ROOKIES TO VETERANS
Before moving on to part two, after reading Part 1, I realized that I somehow failed to include this gem from Matt Lampson when asked about his first day of training and scrimmaging as a professional he said, "It was nice to get back into things. As for the level of play, I think guys were a little rusty. I made some saves that normally would have gone inside the back post easy, all right? Maybe they didn’t want to make me look bad. This is a nice team, and if that is how they want to welcome me in, so be it."
DRIBBLING DRILL OF DOOM
One of the most grueling drills in the opening two days of camp was a 15-minute dribbling session. One after another, players had to dribble great distances while turning at cones. Mike Lapper gave a lengthy demonstration of one trip through the circuit. It was tiring to watch, much less do.
“I don’t want you to sprint,” head coach Robert Warzycha advised his players. “I just want a good pace. Just go at a good pace and be sharp when you make your turns.”
And so it went for 15 solid minutes, like a line of two-legged ants dribbling soccer balls over the same well-worn pheromone trail. At one point, Danny O’Rourke started tugging at the back of Eddie Gaven’s jersey as they made their way through the drill. Afterward, Gaven explained what was happening.
“Danny was crying like a little baby that I was going too fast, but I was only jogging,” Gaven said, which prompted O’Rourke to join the conversation.
“I’m not a dribbler!” O’Rourke said. “Since I never dribble, I was just kicking the ball long and running. I hate dribbling. I did more dribbling in that one drill than I will do all year on the field.”
“I was thinking about that,” Gaven said. “Some of you guys were doing more dribbling than you ever do.”
O’Rourke envisioned a drill more befitting of his skill set. “They should have put up a tackling dummy in every corner and let me slide tackle it.”
Gaven didn’t see the benefit for himself, noting that he would get knocked over by the tackling dummy.
“The thing is,” O’Rourke countered, “Eddie would still somehow meg the tackling dummy as he’s getting knocked over.”
As a compromise, I suggested that there should be a drill that consists solely of O’Rourke sliding into Gaven. That way, Danny gets his slide tackling practice in while Eddie gets to toughen up his ankles, shins, and calves for the inevitable hackfests he will suffer in real games. Gaven shot down my proposal.
“Not on turf,” he said. “I would get too many rug burns.”
Oh well. Maybe in Bradenton then.
GAVEN TRIMS UP
Gaven is sporting a new aerodynamic hair style and has even somewhat trimmed his legendary beard.
“The beard’s still a little scraggly, but I got my hair shorter, so it’s a start, right?” he said. “I might shave before we start our preseason trip. It’s gonna be hot and we’re going to be doing a lot of running. I don’t need it for luck since it’s just preseason, and by the time the season starts, it can grow back.”
The thought of Gaven’s beard soaking up untold pounds of sweat like a shaggy Sham-Wow did not sound appealing upon contemplating those brutal Florida running drills.
“When I’m doing the amount of running that we do, I need as little weight on me as possible,” he said. “With the sweat, it will get waterlogged and weigh me down, so I may have to think about shaving it for preseason.”
JULIUS JAMES AND HIS HEALING SHOULDER
Julius James has been watching training as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and chipped shoulder socket. He said that the doctors are estimating a March or April return.
“It’s a big joint in the human anatomy, so you have to take your time and make it strong,” James said. “It may heal faster than you think, but you still have to deal with the strength aspect of everything because when you fall, the first thing that goes out is your arm and all the impact is on your shoulder, so you have to make sure it is strong and that you have all of your flexibility and everything. I’m glad with the work that the doctor did. He did an excellent job on me and everyone is happy with the work he did. I’m working at it, man. I’m waiting to come back.”
After watching the Dribbling Drill of Doom and contemplating all of the puke-inducing running that will take place in Florida, I suggested that maybe it’s not so terribly bad to be injured during this part of the year.
“That part’s not so bad,” he said with a smile, “but the thing is, when you’re trying to come back, it’s a game of catch-up after that because everyone else has already done all this work. There’s an advantage and a disadvantage to being hurt right now. It’s a double-sided sword. Which sucks. It always sucks to sit out and watch the guys training. I’m struggling a bit right now because I want to be out there with the team, but I need to make sure that when I come back, I am healthy.”
ROBBIE’S ROOMMATE CURSE COLLAPSES IN ON ITSELF
Over the years, Robbie Rogers had a running joke in this space about The Curse of the Roommate. Basically, anybody that lived with Robbie wasn’t long for Columbus. Tim Ward, Danny Szetela, Brad Evans, and Steven Lenhart all left town under the curse’s cloud. Then in 2011, Robbie’s cross-hall neighbor Andy Iro got traded to Toronto, suggesting that the curse was expanding its reach to include those in Robbie’s general proximity.
Rogers was out of contract after the 2011 MLS season. On January 10, he signed a 2.5-year contact with Leeds United in England. His work permit was approved on January 18, making the move official. Long the center of the Curse of the Roommate, Rogers himself was now out of Columbus.
“The roommate curse didn't really work on me because I didn't get traded and my contract ran out,” Rogers emailed from England on Jan. 19. “It was more of the Robbie Curse.”
While excited for his new opportunity in England, Rogers did wish to pass along the following message:
“I had a great time in Columbus,” he wrote. “I want to wish everyone at The Crew the best of luck this year! I enjoyed all of my time in Columbus, 2008 being a highlight of course. I adamantly believe that The Crew have some very talented players and I hope that the staff find a way to let them showcase their talents. I met so many great people in Columbus that will always remain close to me. I want to thank all of Columbus for putting up with me for the past 4.5 years... All the best to everyone!”
TCHANI AND THE STEELERS
On occasion, Crew midfielder Tony Tchani has unknowingly made me cringe with misguided tweets in support of the loathsome Pittsburgh Steelers. For example:
September 25: “The steelers did it once again. #blackandyellowallday”
November 6: “Let’s goooo STEELERS!!!”
And so on. Given that Tchani was born all the way over in Cameroon and not on a rusty lawn chair in the shadow of a non-functioning satellite dish while neighbors belched encouragement in between swigs from lukewarm beer cans pulled out of a Styrofoam cooler precariously perched upon a wobbly stack of secondhand hubcaps propped up against the rotting tree stump that people stand on to look down the mountain and get a good view of the Steelers’ home stadium, this has been perplexing to me.
So how, exactly, does a guy from Cameroon become a Pittsburgh Steelers fan?
“When I first moved to the States, I had never watched football before,” Tchani explained. “The first time I watched football, it was the Steelers. I really loved that guy Polamalu and that wide receiver Santonio Holmes. That’s why I became a Steelers fan. When I saw Polamalu and the way he was tackling people, I was really into that, so I became a fan of the Steelers.”
Now that he plays in Ohio and has possibly suffered firsthand exposure to the presence of other Steelers fans, I thought that perhaps there could be a chance that he would ditch the Steelers and root for the fine semi-professional football organization that is the Cleveland Browns. (I even lied and told him that the Browns are, and I quote, “awesome.”)
“No chance,” Tchani said. “I don’t care. No chance. When I like a team, it’s all the way.”
Fair enough. I just hope that Tchani plays for the Crew for at least another decade so I have a theoretical chance to give him grief if there’s ever a next time that the Browns beat the Steelers.
McCULLERS ON TICKET SALES
The Crew have publicly stated a goal of 10,000 season tickets as part of their Dare to Be Massive campaign. Mark McCullers is pleased with the progress that the club has made toward that goal.
“It’s going well,” he said. “Until we get to 20,000, in the stadium for every game, I won’t rest or feel comfortable. Our sales guys have hit every target that we have put in front of them so far. We are already 25 percent beyond all of 2011’s production in terms of season ticket sales. We’ve obliterated that mark, which is good, but unfortunately 2011 is not a standard we want to measure ourselves by. We’ve doubled our ticket sales staff, so I’m excited not only about the signings in the clubhouse, but the signings in the front office too. Those guys are working hard and I like that team too.”
McCullers declined to give an updated total of full-season equivalent season tickets. He said the number is in flux between what’s already been sold and what’s in the pipeline.
“What I’m more interested in is where we need to be,” he said. “We need to be at about 7,500 by March 24 to put us within striking distance of our goal of 10,000 by the end of 2012. I think the sales people are doing their part, and we are going to be launching a broad campaign to the corporate community. Our percentage of corporate accounts is a third of the league average in similar sized markets. The response to that campaign is going to determine in large part where we are by March 24 and whether we hit that 7,500 number or not.”
The Crew intend to stress the club’s valuable role in the central Ohio community and how important it is for corporations to invest in their community.
“We’re going to be introducing a full economic impact study soon, and those are some compelling numbers about what the Crew means to the community,” McCullers said. “We have the ability to be on national television, but we don’t have nearly as many national television games as I would like for us to have. Part of that is that we aren’t generating the crowds that other markets are generating, so we need that support from the corporate community. We’ve been one of the best teams over the past four years, so we’ve done our part as far as putting a winning product on the field.”
McCullers knows that winning on the field is only part of the equation. The club is looking to improve on its game day experience as well.
“We were just reviewing some research this morning,” he said. “We still get high marks on the experience. There are some things we need to improve for sure, and we’re addressing that and putting resources toward that. I can’t elaborate on that at the moment, as we’re still working out the details, but I will be excited to talk about those when I can. If we’re going to ask the community to support us, and if we’re going to get 10,000 season ticket holders, then we need to make sure that the experience that they have is fantastic. I’m talking about a ‘wow’ moment when you walk through those gates and you hit the plaza, and the activity in the plaza, and the smells and the food, and the whole experience. There are very specific things that we are looking to do, and I look forward to talking about those soon.”
McCULLERS ON A JERSEY SPONSOR
Since everybody always wants to know about the status of the other big ticket business items, namely a jersey sponsorship and stadium naming rights, McCullers offered an intentionally vague update.
“Nothing new,” he said. “Still some good conversations going on in regard to the jersey. Those conversations are in different stages, but there are multiple conversations, which is good. The stadium, not quite as much, but the process and the engagement of the leadership in the community, such as the mayor’s office and the Columbus Partnership, is exciting. I think setting very tangible goals in terms of jersey sponsorship, stadium naming rights, and 10,000 season tickets—those three things— everyone can see the finish line and what we need to do. There’s a rallying cry and people are responding to it, so that’s an exciting thing to me.”
TUCKER REVEALS CREW’S DP!
As we watched the first morning, team operations director Tucker Walther commented that if reporters went to Florida, they’d be able to see even more players, including additional draft picks and international signings, such as “Mirosevic, Vargas, and Messi.”
So that’s the well-known designated player that the Crew are after? Messi?
“Blissy’s talking to him on the phone right now,” he said, gesturing toward technical director Brian Bliss, who sure enough had his cell phone glued to his ear.
“So,” I said, “that means I can tweet that a ‘highly placed team source’ said that the Crew are negotiating with Lionel Messi?”
“Whoa!” said Tucker. “Who said anything about Lionel? I didn’t say that. You said that. I just said Messi.”
After further discussion, there’s apparently a guy somewhere named Bob Messy who is sooper-dooper-top-secretly on the Crew’s DP radar. I haven’t been able to find anything on him. To conceal their tracks, the Crew have apparently endeavored to erase all mention of him on the internet, including Wikipedia. That makes this scoop all the juicier! Thanks Tucker!
Whenever a teammate is within earshot, one of Eddie Gaven’s pastimes is telling a reporter that the nearby player should be making seven figures.
Here were two examples during my talk with Eddie, as well as each player’s offhand retort as they walked by.
Gaven: “Danny O’Rourke should be making seven figures.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, if you put dot zero zero on the end.”
And then a little later…
Gaven: “Andy Gruenebaum should be making seven figures.”
Gruenebaum: “Should be, but doesn’t.”
ONE FINAL DOSE OF OPTIMISM
To conclude this Notebook with one last blast of training camp optimism, here’s what Danny O’Rourke had to say when asked if he felt excited to get the 2012 season underway.
“Not really,” he deadpanned. “Why would I be excited? It’s snowing in Columbus. At least 75 percent of the guys in camp I either don’t know or don’t like. Duncan’s trying to be a coach now, so that sucks because he doesn’t bring anything to the table…”
Danny paused for a moment.
“As a writer, can you portray sarcasm on there? I hope so, because that can really come out wrong if you don’t.”
Boy, is it good to have Crew season back. It looks to be a fun one. Better pop some popcorn.
To read the first first part “Sirk’s Notebook: Preseason Training Part 1: Rookies” CLICK HERE.