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Sirk's Notebook: Goals Galore

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we annihilated the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids, we (bleeping) lost to the third (bleeping) division Richmond (bleeping) Kickers.” – Chuck Dickens, “A Tale of Two Evenings Within 48 Hours at Crew Stadium”


Chuck put it far more eloquently than I ever could have, but man, what a strange turn of events. I think I am just going to jumble these two games together for this Notebook. Starting with Colorado and ending with Richmond would end on a bummer. The opposite would ensure that nobody read beyond this paragraph. This Notebook will seek to smooth out the polar extremes of the Sunday and Tuesday matches. Basically, this Notebook is going to be as haphazard as ever, but I’ll just pretend that there’s a beneficial reason for it.

GOALS GALORE! EDDIE GAVEN EDITION

After falling behind in the first ten minutes, as is their custom, the Crew erupted for four goals against the normally staunch Rapids defense. The key was a quick equalizer. Just seven minutes after Conor Casey staked the Rapids to a 1-0 lead, Eddie Gaven came to the rescue in the 12th minute. Gaven jumped a passing lane to intercept the ball from Colorado’s Scott Palguta at the midfield stripe, and then dribbled to the edge of the Rapids’ penalty area. After taking a touch to his right, his low shot went through defender Drew Moor and beat Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens to the far left post.

“I saw [Palguta’s] eyes look like he was going to play it in, so I went that way,” Gaven said of his goal-producing interception. “Fortunately, I was able to get it.”

GOALS GALORE! ANDRES MENDOZA EDITION

Andres Mendoza is heating up. In the 18th minute, La Pantera pounced on an errant backpass by Rapids defender Kosuke Kimura. Five touches later, he rocketed a left-footed, 18-yard strike off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.

“It was a mistake by their guy,” Mendoza said through an interpreter. “I found the ball and I shot it.”

Kimura wasn’t done gifting opportunities to Mendoza, and Mendoza wasn’t done capitalizing on them. In the 48th minute, Chad Marshall’s headed clearance of a Colorado free kick sprung Mendoza on a half-field breakaway when the ball bounced over Kimura’s head. He was the last defender. Forty yards later, Mendoza buried another left-footer.

“You always hope they make a mistake,” Mendoza said of opposing defenders. “The guy was small, and I saw that the ball was going to bounce really high up, so I started running. Then I went 1v1 and shot the ball into the goal.”

The Crew’s first three goals were very (American) football-like. Both first half goals were the equivalent of a pick-six, where an interception is returned for a touchdown. The third goal was reminiscent of a 95-yard touchdown pass where the defensive back goes for the interception and misses, giving the receiver nothing but daylight for the rest of his journey.

“I think the team was due for one of these games, where the bounces go our way for once,” said Gaven. “It hasn’t happened too often for us this year, but the boys have worked hard, and if you do that, sometimes the ball is going to go your way.”


A TALE OF TWO MILESTONE GOALS

On Sunday, Tommy Heinemann scored the first goal of his MLS career. On Tuesday, Cole Grossman scored the first goal of his professional career. Heinemann’s capped a triumphant Crew victory, whereas Grossman’s gave the Crew momentary life in an embarrassing defeat. Both shots were well taken. Heinemann pounced on a loose ball at the edge of the 18 and hammered a low left-footed shot that overpowered Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Grossman ran on to a Justin Meram feed and finished to the far post.

“I was a little late getting into the box,” Heinemann said of his goal. “I played Eddie in and then Eddie played a great ball. I was just thinking, ‘Come on, bounce to me! Bounce to me!’ It popped out to me, so I just tried to keep my head down and to strike through it.  And that was that.”

After scoring, Heinemann ran to the west sideline to high-five Crew coach Robert Warzycha and everyone else on the bench.

“Scoring is why I play the game,” he said. “I get pretty excited when I score. This one feels pretty good. My first MLS goal. It felt great to get on the scoresheet, but this was about the team getting a result.”

The exact opposite emotions were on display two nights later as Grossman discussed his goal in the Crew’s dejected locker room on Tuesday night.

“It’s not much of a silver lining,” Grossman said of his inaugural tally. “You can score four goals and if you lose, it doesn’t mean anything. Justin and I have a great understanding. It was a great pass from him. I took a quick touch and hit it to the far post. I really thought that from there, we would go on to win. It just didn’t work out. It’s frustrating.”


KICKER HEADER

Tuesday night, Matthew Delicate scored a stunning game-winner for the Kickers in the 85th minute. He laid out for a diving header, and despite diving to his left, he managed pretzel his body and defy physics to bury his header into the upper right corner of the net.

“I don’t know how he headed it back across the way he did,” said Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. “Half of his body was bent over to the side. I didn’t think that there was a prayer it was going to go back to my left. I figured if he even put it on frame, it would either be at me or most likely to my right. It was a great finish. What can you say? It’s just a great finish.”


A TALE OF TWO RED CARDS

Each of the two games featured a notable red card. On Sunday, Colorado’s Conor Casey got the boot for his sliding assault on Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer. On Tuesday, the Crew’s Danny O’Rourke got ejected in his first appearance in nine months.

Casey’s red card was a no-brainer. In the 29th minute, he shoved aside Crew defender Josh Gardner and launched himself into a sliding challenge on Hesmer, who was already on the ground and cradling the ball. As Hesmer squirmed on the ground in agony, Casey gave him a pat and then hung his head. He knew the red card was coming. Hesmer was eventually able to continue, but he was still angry after the game.

“He swung all the way through,” Hesmer said of Casey’s challenge. “That’s one of the best I’ve ever taken. I don’t know what he was thinking. It was pretty late. It was incredibly dangerous. I almost got the sense he was trying to intentionally hurt me, how bad it was. He followed through all the way up to my chest, through my chin. I’ve got pretty bad whiplash right now. I thought it was a terrible, terrible play. It was one of the best shots I have ever taken, and it was late too. I was kinda upset about it.”

Watching Hesmer writhe in pain had to be a bad flashback for Crew fans. Last October, Hesmer broke his shoulder during in a challenge at that very same goal.

“It takes you about ten seconds after getting hit like that,” Hesmer said. “Then I started moving around. It wasn’t like last year with my shoulder, when after ten seconds the pain really came on and I knew it was broken. This time, I knew I was going to be all right after about 10-15 seconds. It was similar to taking a shot (in football.) I was pretty still there on the ground and then he came right through me. I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow. I hope it’s something the league looks at. I thought it was a terrible, terrible play. It’s one of the worst I’ve had in my career.”

Hesmer’s troubles were far from over. Near the end of the first half, he got cleated in the left thigh by Drew Moor. The Rapids’ coaches accused Hesmer of faking as the teams walked off at halftime.

“They’re all yelling at me like I’m cheating and I’m trying to show them the stud mark,” Hesmer said as he showed reporters the bright red cleat marks that were still visibly prominent after the game. “Drew’s a good guy. He’s immediately apologizing, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ They’re really frustrated. I don’t think they’re really happy the way their season is going. Their coach is yelling at me thinking I’m a cheater. That really pissed me off. I’m not here to cheat. I’m the last guy who’s going to take a dive or try to embellish anything. When I get hit, I get hit. If not, I pop up as quickly as I can.”

Two nights later, O’Rourke was ejected for what was deemed to be a retaliatory foul on Richmond’s Ryan Heins. The two players tangled near the right sideline. As O’Rourke went to get up, he appeared to fall back onto Heins.

“I really don’t know,” O’Rourke said when asked about the reason for the red card. “There was nothing ill-mannered done. I yelled at him to stop pulling my jersey, but beyond that, I really honestly don’t know. We were pushing and battling and we went down. When I got back up, he pulled my jersey again. Then I got back up again. I was walking away and then I started laughing (when the red card was shown.) I was stunned. I said a few words to the ref to let him know what I thought, and then I walked off the field and took it like a man.”

Playing in his first game since patellar tendon surgery last October, O’Rourke was originally slated to play 45 minutes. He felt good at halftime, so the goal was to get him through 60 minutes. He met that milestone and pushed on. Given his tenacity, there’s no telling how long he would have played had fate not intervened.

“You never want to get a red card for your team,” he said. “I am going to look at it as a blessing. Maybe it was God’s way of getting me off the field because I was never going to pull myself off. That’s how I have to look at it. I can’t think negative about it.”

O’Rourke has a long history of mentally overcoming setbacks and successfully pushing through failures, so that outlook is not a surprise. However, it should not be misconstrued as a cavalier dismissal of the consequences of the red card. Playing with ten men ended in defeat for a youth-laden Crew lineup, and O’Rourke was disappointed that those players wouldn’t get to see their U.S. Open Cup run continue.

“You hate to see it for the younger guys, because those are minutes in games that can be valuable experience,” he said. “The young guys out there didn’t deserve to be a man down. Those guys have been battling all year and this is one of their only games so far, and I wanted to get out there and battle with them. The kids didn’t deserve that.”


O’ROURKE’S RETURN

O’Rourke’s 67 minutes exceeded the original plan, and he said he felt as good as could be expected.

“The knee held up all right, but the hip muscles and leg muscles got a little tight,” he said. “That’s something I will have to work through, but the training staff has been good with that. We need to see how it responds. I am going to get a good night’s sleep and then get back to work with good sir Dave Lagow in the morning.” (Lagow is the Crew’s head athletic trainer.)

After his first on-field action since September 18, 2010, O’Rourke was understandably emotional. It’s been a long journey.

“It’s a journey not just to get back on the field, but a journey in your soul,” he said. “How much are you willing to fight? Some guys give up. Some guys won’t push it, but that’s not me. I had a strong faith, worked really hard, and prayed that good things would happen.

“It’s a big step to get back on the field and to get into a game situation where you’re preparing for a game. The game was the first step on the new journey. There was the rehab journey, then the getting fit journey, and now it’s time for the getting back to 100% journey, where you’re 90 minutes fit and playing week in and week out. I look forward to building on that tomorrow.”


HAPPY BOBBY / ANGRY BOBBY

The two games understandably produced two different reactions from Crew coach Robert Warzycha. On Sunday, he was pleased with how his team overcame an early deficit to win a 4-1 romp.

“You don't want to give up the goal,” he said. “It’s not something we practice, to give up a goal in the first minute. But it happens - happened too many times to us, probably. But look at the games. There's a real heart to this team, that we are able to fight back.”

Then on Tuesday, the underwhelming performance of the youth and reserve heavy lineup had Warzycha aggravated to no end.

“I'm disappointed,” he said with palpable agitation “I think this is a group that is fighting for one of the starting positions. After a game like this, I don't know who I'm going to take to Dallas (this weekend.) We have some players, but after today...they have to wear this [angrily grabs the Crew badge on his shirt] and I think they know that. I'm so disappointed - so disappointed.”


MOOR ON THE MATCH

Rapids defender Drew Moor had this to say about the shellacking that Colorado received on Sunday: “I think by the time it went 3-1, you’re asking yourself a lot of questions, and 4-1 was a little bit of a dagger. And I still think we showed a lot of character in moments like that not to go down by 5 or 6.”


NOMADIC NORDECKE

This two game stretch saw two Nordecke migrations. On Sunday, as a result of some sort of seating dispute, a drummer from La Turbina Amarilla marched out of the Nordecke and into the upper level. A mass of supporters followed, and within the span of a few minutes, Nord-UpperD-ecke was born. It was as if a queen bee had been relocated and the swarm had settled into a new hive. The upper deck was buzzing.

Then on Tuesday, the Nordecke denizens decided to switch goals at halftime to stay near the opposing goalkeeper. For 45 minutes, the Nordecke had become the Sudecke.

There’s no telling where the Nordecke may show up next. Substitute players may soon lose their seats to the Spielerbank Ecke. Dwight Burgess may find it hard to call a game from the Fernsehenstand Ecke. Contest winners may be surprised at how loud it is in the Value City Furniture Besten Plätze in der Haus Ecke. The possibilities are endless.


STATISTICIAN PREMONITION

During game days, Crew Stadium’s press box is alive with chatter from the statistics crew. They are constantly blurting out events to ensure that they are tabulated correctly. They call out fouls (“17 on 8!”), shots (“9, wide right!”), and provide stats updates to the TV trucks (“Corner kicks are 4 over 2.”) Sometimes they argue and seek clarification, but there isn’t much room for small talk or emotions (other than stressed aggravation) while the game is live. It’s all business.

On Sunday, however, I overheard a terrific stats crew moment. When Kosuke Kimura played that horrible back pass that Andres Mendoza picked off and dribbled toward the Colorado net, stats crew member Dan Nelson matter-of-factly declared, “Goal by 10 will be unassisted.” One touch later, Mendoza ripped a shot off of the underside of the crossbar and into goal. The statisticians went about their work of logging the goal as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was simply something that Nelson dispassionately stated in the course of doing his job. Did this subconscious certainty stem from Mendoza’s run of finishing form? Or is Dan Nelson perpetually haunted by goal-scoring visions from the future, and the need to catalog them properly for the box score?

Either way, it was totally badass, so I thought I would share.


SPECIAL DELIVERY

After that Mendoza goal, the Peruvian gave his typical pregnant man goal celebration, during which he tucks the soccer ball into the belly of his shirt. This time, however, there was a new twist. He laid down on the field, raised his legs, and had Tommy Heinemann deliver the soccer ball baby.

“He  told me to pull it out of his shirt,” Heinemann said. “He’s like, ‘Take ball, take the ball.’”

It wasn’t exactly a smooth delivery. For a second, it looked like some scissors might be necessary for a soccer ball cesarean.

“The ball got stuck in his shirt,” Heinemann said. “He’s a goofball.  We get along pretty well. He played awesome.”


MENDOZA MANNING UP

After a disappointing early season and a controversial early June, Mendoza is now producing. He scored three goals in the Crew’s back-to-back wins and is one goal off of the league lead. On Sunday, he also celebrated his second goal with a trip to the (thinned-out) Nordecke, which was another step toward mending relations with the fans—a relationship that had become strained due to on-field performance and an ill-chosen comment about the fans’ knowledge of the game. Mendoza’s resurgence has not gone unnoticed.

“He’s risen to the occasion,” said Hesmer. “He was probably frustrated with himself and wanted some patience from the fans. He’s a high-paid guy, and there’s pressure that comes with that, and he understands that. He’s rising to the occasion. He’s not backing down. He’s out here playing with a broken wrist. He easily could have said, ‘I have a broken wrist, you guys don’t like me anyway, so I’m not playing.’ But he’s being a man and stepping up and really carrying us.”

Although aloof by nature, Mendoza has been earning respect in the clubhouse as well.

“The respect in the locker room is not earned on Saturday nights necessarily, but Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, Friday morning,” Hesmer said. “He’s out there on the training field doing all the little things right and working hard. That’s really where the respect is earned. You do those things, your confidence is going to build and guys are going to rally around you, and it’s going to show on Saturday nights. Or Sunday night in this case.”

And lest we forget, the very things that Jeff Cunningham hoped for and predicted during his ultra-classy reaction to Mendoza stealing his penalty kick in early June have largely come true in the weeks that have followed. Time will tell, but Cunningham’s public handling of that situation may very well turn out to be one of the most crucial turning points in the Crew’s season.


ROBBIE = RUSTY?

When asked about the performance of Robbie Rogers in the game against Richmond, Warzycha said, “I didn’t expect Robbie to be Rusty….I thought he was going to produce more to be honest with you.”

Maybe I wasn’t playing close enough attention, but I didn’t notice Robbie wandering around the field in a Chicago Blackhawks t-shirt with a beer in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth while unleashing a litany of gratuitous f-bombs.

 Oh, wait. I am now being advised that I transcribed that wrong. It was not an upper-case Rusty as in “Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel.” Given that it was Robbie’s first game in a month after his stint with the U.S. National Team, it was actually a lower-case rusty, as in “out of practice; impaired in skill or knowledge by inaction or neglect.”

What an embarrassing misunderstanding. This is why I need a Kramerica Industries type of intern to transcribe quotes for me.


ADVENTURES IN GOALKEEPING

In the closing seconds of Tuesday’s game, goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum went forward into the Richmond box as an extra attacker during the Crew’s final, desperate corner kick. William Hesmer famously did the same thing to great effect last fall, scoring a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer against Toronto FC. Gruenebaum was facing stiffer competition in the form of the third-division Richmond Kickers. He didn’t profess to have any dreams of Hesmeresque glory on that final corner kick.

“The ball was actually right at my head,” Gruenebaum said, “but then I saw Tom [Heinemann] make the run in front of me. Then it was like, ‘Me or Tom?’ I think ten out of ten times Tom is going to do better than me in that situation.”

Gruenebaum made the right call. Heinemann flashed a header toward the Richmond net. It took a double deflection at the goal line before it was cleared away to end the game.

In other goalkeeping news, Crew emergency goalkeeper Eddie Gaven got totally one-upped by Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee on Saturday. After starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts broke his arm and backup goalie Josh Saunders was red-carded, Magee put on the gloves, made four saves, and didn’t allow a goal in 47 official minutes. On October 24 of last year, Gaven made two saves and allowed one goal in five official minutes after William Hesmer left the game with a broken shoulder.

“That’s pretty impressive to go over 45 minutes without allowing a goal,” Gaven said of Magee’s performance. “I was out there for like two minutes when I allowed a goal. But I did make a save after that, though.”

In another one of those strange Eddie Gaven twists, he and Magee were teammates with the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) from 2003 to 2005.

“He’s a great guy,” Gaven said. “We were just a couple of young goalkeepers playing on the same team back in the day when I first came into the league.”

After Magee’s performance, was it possible that Gaven was itching to get back between the pipes? When Hesmer got obliterated by Conor Casey, was it possible that Gaven was thinking that he might be one step closer to playing goalie again?

“It didn’t even cross my mind,” he said. “I’m glad it didn’t come to that because I almost got my head taken off the only other time I did.”


THE BEARD IS BACK AND IT MEANS BUSINESS

Gaven’s beard has been all over the map this season. He wore a bushy Unabomber style beard in the early going and praised it for its warmth. After the Crew failed to win in the early going, he shaved it off, and lo and behold, he scored a goal and the Crew won a game. He said he might keep it off. But he didn’t. He grew it back, and it apparently terrified his infant son, Zachary. So then he shaved it off again. But with the Crew needing a boost, Gaven decided to grow yet another beard. This time it led to a goal for him and a 4-1 victory for the Crew. As he walked by me in the tunnel at the end of Sunday’s game, he pointed to it and told me, “It’s the beard!”

I can’t make heads or tails of whether the beard is a good or bad thing anymore, but its stock is currently rising.

“There’s something about the beard, man,” Gaven said. “I don’t know what it is, but I guess I’m going to have to grow it out now. My wife isn’t going to be too happy about that. The baby has finally not been crying too much, but if I grow the beard out, that might change. I guess we’ll see.”

Sorry, Paula. Sorry, Zachary. After the last two weeks, he certainly can’t shave it now. It’s lucky! At least until it isn’t. Then he can shave it off. And then the lack of beard will be lucky. Until it isn’t. But then he can grow it back. This whole cycle is confusing to me, but Eddie is a professional with an innate understanding of the beard/soccer dynamic, so I say we all trust in him to do what’s best at any given time.


FORMER CREW FORWARD IS FOUR-WARD IN THE BOOTH

Dante Washington did radio during Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Rapids. It was Dante’s first radio game since September 9, 2008, when the Crew trounced the New England Revolution, 4-0. So that’s two Dante radio games and an aggregate score of 8-1 in favor of Columbus.

“Well that’s useful, isn’t it?” said Crew television analyst (and master of understatement) Duncan Oughton, when presented with this fact.

“Get him on the radio more often, man!” said Gaven. “Between Dante on the radio and my beard, we’ll win every game for the rest of the year!” (Note: Exclamation marks are used to denote that Gaven excitedly raised his voice to a normal person’s speaking volume.)

As for Dante, he radiated a calm confidence about his scoreboard scorching radio streak.

“What can I say?” he asked as he gave one of those when-you’ve-got-it-you’ve-got-it shrugs. “As Roy Lassiter used to say, ‘Just score goals, dawg.’ It must be something with my voice. Not my face…it doesn’t work on TV. But if it’s just my voice, it brings out four-goal games.”

Radio man Neil Sika struggled to explain the phenomenon.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Sika said.

“That’s a first,” countered Dante.


HIS NAME IS WHAT?

When the P.A. announced that Richmond’s 54th minute substitute was named Edson Elcock, I became simultaneously giddy and baffled. After all, that name is an amalgam of two rather unique names in Crew history. I refer, of course, to former striker Edson Buddle and everyone’s favorite cackling, gap-toothed, Trinidadian goofball, Ansil Elcock.

When Edson Elcock entered the game, I grabbed the roster sheet to see what other familiar-yet-scrambled name combinations might be lurking on the Richmond bench. Alas, the Kickers employ no players named Ansil Buddle, Stern Wilmar Khumalo, or Ubusuku Maisonneuve. How disappointing.

Furthermore, if there was EVER a team that would have signed Dante Razov and/or Ante Washington, it would have been the team that employs Edson Elcock.

 

Quick back story: In 2005, after the Crew acquired Ante Razov from the Fire, Dante and I spoke during the team’s preseason trip to Virginia Beach. I asked him about the Ante/Dante forward combination, and he said it was hard since both of their on-field nicknames were Tay, which made it confusing. A few days later, a Columbus Dispatch story made reference to a player named “Dante Razov”, which only added to the confusion. Dante then told me that he had heard of rumors of a “black Croatian” hanging out at Obetz. And so with that, I asked Rich Fidler to merge Ante’s and Dante’s media guide photos together for me to create Dante Razov and Ante Washington.

I can’t remember if I ever used these frightening Photoshops back in 2005, but now that I have the perfect excuse, I will certainly use them to creep out readers in 2011. Thank you, Edson Elcock!

Questions? Comments? Think the Crew are intentionally tanking home games to underdog teams dressed in red just to cruelly give Toronto FC false hope? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk





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