SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Rookie Assistors

Niko Hansen sure likes showing up in the rarest corners of Columbus Crew SC history, doesn’t he?

On March 25, he became the first Black & Gold rookie to score the game-winning goal in his MLS debut. Just three weeks later, in a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, Hansen and teammate Alex Crognale became only the third pair of Columbus rookies to register an assist in the same game.

After Columbus fell behind 1-0, Hansen helped bring the Black & Gold level in the 37th minute. He raced up the right side after a pass from Federico Higuain, then nutmegged TFC defender Nick Hagglund with a perfectly weighted pass through the penalty area to find Ola Kamara’s well-timed run for a far post tap-in.

Not bad for the rookie’s first-ever MLS start.

“It was a classic case of a guy who forces his way into the lineup by performing in games when he gets the opportunity and performing in training,” said Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter on the decision to give Hansen the starting nod. “We saw enough to say it was his time.”

Was it ever.

Hansen would once again find himself in the history books thanks to Crognale, who headed a Higuain corner kick across the goal mouth to a waiting Justin Meram, who used the outside of his right foot to redirect the ball into the net from close range in the 44th minute.

“They’ve been talking to me about being more effective and dangerous on set pieces, so I’ve made that a focus of mine over the past few weeks,” Crognale said. “I’ve been working on it in training and brought it to the game.”

And now, as we are about to learn, he’s brought it to the record books.

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Via Twitter, @tokenliberal sent me down the research rabbit hole when he said he was looking forward to a Sirk’s Notebook about two rookies assisting in the same game. I’d like to think I would have gone in that direction on my own once I sat down to think about what to write, but his postgame tweet had me up past 3 a.m, on game night doing the research. So a tip of the cap to @tokenliberal for ensuring that I didn’t absentmindedly overlook a fun historical research opportunity. There’s no guarantee I would have thought of it, as much as I’d like to think I would.

Before we get to that, how about this? No Crew SC rookie had assisted on a goal since Chad Barson helped on a Dominic Oduro tally in a 4-2 win in Dallas on September 29, 2013. That means the Black & Gold hadn’t had a single rookie assist in three-and-a-half years, then got TWO in the span of seven minutes!

Or how about this? There had only been eight prior instances in Crew SC history where two or more rookies assisted in the same SEASON. Then Hansen and Crognale did it seven minutes apart.

We are in the 22nd season in club history, and only 28 rookies have ever recorded assists. Here they are by year. It’s a fun mix of names.

1996: Brian Maisonneuve (x2), Obi Monome, Todd Miller
1998: Jeff Cunningham, Andrew Gregor (x2), Brian West (x2)
2000: Roland Aguilera
2001: Edson Buddle (x2), Duncan Oughton
2002: Kyle Martino (x5)
2003: Jake Traeger (x2)
2004: Chad Marshall, Chris Wingert (x2), Danny Szetela
2005: Marcus Storey
2006: Marc Burch, Jason Garey (x2)
2007: Brad Evans
2009: Alex Grendi
2010: Shaun Francis
2011: Justin Meram (x2), Bernardo Anor
2012: Kirk Urso, Aaron Schoenfeld
2013: Wil Trapp, Ryan Finley, Chad Barson
2017: Niko Hansen, Alex Crognale

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Anyway, on to @tokenliberal’s big question. Saturday night marked only the third time in Crew SC history that two rookies assisted in the same game.

June 20, 1998
Columbus 2, MetroStars 1

What’s that? A 2-1 comeback victory at home powered by a pair of rookies assisting on goals? Sounds familiar. Rookie Andrew Gregor assisted on Stern John’s 29th minute equalizer. Fellow rookie Brian West picked up a secondary assist on Billy Thompson’s 63rd minute game-winner. That’s 34 minutes between rookie assists.

June 18, 2011
Columbus 2, at Houston 0

Bernardo Anor assisted on an Andres Mendoza goal in the 41st minute. Anor then scored a goal of his own in the 77th minute, off an assist from fellow rookie Justin Meram. That’s 36 minutes between rookie assists.

April 15, 2017
Columbus 2, Toronto 1

Hansen assisted on Kamara’s 37th minute equalizer. Crognale assisted on Meram’s 44th minute game-winner. That’s seven minutes between rookie assists, and they also became the first pair of Columbus rookies to accomplish the feat at MAPFRE Stadium.

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One last bit of rookie assist trivia. Saturday was the FOURTH time in Crew SC history that there have been two rookie assists in a game. Also, Hansen and Crognale do NOT hold the record for shortest time between goals assisted by a Columbus rookie.

I shall explain:

On October 26, 2003, Jake Traeger, a rookie out of Ohio State, made his MLS debut in the season finale. The Chicago Fire had wrapped up their playoff position and had taken a 2-0 halftime lead on Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium. Not wanting to risk injury to star goalkeeper Zach Thornton, Chicago put backup Curtis Spiteri in the net to start the second half. The Fire also stopped playing defense. Poor Spiteri spent 45 minutes under siege. Brian McBride scored in the 48th minute. Jeff Cunningham scored the equalizer in the 54th minute. McBride scored the go-ahead goal in the 67th minute. Edson Buddle gave Columbus a two-goal cushion in the 74th minute.

Coach Greg Andrulis saw this as the perfect time to reward the well-liked Traeger with his first MLS action, so he subbed him in for Brian Maisonneuve in the 78th minute. Traeger immediately did his part to put the game out of reach. In the 85th minute, he picked up the secondary assist on another Buddle goal. In the 90th minute, he assisted on a Freddy Garcia tally to make it 6-2. In 12 minutes of action, the rookie Traeger assisted on goals just five minutes apart.

Traeger made one three-minute appearance in 2004, so he finished his career with two assists in just 15 minutes of action. Not many can retire with 6.0 assists-per-90 on their resume, even with the benefit of a small sample size. Jake Traeger did it.

I started out writing about Niko Hansen and Alex Crognale, and I end up finishing this Notebook entry with Jake Traeger. Historic feats connect to other historic feats, and that’s a fun side benefit of another historic night at MAPFRE Stadium.

Questions? Comments? Have a guess as to what Niko Hansen has up his sleeve next? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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