The league calls it First Kick. The supporters call it Crewsmas. Both of those monikers are more catchy and efficient than the more literal Annual Make Toronto FC Come Down and Stand Around and Watch the Crew Unveil More League Honors Before Outplaying the Hosers As Usual Day.
Outclassing Toronto enough to win by four or more goals, the Crew played sloppily and imprecise enough in the offensive end of the field to win merely 2-0. It’s all three points in the end. The win gave the Crew an early leg up in the 2010 Trillium Cup competition and also ran their all-time unbeaten streak against Toronto to 10 games and counting.
“I didn’t think the result was fair at all,” said Toronto FC coach Preki, sending the assembled media scrambling for their stat sheets to see if the numbers told a different story than the one observed by the eyes. Let’s see… the Crew took two-and-a-half times as many shots as Toronto, had twice as many shots on goal, earned a 10-1 edge in corner kicks, had two clear breakaways, and committed only half as many fouls. Nope. Sounds about right. The only unjustness in the result is that there was less than adequate damage done to Toronto’s goal differential.
“It wasn’t a great game, but it was good because we won two-nil,” said Crew midfielder Adam Moffat. “We probably should have won three-, four-, five- nil, but it’s good to get the three points either way.”
With that case closed, here’s the usual collection of news, notes, and random foolishness…
While many (myself included) assumed that Crew coach Robert Warzycha would insert Gino Padula at his usual left back spot and move Danny O’Rourke to the center of the defense, Warzycha felt good about the lineup that had played at Toluca and didn’t want to change a thing. That meant that Andy Iro remained in the lineup in the central defense and that O’Rourke remained at left back. The coach’s defensive decision not only helped put a goose egg on the scoreboard, but amazingly also resulted in the Crew’s two goals.
The first goal came in 29th minute, courtesy of Iro’s noggin. After Toronto committed a needless foul against Eddie Gaven in the offensive third near the right touchline, Guillermo Barros Schelotto swerved a free kick into the box. Iro rumbled forth and beat everyone to the ball, nodding it past Hoser goalie Stefan Frei.
“I actually don’t think I headed it that cleanly,” said Iro. “There was a guy in front of me, but he jumped late, so I took a chance and it glanced me head.”
Iro doesn’t exactly have a Chad Marshall-like reputation for aerial dominance. In the past, he has been razzed by teammates over his heading prowess. In the present too.
“No one expected that,” said Adam Moffat of Iro’s header. “Even he didn’t expect that. He just got lucky that the ball hit his head. It was good for him, though, because he is the worst header for a 6’5” guy ever. His heading is an ongoing joke, so it’s good for his confidence.”
Iro got a good laugh out of the comments by his Scottish friend.
“Did you see his breakaway?” he asked. (More on that in a bit.) “As far as my header, I’ve got more goals than him right now, haven’t I? Until that changes, he can shut his mouth. There’s a bit of a Scottish-English rivalry there, and I think he’s still mad about Braveheart or whatever, but at the end of the day, I let my footie do the talking.”
There’s no doubting that the scoreboard is literally and figuratively in Iro’s favor after game one.
The Weird Insurance Goal
The Crew took a 2-0 lead in the 87th minute in an early contender for Weirdest Goal of the Year. Any goal that involves a full-field run by Danny O’Rourke, a mutual slide tackle involving a goalkeeper, an unpressured defender mindlessly blasting the ball off of his injured goalkeeper, and a swerving chip shot into an empty net HAS to be considered a little bit strange, right?
The play started when O’Rourke blocked a Julian de Guzman shot at the Crew’s six-yard box. Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer, who had been sharp in the few instances he had been called upon, appeared to have the shot covered, but O’Rourke removed all doubt with a great defensive play. After collecting the ball and making a safe pass, O’Rourke started running. Not since Forrest Gump has a man dashed so far for no apparently logical reason.
But there was a method to the madness after all.
“Toronto likes to tuck their midfield in,” said O’Rourke, “so the space is going to be there. And playing on this team for three or four years, you have confidence that guys are going to find you in those spots.”
Sure enough, at the midfield circle, Eddie Gaven spotted a bearded flash of yellow streaking up the left side. The Danny O’Rourke sneak attack was on, so Gaven rolled the ball into the acres of space behind Toronto’s unsuspecting defense.
“First of all, I didn’t think Eddie would play the ball a mile away,” said O’Rourke. “I thought he would play it to my feet so I could go to goal.”
But with the ball dumped into space, a game of chicken ensued, pitting a young goalkeeper against one of the league’s most notorious enforcers.
“I think the goalie get afraid and say ‘I give the ball to Guille!’” said Guillermo Barros Schelotto, laughing at O’Rourke’s fearsome reputation.
Danny and his evil beard bore down at full throttle while Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei briefly hesitated before charging toward the oncoming pain train.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get there,” said O’Rourke. “It was about a 95-yard run from where I started. The goalie hesitated a bit, so I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m going for it.’ That’s one of those plays where if you go in half-hearted, you get hurt, so I went in 100%.”
O’Rourke left his feet to slide for the ball. Then Frei left his feet to slide for the ball. Frei won the race, but his clearance hit O’Rourke’s leg, causing the ball to pop up in the air toward the Toronto goal. A fraction of a second later, the two men collided. Frei, as all goalkeepers must do when they have taken themselves out of the play, rolled around in apparent agony, hoping to stop the play.
(TFC coach Preki felt it was a foul. Looking at the replay, it’s nearly impossible to disagree. The fact is that Frei got there first, then Danny collided with him. If the roles were reversed, and if that were an opponent and William Hesmer, I would certainly argue that it was a foul. And I imagine Danny O himself would have had the opponent in a choke hold to remind him how impolite it is to slide into Hesmer like that. The Crew caught a lucky break, but there’s no question that O’Rourke made his own luck with his brain, his heart, and his hustle.)
As improbable as it may be that an O’Rourke-goalkeeper collision somehow did not end in a whistle against O’Rourke, what happened next was off-the-charts insane. After Frei and O’Rourke each got a piece of the ball, it popped up into the air into Toronto’s 18-yard box. The ball fell to TFC defender Nick Garcia, who had both time and space to clear the ball. There were only two Crew players in his vicinity. O’Rourke was getting up off the ground several yards away and Schelotto patrolled a vacant patch of grass about 10 yards into the distance. Garcia had more than adequate time and space to clear the ball into safety and to see to it that his fallen goalkeeper was tended to.
Instead—and I still can’t believe this actually happened, no matter how many times I rewatch it— Garcia blasted the ball off of his prone goalkeeper, playing a perfect bank shot to the feet of Schelotto of all frickin’ people. Seriously. This actually happened.
After receiving the inexplicable gift at his feet, the Crew’s Argentine legend calmly lofted a swerving chip shot over the Toronto defense and into the empty net. There wasn’t so much as a blip in his pulse.
“I knew I had some time, and I knew I had to put the ball inside the goal because the goalie is outside,” Guille said. “I say it is easy because I have a few seconds and some space, but I need to be accurate because Garcia give me the ball.”
That last clause is pure Guille gold. Clearly, Schelotto was implying that when an opponent gives you an astonishing gift, you need to take full advantage and make them pay, but as always, such sentiments take on a delightfully unorthodox life of their own in Guille-speak.
And what of Danny O’Rourke? For the second straight game at left back, Danny O created a Crew goal with a dashing run up the left flank. He wasn’t credited with an assist on either goal, but neither goal would have happened without him.
“Dude, Danny needs to play up top,” said forward Steven Lenhart. “He’s been getting forward. I think he’s a creator. He doesn’t get credit for goals or assists, but he creates goals. I think it’s his beard or something.”
The Broken Breakaway
If there was one moment causing a lot of buzz in the locker room, it was Adam Moffat’s failed breakaway attempt in the 50th minute. As Moffat approached Stefan Frei’s goal with the ball at his feet, the crowd eagerly anticipated a vintage Moffat Rocket to double the Crew’s lead. Instead, the Scot opened his hips and sent a feeble roller, reminiscent of a Tony Sanneh penalty kick, right to Frei, who easily collected the alleged shot. While it was an agonizing disappointment at the time, especially in a one-goal game, it became hilarious to his teammates once the three points were secure.
“Please tell me you are going to rip on Moffat for that breakaway,” begged Jason Garey as he walked off the field. “That was terrible! I have never seen anything so awful in my life!”
“No comment,” said Lenhart, before commenting further. “I think he got confused. Maybe their goalie looked like Will for a second, so Adam dropped it off so Will could clear it. That’s what I thought. That’s the only explanation I can think of, to be honest. I think he just got tired.”
“I think that’s true,” added Robbie Rogers, as he iced every joint in his lower body except for his left ankle. “I was running with him and I was thinking maybe he would pass it to me so I could put it in. But as he got more and more tired, I got out in front of him. I couldn’t slow down enough. Then I was hoping he wouldn’t pass it to me because I was offside.”
“Did you see his shot?” asked an incredulous Andy Iro. “It was shocking. It’s as simple as that. It’s the worst strike I have ever seen from a Scottish guy. Striking the ball is all they do over there, isn’t it? It’s just shocking.”
Duncan Oughton didn’t even see it, yet that did not stop him from sharing his thoughts. “I was walking back to my seat after talking to Mark McCullers, so I missed it,” the Kiwi said. “I’ve heard nothing but awful things about it. I heard he broke away and tried to open up his hips for a Thierry Henry-like finish, but he ended up rolling the ball to the goalkeeper like a Scottish girly-man.”
Is it possible? Could the famously goalless Danny O’Rourke have put together a better breakaway attempt?
“You would like to think so after that display, right?” said O’Rourke, who has yet to score a goal in his entire professional career. “But I probably would have kicked it out of bounds or tripped over the ball and given them a counter attack. He made a great run and then I think he tried to bend it or something. I would DIE for a chance like that.”
Moffat endured all the ribbing with his usual happy-go-lucky smile. “I suppose you want to talk about the highlight?” he asked as I wandered over toward his locker.
“I just went for finesse,” he explained, before shifting into his droll Scottish deadpan. “It was a great save, though. It was a wonderful save. All you can do is put it on target, and if he makes a fantastic save, what can you do?
“I thought Robbie was a defender,” he said of his breakaway running mate. “I was like, ‘Oh no, he’s catching me! He’s fast!’ I should have done a slide tackle like Danny O’Rourke. Someone else would have gotten the goal, but at least we would have scored. But instead, I tried to finesse it. I promise you it’s the last time I do that. Next time I am just going to whack it.”
Home is Sweet Home Again
After the Crew rattled off a 22-game home unbeaten streak in league play and a 24-game home unbeaten streak against MLS clubs in all competitions, things suddenly got dodgy on the home front. Seattle snapped the Crew’s streak last October, and it was soon followed by home losses to New England in the regular season finale and Real Salt Lake in the playoffs. That’s a three-game home losing streak.
Thankfully, the Crew put that to rest on Saturday.
“Today was the first step toward winning the Trillium Cup for our fans, and it was also important to get three points at home,” said Crew captain Frankie Hejduk. “I think we reestablished that it’s going to be tough for teams to win here.”
“I think it was important for us to regain that confidence at home,” said O’Rourke. “That unbeaten streak was really cool and it’s something we will always remember and we want to get back to it. Points in April mean as much as points in October, so it’s good to get off on the right foot so that we aren’t chasing the league later in the season.”
Before kickoff, the Crew unveiled the newly minted sign in Championship Row commemorating the team’s 2009 Supporters’ Shield title, the fifth domestic honor in club history. The Crew are only the second team to win back-to-back Shields. They are now embarking on a potential three-peat, which would be unprecedented in league history.
“We want to win another Supporters’ Shield,” said Hejduk. “It’s too early to talk dynasty and all that, but if we could win three Supporters’ Shields in a row, that would be something special that has never been done before. That’s definitely a goal of ours. We want to be the best team in the league. Having said that, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to take it one game at a time like we always have in the past. Hopefully, by the end of the season, it will come to that point if we focus on each game along the way. That’s the approach that has worked for us the past two years.”
Mr. Numbers Nerd: Ownage Edition
Toronto couldn’t have picked a better location to debut their new surrender-flag-white kits. With Saturday’s 2-0 victory, the Crew have run their unbeaten streak against TFC to ten consecutive matches. The Crew are 5-0-5 against the Hosers all-time, and the 10-game unbeaten streak is an all-time Crew record against one opponent. The next longest streak in club history, in all competitions, is seven games, which has been accomplished multiple times.
Given that the Crew have been the best team in the league over the past two seasons, it should come as no surprise that they have a few good unbeaten streaks going against various clubs.
Crew’s Current Lengthy Unbeaten Streaks vs. Other Clubs, All Competitions:
1. Toronto. 10 games. (5-0-5)
Last loss: NEVER.
2. Kansas City. 7 games. (5-0-2)
Last loss: 9/15/07 at KC. Wizards 3, Crew 2.
3. Colorado. 7 games. (4-0-3)
Last loss: 4/8/06 at COL. Rapids 3, Crew1.
4. Chicago. 6 games. (1-0-5)
Last loss: 6/10/08 at Peoria, IL. Fire 3, Crew 2 (OT). [U.S. Open Cup]
In their history, the Crew have also had 7-game unbeaten streaks against New England (1999-2000) and Dallas (2003-05).
There have also been two other notable streaks that didn’t quite qualify for different reasons. The Crew had a 7-game regular season unbeaten streak against the LA Galaxy from 2004-07, but there was a 2007 U.S. Open Cup loss mixed in there that cuts the “all competitions” streak to six games. The Crew also had a 7-game “unbeaten in actual soccer” streak against New England from 1996-97, but there was a shootout loss in the middle of that run which technically counts as a loss under the archaic rules.
The Crew’s 10-game unbeaten streak against the Hosers now mirrors the worst single-opponent winless streak in club history. The Crew went 0-5-5 in all competitions against the New England Revolution over a stretch from 2004-07, which includes the infamous 2004 playoff series.
Also of note, the Crew have had three completely separate 5-game winless streaks against the Colorado Rapids. The Denver club has consistently been a thorn in the Crew’s side over the years, which makes the Crew’s current unbeaten streak against them as satisfying as anything involving the historically nondescript and uneventful Rapids can be. I guess.
Jamey Rootes on Crew Stadium
A few weeks ago, I chatted with the president of the NFL’s Houston Texans, Jamey Rootes, for the “Where Are They Now?” feature in the current game program. Rootes was the Crew’s President & General Manager through the end of the 1999 season, and was an integral part of making Crew Stadium a reality. When I informed him that The House That Lamar Hired More Qualified People To Build was named the most notable stadium of the last decade by Stadia magazine, the always-enthusiastic Rootes was overjoyed.
“That’s amazing!” he said. “I remember back in 1999, an industry magazine named Crew Stadium ‘The Foremost Sports Facility of 1999’, and that was the same year the Staples Center opened in Los Angeles. The reason Crew Stadium is still so respected a decade later is because that building is not about the cement, the steel, the grass, the scoreboard or anything else. It’s about what it has meant to the game of soccer in this country. It’s about Lamar Hunt’s vision and commitment. It would have been easy for Lamar to walk away after two failed referendums, but he believed in the sport, he believed in the league, and he believed in Columbus. Crew Stadium was a major turning point for MLS, and it’s a facility that all of Columbus can be proud of. It makes me happy that all of those things still resonate a decade later, even when compared to all of the sports facilities that have been built since then.”
Speaking of a Decade Ago…
On the final weekend in March, one decade ago, Crew coach Robert Warzycha created the most indelible image of his Crew career. On March 25, 2000, the Polish midfielder buried a 28-yard direct free kick in golden goal overtime to give the Crew a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.
The goal atoned for his earlier miscue. Warzycha swatted down what would have been the equalizing goal. Although San Jose converted the penalty in the 90th minute to force sudden death overtime, Warzycha somehow escaped a red card. It was a good thing for Crew fans, because in the final seconds of the extra session, the Polish Rifle blasted a bender that whizzed over the Quakes’ wall and dipped into the upper left corner of the net. Pandemonium ensued, and in an iconic image that endures to this day, a jubilant Crew Cat lifted Warzycha off the ground and triumphantly held the free kick hero aloft for all to see.
As Warzycha left the locker room on Saturday, I asked him for his memories of that night.
“Yes, I remember I was supposed to get a red card because I saved a goal with my hand at the very end,” he said. “They scored the penalty to tie the score, but then I won the game with the free kick in overtime. I thought it was a very exciting game for the people that were here because it was the first time there was a golden goal. There was like 10 seconds to go, so it was great. I still remember that goal 10 years later.”
Warzycha has had a long and varied Crew career. That goal was not the biggest play he made while wearing number 19—that would be his goal-line clearance of an Alejandro Moreno shot in the dying moments of the 2002 U.S. Open Cup final, preserving the Crew’s 1-0 triumph and the first hardware in club history. Warzycha has also won an MLS Cup as a top assistant, and a Supporters’ Shield as the Crew’s head coach. But still, the free kick goal against San Jose endures as his defining image. From the moment the renowned free kick specialist stood over the ball, it was the perfect melding of expectation, do-or-die drama, and execution, all capped by a classic visual.
“I think that moment stands out because I made everybody in the stadium happy,” he said. “Plus, Crew Cat carried me around, and then I saw the pictures of me and Crew Cat afterwards. We can talk about the important moments, like when I saved the goal at the end of the Open Cup, but I think that free kick was the most exciting for the fans to remember.”
I couldn’t help but ask if Crew Cat has carried him around or at least given him any piggyback rides since that night. The ever-serious Warzycha cracked a rare smile.
“I will need to talk to the Crew Cat,” he chuckled, “because after the game today, maybe he could have carried me around for the 10 years anniversary. It is too late now. Now we will have to wait for the 20 years anniversary.”
The night of Robert’s golden goal against the Quakes coincided with the very first edition of the Notebook. Yikes. This past weekend marked 10 years of this gibberish. Check the Crew’s official blog, The Black & Gold Standard (www.blackandgoldstandard.com), on Wednesday night to find pictures of Warzycha / Crew Cat celebration, as well as the text of the very first Notebook. Yes, you can see where it all began, and we can all laugh at how paltry, lame, and undeveloped it was back then.
Paco Wins the NCAA Pool
Assistant trainer Skylar “Paco” Richards has been crowned the Crew’s 2010 NCAA Tournament Pool champion. Having correctly predicted that Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia would make the Final Four, nobody else can catch him. His closest pursuers heading into the weekend were Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, and Brian Carroll, who must all now bitterly recognize Paco’s superior powers of prognostication.
“Kevin Burns cussed me out and said he’s never talking to me again,” Paco said Sunday night during a cell phone acceptance speech. “Brian Carroll also said some things that will have to remain off the record. This is revenge for last year, when my wife finished second to Alejandro Moreno. The guys were getting sore that my wife was beating all of them, so they crossed out her name on her sheet and put my name on it to make themselves feel better. So this victory is for Jennifer.”
Paco was noncommittal on the issue of a title defense next March. “I may not enter next year, just to rub some salt in the wounds,” he said. “The Richards household has proven all there is to prove over the last two years. Retiring on top would drive them crazy.”
Random Moments With Steven Lenhart
In the 73rd minute, Crew forward Steven Lenhart got clocked across the face by TFC defender Nick Garcia. Blood gushed from his nose, so he temporarily left the field to seek medical treatment. After getting some cotton swabs rammed up into his nostrils, Lenhart returned to the field.
“Dude, I had two of those things jammed up my nose because I didn’t know which side was bleeding,” he said. “Then I ran out onto the field and I couldn’t breathe! I was like, ‘Aw, shoot!’ So I just guessed and pulled one out so I could breathe. I guessed right. I yanked out the correct cotton swab.”
At halftime of the Crew Soccer Academy’s 3-1 victory over the U.S. U-17 National Team, Crew television analyst Dante Washington became preoccupied with a goalkeeper’s choice in footwear.
“Goalkeepers should not be allowed to wear orange shoes,” he said. “Goalkeepers, defenders, and defensive midfielders should only be allowed to wear black shoes. The only color can be the white from the brand logo, like the three stripes or the swoosh or whatever. That’s it. They don’t need colored shoes. The flashy shoes should only be for the flashy players, like forwards, wingers, and attacking mids. NOT goalies and defenders.”
We were soon joined by Crew assistant coach Mike Lapper. I told Lapper of Dante’s theory, thinking he might disagree as a former defender.
“It’s not a theory,” Lapper said. “Dante is absolutely correct. Defenders and goalies should only wear black shoes.”
So what about Gino Padula’s yellow boots that match the Crew’s massive banana kit?
“Gino’s an exception,” said Lapper. “He’s the exception that proves the rule.”
“Left backs don’t count because they’re weird anyway,” Dante offered as an amendment. “I mean, look at Gino. He’s got the hair, he looks like a pirate, and he’s got yellow boots. The man is a fashion plate. Left backs are excluded from the rule because they’re all weird and will do their own thing anyway.”
Quip O’ The Afternoon
Since my good buddy Flick, who could not attend the opener, called from his car and left me a voice mail upon hearing Crew radio man Neil Sika drop this gem on the air, we’ll close the Notebook with it. Here’s Neil’s call as Adam Moffat earned a yellow card in the closing minutes of the first Trillium Cup game of 2010…
“Things are getting a bit chippy down on the field, but that’s to be expected when you’re battling over a wildflower.”
Questions? Comments? Ever eaten a piece of Crewsmas cake? Feel free to write at email@example.com.
Steve Sirk is a contributor to TheCrew.com. His first book, “A Massive Season: Sirk’s Notebook Chronicles the 2008 Columbus Crew” is now available. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.