An injured William Hesmer helplessly watched the Columbus Crew’s 2010 season end on a penalty-kick shootout against Colorado Rapids.
Nearly a year later, those memories of the Eastern Conference semifinals are still fresh for the veteran goalkeeper. But in a twist of fate, the Crew will have a chance of redemption on Thursday in Commerce City, Colo., as the Rapids and Crew square off in the first round of the playoffs once again (10 pm ET, TSN2, watch LIVE online, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“It bothered me all offseason,” Hesmer said at training earlier this week. “In that last game, we needed a difference maker of some sorts and I thought I could help, especially with the penalties.”
Hesmer fractured his right shoulder in the waning minutes of last year’s regular-season finale and sat out Columbus' 1-0 loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinal first leg at Colorado, as well as the home game when the Crew won 2-1 to tie the aggregate.
The teams went through overtime and the shootout, where the Rapids advanced 5-4 against backup ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum when Brian Carroll’s attempt sailed over the bar on the Crew’s fifth kick.
“I was up in the box watching the whole game, then when it came to penalties, I couldn’t help myself,” Hesmer said. “I was down on the field right off the touchline at the corner flag watching it. It took everything I had not to run out there and console Brian and the guys for a hard-fought effort. It was tough.”
He’s healthy now, but the circumstances are different this postseason. Instead of a two-game set, the wild card teams will play a knockout match in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“The situation isn’t ideal for us as far as playing a one-off on the road in Colorado, which is notorious for being a tough place to play,” Hesmer said. “I think this group is resilient and tough and can overcome it all and get a result somehow.”
And if the game goes to a shootout again, the goalkeeper will be ready to do his part, whether it’s stopping shots or taking them.
“As a goalkeeper you’re well adapted to the pressure of that situation because you’re in those situations all the time and you understand it,” he said. “You’re built for the pressure. If they need me to take one I think I can.”
Hesmer has saved five of 16 PK attempts (31 percent) in his career but also showed a talent for converting them in practice this week and said he would eagerly volunteer to be among the first five shooters.
When questioned about whether he would consider Hesmer in that role, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said that he didn’t know. However, if the outcome is decided by penalty kicks Hesmer figures Warzycha will likely go with his field players first.
“We’ve had guys in similar situations who understand the pressure and some guys who haven’t so it can work for you and against you,” Hesmer said. “It’s nice for our young guys to be naïve to it and not understand the pressures. The big guys have been there and done it. It’s not ideal to go to penalties but I like our chances.”
If the Crew win, they will open the conference semifinals at home Sunday against Sporting Kansas City.