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Daniel Herlensky / Crew SC Communications

Sirk's Notebook: 5-0 Edition

“I realize ‘WOW’ isn’t technically a question, but…um…WOW!”

(Holds recorder in player’s face.)

Thus was the ultra-professional opening salvo to a few of my postgame interviews following Columbus Crew SC’s 5-0 shellacking of longtime rival D.C. United. But seriously…WOW. What else can be said?

Five goals? WOW. That Steve Clark save on the deflection? WOW. That Mohammed Saied pass to Jack McInerney, and then Jack Mac’s brilliant strike off the inside of the post? WOW. Justin Meram snaking though the United defense and slipping a shot inside the near post? WOW. Ethan Finlay scoring two goals in barely a minute? WOW. WOW. Aaron Schoenfeld’s Gumby stretch to poke a home that Waylon Francis cross? WOW. A second consecutive clean sheet for the first time since April? WOW. A delirious crowd shouting “Ole!” and “We want six!” and “We’re not done yet!” WOW. A five goal margin of victory? WOW. Against hated D.C. United? WOW. When both teams had everything to play for in terms of finishing in second place and securing that first round playoff bye? WOW.

“It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked,” said Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp, when presented with my WOW-focused non-question. “We said before the game that it’s been a journey this year. Everyone’s bought in. I think it’s awesome to see guys who came in and played so well. It was just a full-on, comprehensive onslaught. It was pretty fun, man. It was amazing out there. I can’t really say anything else.”

The only other thing to say is….WOW!

GOALS GALORE

How about a whole section devoted to five goals! Let’s go for it!

1-0: Jack McInerney (Mohammed Saied), 25th minute

Much was made of the yellow card suspensions of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain. That’s a combined 30 goals and 17 assists sitting in a suite with second place on the line. How fitting then, that Higuain’s replacement would slot a ball to Kamara’s replacement, who would rip a terrific finish of the inside of the far post. There couldn’t have been a more perfect statement of intent than Saied-to-McInerney to open the scoring.

“Huge,” said Ethan Finlay when asked about the creator and finisher of that goal. “You can’t replace guys like Pipa and Kei, but what is awesome is that we can still get the job done without them. That just shows what Gregg and our staff are creating here, which is a team of depth and a team that is more than capable of inserting players from the bench and making a huge impact, like Jack did, like Mohammed did.”

2-0: Justin Meram (Michael Parkhurst), 54th minute

The vital second goal came from some individual Meram magic after receiving a pinpoint long ball from Parkhurst. It was Parkhurst’s first assist of the season.

“About time a forward finished a ball I gave them,” Parkhurst said. “It’s not my fault.”

All joking aside, Parkhurst said a halftime point of emphasis, coupled with Meram’s trickery, created the goal.

“They had a high line and we had gotten in behind them a couple times in the second half,” he said. “I saw Justin was out wide and high, and usually he’s in the pocket, so we had talked at halftime about knocking the ball over the top a bit and switching the point of attack. I stroked it well and he took it from there and did the rest. It was a great finish. It really set us off well in the second half.”

After cutting into the box and beating United’s terrific goalkeeper Bill Hamid to the near post, Meram sprinted toward the tunnel, sat down in front of the corner flag, and then slightly wobbled his head while flashing a huge smile.

The only explanation Meram offered for his delightful celebration is as follows: “I was just sitting there and decided to smile a little bit.”

3-0: Ethan Finlay (Jack McInerney, Wil Trapp), 66th minute

This was a fun one. Both McInerney and Finlay timed their runs perfectly. Trapp played a ball that sent Jack Mac on a breakaway. As Hamid rushed out to confront McInerney, Finlay had the presence to stay onside while screaming for the ball. Likewise, McInerney had the presence of mind to roll the ball into Finlay’s path once he forced Hamid to commit. From there, Finlay dribbled the ball uncontested toward the empty net and slammed it home from three yards away.

“The (66th minute) goal is Jack,” Finlay said. “I was just yelling at him, and not every forward will listen to you in that moment. Jack’s a smart player and he knew I was coming there and I was yelling and yelling. He made a great pass, perfectly timed. It was fantastic.”

4-0: Ethan Finlay (Tony Tchani), 67th minute

For a team that once blew a 3-0 home lead, why not score a fourth just to be safe? A minute after he made it 3-0, Finlay made it 4-0 after collecting a Tony Tchani switch, then turning United defender Taylor Kemp inside out with a series of ankle-breaking cutbacks before firing the ball inside the far post.

“Obviously, the second one was just a backbreaker,” Finlay said of his rapid-fire scoring burst. “I think at that point, we all knew that we had it sewed up.”

(And in a moment of levity, when discussing being denied a hat trick by a Hamid save in stoppage time, Finlay added: “That’s my third two-goal game this year. Last year, I struggled and couldn’t get a two-goal game to save my life, so I think next year, I’m just lined up for multiple hat tricks right now.”)

5-0: Aaron Schoenfeld (Waylon Francis), 80th minute

We’ve all seen Waylon Francis whip in some ridiculous crosses this year. On Sunday, Aaron Schoenfeld used every bit of his 6’3” frame to reach out and redirect another Francis laser into the back of the net.

“Waylon’s got some of the most consistent crossing on the team,” Schoenfeld said. “I saw him line up and I just tried to split the center backs and he put it on a freakin’ dime. It was an unbelievable ball.”

He may have only played 214 minutes this season, but Schoenfeld is a well-respected member of the team. His goal made for many smiles in the locker room.

“Schoenfeld was excellent and he scored that goal,” said Wil Trapp. “I couldn’t be happier for that guy. It was really, really fun.”

THE ALL-IMPORTANT CLEAN SHEET

Throughout the season, Crew SC has scored a lot of goals, but also conceded lot of goals. (They finished tied for second in goals scored and 15th in goals allowed.) For most of the year, only Orlando was worse in terms of goals allowed. Then, knowing that they realistically had to win the final two games of the season in order to finish in second place, the Black & Gold not only picked up six points, buy they turned in back-to-back shutouts for the first time since April. When they needed to come together most, they kept clean sheets in two of the biggest games of the season. That could bode well for the tests yet to come.

“I think the two shutouts means more than the five goals today and the two goals last week,” said Trapp. “To keep a clean sheet when we hadn’t done so for a very long time, and to do it in back-to-back games that were tough games against playoff teams, that’s as good as it can get right now. When you’re stout defensively in the playoffs, you’re hard to beat. I think we have the tools up front that we’re going to score goals.”

“It’s a big boost, physically and mentally,” said center back Michael Parkhurst. “It’s really nice to look at the scoreboard and have a zero there at the end. It gives the whole group confidence. It wavered there in the middle of the season. Going so long with shutouts, you just think, ‘Man, it’s impossible to get shutouts.’ Even games when we played well, it seemed like a little thing here and there and you give up a goal. Steve (Clark) made a couple huge saves in the first half and that’s what we need. It’s a big boost going into the playoffs knowing that we’re capable of digging in and grinding out results or playing beautifully like we did tonight, but still keeping that zero.”

PROPS TO KEVAN

Mohammed Saied excelled in the attacking midfielder role in light of Higuain’s absence. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury forced him to leave the game in the 40th minute. Kevan George was called upon to bolster the midfield so that Tony Tchani could move higher in place of Saied. It was with George in the game that Crew SC blew that match wide open and played some epic games of keepaway. He’s a quiet guy, and he only got a chance to play 278 minutes this year because of the Black & Gold’s deep midfield, but just like with Schoenfeld, George’s performance produced a lot of smiles amongst the players and coaches. In fact, goalkeeper Matt Lampson greeted George with a congratulatory bear hug as the Trinidad & Tobago native walked off the field.

“I feel bad for Kevan because you guys don’t see how much he’s improved,” Berhalter said. “I see it every day, and he’s behind a strong midfield. His game has improved so much from last year to this year and he’s much more confident. It’s not a surprise that he’s starting for the Trinidad [and Tobago] national team. There’s no surprise there, and what we wanted is to give him a showcase to prove that and he did certainly tonight. He was fantastic.”

Ethan Finlay included George in his list of players who had an important impact on the match.

“It may not show up on the stat sheet,” Finlay said, “but he played some huge minutes for us.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: AMAZING TRIPLE NICKEL EDITION

One of the things I like to track is double nickels—when a player racks up at least five goals and five assists in the same season. That’s a balanced player who is adept at creating and finishing. He may still skew greatly toward scoring (e.g. Stern John) or assisting (e.g. Guillermo Barros Schelotto), but he’s still a player who can do both to a successful degree.

This year’s Crew SC team had five players hit that threshold, making it a triple nickel:

  1. Kei Kamara (22 g / 8 a)
  2. Ethan Finlay (12 g / 13 a)
  3. Federico Higuain (8 g / 9 a)
  4. Justin Meram (6 g / 5 a)
  5. Tony Tchani (5 g / 6 a)

That many double nickels is a club record, but that’s not all. The 2015 version of Columbus Crew SC became just the sixth team in MLS history, and the first in 15 years, to produce five double nickel players in the same season. A quintet of double nickel players is quite an accomplishment as it demonstrates an incredibly diverse attack.

It was fun to surprise the players with the rarity of their collective accomplishment.

“That’s actually really interesting because I think around the league, we get the M.O. of being a one-headed monster,” said Wil Trapp, referencing Kamara’s monstrous MVP-candidate season. “With that stat right there, you can see that we have guys who can contribute from all over the field.”

“That’s great,” said Finlay. “We play a different system, with only one true forward and then a false-nine with Pipa. Then winger play, where Justin and I are two different kinds of wings. Out of all the goals and all the guys who got them, we got a lot of goals out of Tony Tchani in the midfield, and that’s something we hadn’t gotten before. When you add another component like that to our team, it makes it really tough. As you saw today, it can be anyone’s night at any moment. That’s really special.”

“That’s great,” added Meram. “That shows our attack and that we’re lethal from all spots.”

Aaron Schoenfeld said that diversity of the attack is a testament to the selfless attitude of the players.

“That’s unbelievable,” said Schoenfeld of the triple nickel. “We’re a really deep group and we’re hungry. There are a lot of guys who are motivated for team success instead of individual success. It’s fun to be a part of.”

For completists, here are the other five instances of teams with at least five players attaining double nickel status. The legendary 1998 LA Galaxy, who scored the most goals in MLS history, have the record with seven players. All other instances were five players. Crew SC assistant coach Josh Wolff was on the last team to do it prior to this year’s Black & Gold, which was the 2000 Chicago Fire.

1997 Kansas City Wizards

  • Preki (12 g / 17 a)
  • Mark Chung (10 g / 8 a)
  • Digital Takawira (8 g / 7a)
  • Mo Johnston (6 g / 9 a)
  • Frank Klopas (5 g / 7 a)

1998 LA Galaxy

  • Cobi Jones (19 g / 13 a)
  • Welton (17 g / 11 a)
  • Mauricio Cienfuegos (13 g / 16 a)
  • Martin Machon (6 g / 14 a)
  • Carlos Hermosillo (6 g / 12 a)
  • Clint Mathis (5 g / 10 a)
  • Ezra Hendrickson (5 g / 8 a)

1998 D.C. United

  • Roy Lassiter (18 g / 6 a)
  • Jaime Moreno (16 g / 11 a)
  • Marco Etcheverry (10 g / 19 a)
  • John Harkes (6 g / 6 a)
  • Tony Sanneh (5 g/ 6 a)

1998 Chicago Fire

  • Ante Razov (10 g / 9 a)
  • Roman Kosecki (9 g / 9 a)
  • Lubos Kubik (7 g / 8 a)
  • Jerzy Podbrozny (6 g / 14 a)
  • Piotr Nowak (6 g / 12 a)

2000 Chicago Fire

  • Ante Razov (18 g / 6 a)
  • Dema Kovalenko (10 g / 5 a)
  • Hristo Stoitchkov (9 g / 7 a)
  • Josh Wolff (7 g / 5 a)
  • Piotr Nowak (5 g / 14 a)

MR. NUMBERS NERD: MORE DOUBLE NICKEL NOTES & QUOTES

Kamara, Meram and Tchani reached double nickel status for the first time in their Crew SC careers. It’s actually the third time Kamara has accomplished the feat in MLS. The previous two came in Kansas City. He had 10 goals and 6 assists in 2010, then 11 goals and 8 assists in 2012.

For Finlay, it was the second straight year he hit double nickel status. For Higuain, it was the fourth consecutive year.

Here are all 32 double nickels in the 20 seasons of Crew SC history, sorted by numbers of times accomplished:

  • 5x: Brian McBride
  • 4x: Jeff Cunningham, Federico Higuain
  • 3x: Guillermo Barros Schelotto
  • 2x: Ethan Finlay, Brian West
  • 1x: Edson Buddle, Jason Farrell, Eddie Gaven, Stern John, Kei Kamara, Brian Maisonneuve, Justin Meram, Adrian Paz, John Wilmar Perez, Tony Tchani, Robert Warzycha, Dante Washington

Also, Finlay and Kamara added to the list of 10-goal double nickel seasons. It was the second straight year for Finlay. Here are the 11 instances of 10-goal double nickels, sorted by number of times accomplished:

  • 3x: Jeff Cunningham
  • 2x: Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain
  • 1x: Stern John, Kei Kamara, Brian McBride, Dante Washington

And lastly, Finlay became just the second player in Crew SC history to post a double-double, and his 2015 campaign now tops that short and exclusive list. Finlay’s 12 goals and 13 assists bested Jeff Cunningham’s 10 goals and 13 assists in 2001.

That’s Landon Donovan level production out of a guy who had zero goals and zero assists in his first two seasons. Finlay broke out with 11 goals and 7 assists last year, then bested each of those numbers in a phenomenal 2015 season. As a team-first player, it can be hard to get Finlay to talk about his individual accomplishments, but he eventually succumbed to my pestering.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and pat myself on the back, but if you look at numbers for right wingers and right midfielders, those are career numbers,” Finlay said. “It’s pretty neat. To be able to make the All-Star team this year and to have the season I did, to show that last year wasn’t a fluke, that’s just career numbers for me. I bested what I did last year. It’s huge. I know it’s not always going to be going upwards and onwards, but it’s definitely a great feeling.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: SCAPPS UPDATE

Earlier this year, I looked at the number of scoresheet appearances (or “scapps”) being put up by Kamara and Finlay. “Scapps” is just easier to say than the clunky “goals plus assists.” Now that the season is over, Kamara put up the second-most scapps in club history, while Finlay put up the fourth-most.

Here is the list of all eleven 20-scapp seasons in Crew SC history:

  • 31: Stern John, 1998. (26+5)
  • 30: Kei Kamara, 2015. (22+8)
  • 26: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, 2008. (7+19)
  • 25: Ethan Finlay, 2015. (12+13)
  • 24: Dante Washington, 2000. (15+9)
  • 23: Jeff Cunningham, 2001. (10+13)
  • 23: John Wilmar Perez, 2001. (8+15)
  • 21: Jeff Cunningham, 2002. (16+5)
  • 20: Stern John, 1999. (18+2)
  • 20: Brian McBride, 1996. (17+3)
  • 20: Federico Higuain, 2013. (11+9)

URSO HEART AWARD

At halftime, Crew SC announced the club’s year-end award winners. Kei Kamara took home three awards (Barbasol Most Valuable Player, the Golden Boot, and the Ohio Health Humanitarian of the Year), left back Waylon Francis was named Defender of the Year, and Edward Folds III was named Crew SC Academy Player of the Year.

Nearest and dearest to my heart is the Kirk Urso Heart Award. The award is given annually to the player that best exemplifies the type of teammate and person that Crew midfielder Kirk Urso was before his tragic death on August 5, 2012, from an undetected congenital heart defect. To learn more about the type of special human being Kirk Urso was, please check out my book Kirk Urso: Forever Massive. All proceeds go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for congenital heart defect research.

The 2015 Kirk Urso Heart Award went to Michael Parkhurst, who became the fourth player to win the award.

  • 2012: Kirk Urso
  • 2013: Eric Gehrig
  • 2014: Steve Clark
  • 2015: Michael Parkhurst

“What the team saw and what we see is Michael’s a guy that it’s a fitting award because he is the heart of this club and he is the heart of the team,” said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “He goes about his way in his own way, but he gets a ton of respect from everyone around him and he’s always there, he always shows up … we’re happy for him.”

As is always the case when the Kirk Urso Heart Award is given, I sought out some of Kirk’s friends who can give true insight as to why the award winner was voted for the award.

Ethan Finlay was Urso’s roommate in Columbus. He felt Parkhurst was worthy of the award.

“I think it’s a great honor,” Finlay said. “He’s more than deserving. He’s kind of the heartbeat of our team and he knows when to slow that heartbeat down and when to speed it up. It’s extremely important to have a guy like that. He’s a huge part of our success on and off the field. When we get new guys in, and Gaston [Sauro] is a great example because he’s played some huge minutes, but that’s in part because he is playing next to a world-class player and a world-class guy. Those two components are huge. He’s got everything you want on the field and off the field.”

Aaron Schoenfeld was another close friend of Urso’s during the 2012 season. He also thinks the 2015 captain was a terrific choice.

“Parky’s one of the nicest, most humble, caring teammates I’ve ever had in my life,” Schoenfeld said. “I think that exemplifies what Kirk showed on and off the field. I can’t think of a more deserving guy in the locker room to give that award to than Parky.”

And how about a cameo from a Massive Champion? Retired Black & Gold goalkeeper William Hesmer was not only friends and teammates with Urso in 2012, but he has been friends with Parkhurst ever since they were college teammates at Wake Forest.

“Not surprised at all,” Hesmer said when asked of his reaction to Parkhurst winning the award. “Much like Kirk, Parky exemplifies everything that you would want out of a captain, teammate, friend and human being. He is kind, dependable, honest, hardworking, humble, competitive, and has a great sense of humor. He is a tremendous husband and father, and always a pleasure to be around. I think these are all characteristics that define what Kirk stood for as well.”   

Hesmer feels that everything matches up between Parkhurst and Urso.

“From their similar styles of humor in the locker room to their quiet confidence and aura on the field,” he said. “I do not think there is a better candidate for the award than Parky. As I said at the time of Kirk’s passing, the world needs more Kirks and Parky certainly checks that box.”

At his locker after the game, Parkhurst was clearly humbled by the award.

“It’s a big honor,” he said. “I didn’t know him personally, but the guys speak very highly of who he was as a person and a player. To be recognized in his company, it means a lot. I know the guys really respect the award and respect who he was, so it’s an honor for me to be named that winner.”

And there was this touching twitter exchange between Urso’s mother, Sandy, and the newest player to be honored in her son’s memory…

LOUGHNANE’S HISTORICAL CURIOSITY

After the game, Crew SC President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane, who joined the club in 2014, was every bit as curious as he was happy. When I saw him afterward, he had some enthusiastic questions. When was the last time we scored five goals? When did we last win by five goals? Where does this rank in terms of the biggest/best/funnest wins we’ve ever had over D.C. United?

Crew SC last scored five goals in a 6-2 win over Chicago in the 2003 season finale. That was the infamous Curtis Spiteri game where the poor Fire rookie got between the pipes after halftime and was subjected to a shooting gallery and six-goal barrage in the only 45 minutes of his MLS career.

Sunday’s romp over United equaled the largest margin of victory in Crew SC history. On August 8, 1996, nine different players got on the scoresheet to power Columbus to a 6-1 romp over New England at the Horseshoe. Then on June 16, 2001, at MAPFRE Stadium, Dante Washington became the only player in Black & Gold history to participate in five goals in a single match, scoring three goals and assisting on two others in a 6-1 mopping of the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The last question is trickier. After all, every victory over D.C. United is special to longtime Crew SC fans. There are some great victories that didn’t even come close to answering Loughnane’s question…the Jeff Cunningham 9v11 golden goal to beat United in Greg Andrulis’ first game has head coach…. The Brian McBride golden goal at RFK Stadium in the penultimate weekend of 2003 to keep the team’s (doomed) playoff hopes alive….the breaking of the RFK Jinx in 2000…. the 3-0 triumph after The Great Scoreboard Fire of 2013…and so many others.

The inaugural game, a 4-0 win featuring arguably the greatest goal in MLS history, was certainly a historic moment, but it couldn’t match the resonance of Sunday’s game. The inaugural game was a delight, but there was no history there. There was no attachment. The majority of the players could have switched jerseys at halftime and most of the crowd would have been none the wiser. It was all too new to have much meaning beyond the birth of the club itself and the fun of cheering for four goals. That game’s stature in Crew SC lore came from hindsight and a sense of history. (And that Oshoniyi-to-McBride goal.)

That leaves one true contender—the 1999 playoff game in which Crew SC humiliated United 5-1 behind a Stern John hat trick. There’s a catch to that one too. The win forced a third and decisive game at RFK Stadium, which Columbus lost 4-0. That takes a little bit of the luster off of it.

My final response was that, in terms of leaving the stadium that day, the 1999 playoff game surely ranks higher. United had eliminated Crew SC in the Eastern Conference Finals each of the previous two years, and were favored to appear in their fourth consecutive MLS Cup in 1999. To drub that club 5-1 while facing elimination lifted the spirits of the team and the fans. THIS could be the year! The excitement and anticipation heading into the third game was almost unbearable. THIS time it was going to go our way! And all of this was at the emotional and competitive apex of the 1990s Columbus-D.C. rivalry.

As noted, however, all that was undone seven days later with a 4-0 loss at RFK Stadium.

This game, by contrast, will stand on its own merits. It was the regular season finale with second place and a first-round bye at stake for both teams. Mission accomplished, and then some.

So my final answer was that, leaving the stadium, the 5-1 playoff win in 1999 was the biggest/best/funnest win over D.C. United, but with the benefit of hindsight, Sunday’s win may very well take the top spot since it was a self-contained triumph, whereas the 1999 win turned out to be a setup for more RFK heartache.

So…I dunno. I’m torn. What do you think? Comment, email sirk65@yahoo.com, or tweet @stevesirk.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on which awesome five-goal outburst against D.C. United was the most awesome.

ATMOSPHERE

When your team is clowning a rival by five goals, it’s guaranteed to be a great time in the stands. “We want five!” chants soon morphed into “We want six!” chants after Aaron Schoenfeld scored to make it 5-0. The crowd shouted “Ole!” after every completed pass against a demoralized D.C. team. “We’re not done yet!” came another forceful chant, echoing back to the famous chant from 2008 as the Black & Gold made their march to MLS Cup glory. All in all, it was a blast.

“It was entertaining, that’s for sure,” Michael Parkhurst said of the crowd’s joyful enthusiasm. “It was a great atmosphere tonight. It was a fantastic crowd and I’m just glad we were able to put on a good show for them.”

“It was tremendous tonight,” added Ethan Finlay. “Maybe some of the best atmosphere since I’ve been here, and that’s saying something. Tonight was special and everyone in the stands got to see a really special night. It was a lot of fun and I hope they enjoyed it.”

Wil Trapp had no doubt that the crowd enjoyed the game.

“They loved it probably more than we did,” he said with a smile.

For Sporting Director & Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, the tremendous support on Sunday actually made him reflect back to one of the low points of the season, when Crew SC blew a 3-0 second half lead to tie Toronto.

“I think this was the best atmosphere all year,” Berhalter said. “I don’t know what you guys think, but it felt like it on the sidelines. It was a very intense atmosphere and I want to thank the fans for not only tonight, but also all year, because they’ve been behind us all year. I remember tying Toronto and it just being an awful feeling and you have a pit in your stomach and guys’ heads are down and you walk over to the Nordecke and they’re cheering. That’s the type of support we have here. We appreciate that because it’s not always the case if you look around MLS, but these fans have been great.”

And what would such a supernova of communal bliss be without a few summarizing words from Frankie Hejduk?

“I got chills at how happy everyone was,” Hejduk said. “Let’s just keep drinking this happy juice and take it into the playoffs, dude.”

PLAYOFFS

And now, at last, the playoffs are upon us. Last year’s postseason didn’t go so well. The Black & Gold were buried 7-3 on aggregate by the New England Revolution. It was a learning experience. In 2015, the team is eager to apply those lessons learned a year ago.

The 5-0 domination of D.C. United has launched the team into the playoffs on a high note.

“That’s important,” Finlay said. “You need to be able to put your foot on the throat during these games, especially with a home and away series. You can lose a series in one game. It happens. I think it’s important that we’re conscious of that and I think tonight was a good example of us putting the pedal to the metal late and making a statement. I think we’ll be better prepared just based on what happened last year. It wasn’t great. It was a salty feeling for everyone. So being able to manage those expectations and to manage the game is going to be very important going forward. We’ll see what happens.”

The playoffs are a tricky beast. Sometimes you get flat-out beat, like Columbus last year. Sometimes you are the decisive victor, like, well, New England last year against Columbus. Sometimes, however, it becomes a game of inches. One bounce, one call, one moment of brilliance, all with a season hanging in the balance. Also, because of the away goals rule, not only does it matter THAT those things happen, it also matters WHERE they happen. There are so many miniscule variables with so much at stake.

“The cruel thing about the playoffs is you lose and you’re out,” Berhalter said. “So you have to be concentrated. You have to show up every game, every minute.”

The players are ready to go.

“This is the best time of the year,” said Justin Meram. “We’ve just got to stay focused, be excited, and get ready.”

In the postgame press conference, Berhalter was asked to assess his team’s chances of winning MLS Cup.

“I think we have a good team,” he said. “What I would say, and correct me if I’m wrong, but every team in the playoffs has a chance to win the MLS Cup.”

No correction warranted. Here’s hoping that it’s the most Massive of clubs that prevails.

Questions? Comments? Ever imagine that a real soccer game could produce more LOLs than the mascot game? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk.

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