ I really hadn’t thought about it. It was crazy.”
So what is Kevan’s next FIFA miracle? Can he score a goal with Danny O’Rourke?
“He almost did, but it wasn’t to be,” Kevan said with a laugh. “Maybe next game. Maybe next game.”
Or the next game. Or the next game. Or the next game. Etc, etc, ad infinitum.
Massive Champion Brian Carroll made his first visit to Columbus since his trade to Philadelphia. He did not appear happy walking off the field, but then again, Brian Carroll has done so much winning in his career that losing is never easy.
On a more pleasant note, Carroll was able to re-connect with some fellow Massive Champions on Friday night, when he, Danny O’Rourke, and Chad Marshall convened at William Hesmer’s house for night spent playing the board game Settlers of Catan.
I recalled Eddie Gaven and Adam Moffat playing the computer version of the game at the airport during our trip to Seattle for the 2010 U.S. Open Cup final, but O’Rourke assured me that Gaven is the equivalent of “the Serie C or NAIA of Settlers” competition.
“Eddie’s terrible,” O’Rourke said. “Will’s always been known as the best.”
Friday‘s game night involved the big dogs. This was the Serie A or SEC of Settlers, and a tightly contested round of games delighted the smack-talker in O’Rourke, especially at the expense of his chief competitive rival.
“We played three games and everybody but Will won, so that’s awesome,” O’Rourke said. “I love when Will is not successful at stuff. It makes me so happy.”
This year’s mascot soccer game pitted sports team mascots against a team made up of Crew sponsor mascots. The rosters were as follows:
Team Mascots: Crew Cat, Stinger (CBJ), Rosie Red and Mr. Red (Cincinnati Reds), Krash (Clippers), Sir C.C. and Moondog (Cleveland Cavaliers.)
Photo by Sam Fahmi
Sponsor Mascots: Biscuit and Gravy (Bob Evans), B.C. (Roosters), Honey Bee (Lifeline), Pepe the Penguin (Kroger), Sub Dude (Subway), Cozy Cat (Columbia Gas), and Kona (Kona Ice.)
Photo by Sam Fahmi
The end result was a 5-1 shellacking by the team mascots. The scoring summary:
TM: Crew Cat (unassisted)
TM: Stinger (unassisted)
TM: Sir C.C. (Stinger)
SM: Sub Dude (unassisted)
TM: Stinger (Moondog)
TM: Mr. Red (Moondog)
Photo by Sam Fahmi
Here are some notes and observations as I watched the game with my buddies Flick and Z-man. Flick dominates this because his voice was loud enough to cut through the crowd noise.
* Flick: “We brought Mr. Red and Rosie Red, but we didn’t bring Mr. Redleg because he’s too busy laughing at the Pirates.”
Me: “Are Mr. Red and Rosie Red married?”
Flick: “No, but they have the same last name. They’re brother and sister.”
* Flick: “How is Stinger allowed to play? Isn’t he locked out?”
* Flick: “Hey Moondog! Stop touching Mr. Red! You’re going to put your stink on him! I don’t want your Cavaliers stink on him!”
* Z-man: “I like the Cleveland Cavaliers dog there. He’s got a small head, so he can see well, and he’s got pretty normal footwear. All of those corporate guys are horrible. How can they even see anything?”
* Me, as Stinger celebrated a goal: “Why is stinger running around doing airplane wings when he already has wings of his own?”
* Flick, upon watching Mr. Red knock down Sub Dude by kicking the ball off his face: “And the Reds go high and inside! That was like Homer Bailey brushing back that fat catcher, McHenry.”
* Flick: “The bee is from Lifeline, which is weird since bees give up their lives for their queen.”
* Flick: “Pepe’s just hanging out. It’s too hot out for a penguin.”
* Flick, upon Mr. Red putting the team mascots ahead 5-1: “If there’s one thing the Reds can do, it’s close out a game.”
*Flick, in summary: “Corporate mascots can’t compete. Pepe’s stacking ice cream all day. Rooster’s Guy, I don’t know if he runs the store or spends all day scared that he’s going to be the next meal. The Bob Evans guys are named Biscuits & Gravy—not exactly a name you’d associate with a pregame meal.”
If you want some slow-motion highlights with music—and who wouldn’t?— watch here:
SUB DUDE INTERVIEW
After the game, I caught up with Sub Dude, the Subway mascot, for this exclusive interview. I swear I am not making this interview up.
SS: “You took a good whack out there. What was it like playing in the mascot game?”
SD: “That was a great time. I did not realize that the ball was that hard. If I kicked the ball, it hardly moved. I learned I had to kick it with my knee. Then the Reds guy took a point blank shot at my face and knocked me over. Then he gave me CPR, which is what I remembered when I woke up.”
Photo by Sam Fahmi
SS: “The sponsor team appeared to be no match for the sports mascots.”
SD: “We had a lot of slow people. We didn’t have anybody athletic on our team. It was a stacked deck out there.”
SS: “Yeah, because the mascots get to train with their teams all the time, whereas the sponsor mascots have other jobs. Like Flick said, Pepe is stacking ice cream all day…”
SD: “At least I had the proper training diet, with all of my Subway subs. We ARE the official training restaurant.”
SS: “So what was it like for you down on the field?
SD: “I brought my soccer cleats and the field was perfect. It got hot inside the mascot costume really fast.”
SS: “What’s next for the sponsor team after this humiliating defeat?”
SD: “We’re going to retire for the rest of the year unless the Reds want to bring us to one of the playoff games.”
SS: “Wait, do you play mascot baseball too?”
SD: “No. It would be hard. You can’t see anything out there.”
SS: “It did seem that the sponsor mascot costumes were more of an impediment. You were the only one with normal footwear.”
SD: “Pepe’s feet are tied together. That’s a problem.”
SS: “While you had suitable footwear, I think the sandwich part of you probably made things difficult.”
SD: “The mascot costume keeps bouncing up and down. Now that I know what it’s like to run in it, I would have done a better job tying it down.”
SS: “Walk me through the goal, which came after an egregious 40-yard handball goal by the rooster, which I disallowed.”
SD: “It was a quick restart by the goal itself, and I was poaching.”
Photo by Sam Fahmi
SS: “What do you say to fans of the sponsor team, who are undoubtedly embarrassed by the 5-1 score line?”
SD: “Next year, we’ll be in shape for it. We’ll be ready.”
DR. J IS LEGIT
At Sunday’s reserve game, I laughed when I saw one of the team’s physicians, Dr. Johnson, walking around with a stethoscope around his neck. It reminded me of Leslie Nielsen’s Dr. Rumack in “Airplane!”, who wore a stethoscope while sitting in his seat during the flight.
“I look official, don’t I?” said a grinning Dr. J. “I’m not like Pete (Dr. Edwards) who walks around like some random guy, saying something like, ‘That’s an ileotibial ligament strain. That’ll be six weeks.’ People might not listen since he’s not wearing a stethoscope. Would you? But with this, people will listen. I look official.”
Questions? Comments? Checking your Subway sandwiches for concussion-like symptoms? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk