Justin Meram
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Sirk's Notebook: Meathook edition

When capitalized, “GOAT” usually means “Greatest of All-Time.” Chivas USA’s nickname is the Goats. These two facts are not in any way related.

The Crew’s 3-0 win over visiting Chivas USA was in many ways expected, but that doesn’t make it any less important. It was the type of game that could reveal a lot of about the home team. With points at a premium in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, this was the type of game that a playoff contender has to win. It’s one thing to lose on the road to Montreal, when you’re dealing with airports and hotels and a new Designated Player and a stadium full of fans cheering for the other team and a belly full of french fries slathered in gravy, but it would be something else entirely to lose at home to a last-place team playing its third game in eight days after making a cross country trek without the guy who has scored over 60 percent of that team’s goals this season.

To some teams, it could be a trap game, where focus (and results) are lacking. It’s the type of game that can reveal a team to be a pretender, not a contender. The Crew took care of business like a playoff contender should.

With the trap game hurdled, now comes a weekly onslaught of Eastern Conference foes. Of the Crew’s final seven games, six are against teams, like the Crew, fighting for their playoff lives—two apiece with New England and Philadelphia, plus one each with Houston and New York. The Crew’s destiny is in their own feet.

“Now it gets interesting,” said Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “Now is the fun part of it. We worked hard to get into this position. These are big games. These are six point games coming up. I’m excited. I think the guys are looking forward to it.”

MERAM’S MEATHOOK #1

With the Chivas game scoreless at halftime, and with the Crew having to deal with the potentially deflating aftereffects of Federico Higuain’s crossbar-clanging penalty kick miss just before the break, Berhalter preached patience and ball movement in the locker room. It didn’t take long for those ideas to pay off.

After running down a sideline to sideline cross near the left corner, Waylon Francis dropped the ball to Justin Meram at the elbow of the 18 yard box. Meram patiently took a touch. Then he patiently took another touch. Then he patiently lined up a shot, curling the ball around the backed-off Chivas defenders and into the far side netting.

“When Waylon played me the ball, I kind of took a touch and wanted to serve it, and no one really stepped so I figured, ‘OK, I’ll take another touch,’” Meram said. “I took another touch and that was my spot.”

“That’s clinical from Justin and that’s exactly what he’s known for,” said midfielder Daniel Paladini. “Cheers to him.”

It’s exactly what Meram is known for—so much so that his curling shot has been given the sobriquet “The Meathook” by assistant coach Josh Wolff—yet Chivas didn’t seem to know what was coming even though the rest of the stadium did. Meram could afford to be so patient because the Chivas defense never charged him. They were content to let him shoot from distance. It was almost as if Chivas had never seen film of Justin Meram before.

“Yeah,” Meram said, “I don’t know if they were caught off guard, but I’ll take it.”

GOAL GOLF

After putting the Crew up 1-0, Meram celebrated by running to the corner and lining up a golf putt. He swung his imaginary club and then Paladini lifted the corner flag as the imaginary golf ball presumably settled into the imaginary hole.

“I just love golfing and Paladini mentioned we should do that if I score,” Meram said. “So I scored and thought of it.”

MERAM’S MEATHOOK #2

In the 59th minute, Meram stepped up to intercept an ill-advised cross-field pass by Augustin Pelletieri a good 45 yards from goal. Meram dribbled all the way to the edge of the box as Chivas defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste kept a respectful distance from Meram until he got into lethal meathooking range. At no point did the Chivas defense put Meram under pressure. Or force him to go to his left foot. Or do anything other than exactly what he wanted to do. The predictable end result was another curler and another goal.

This marked the second time in two home games that Meram made a defensive play that immediately transitioned into a goal. Against Houston, he anticipated a pressure-escaping touch by Dynamo defender David Horst, jumped on the opportunity to steal the ball, then carried it into the box and finished with his left. This time, he made a rush up the field to cut out a cross-field pass, then carried it forward and finished. Lately, Meram has been like a basketball player making a steal and finishing the transitional dunk at the other end.

“It’s just being in the right defensive spot and taking a gamble,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. It’s just taking that gamble. Probably twice earlier in the game I made that gamble and it didn’t pay off and I kind of hurt my team, but I think that’s the risk. Hopefully my teammates can bear with me and then hopefully I can make something out of nothing.”

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT (BUT NOT AT PRACTICE)

Meram has scored so many brilliant bending goals this year that one would assume he has practiced his way to perfection. Practice? Yes. Perfection? Only in games.

“In practice I probably do it 20-30 times,” he said. “I’m not very successful in training. I don’t know what it is. We joke about that.”

THE DEFENSE

Bernardo Anor finished the scoring with a header off of a Hector Jimenez cross in the 80th minute, but it was overkill by that point. The Goats could not put the ball in harm’s way at the Crew end of the field. Steve Clark did not have to make any face saves, nor did the defense have to do a lot of panicked flying about. The back line of Eric Gehrig, Michael Parkhurst, Tyson Wahl and Waylon Francis had everything under control.

“Second half, (Chivas) had that one shot curling toward the far post, but we gave up very little,” Berhalter said. “I think if you look at Waylon, Michael, Tyson and Eric, I think they all had outstanding games, and then with Daniel (Paladini) and Kevan (George) holding in front of them, I think they did a good job. A really good job. That does give a team confidence. You can stay patient and if you get the first goal, it’s over.”

The Crew got the first goal. It was over.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: THREE BY 3+ AT HOME

The Crew’s last three home games have looked like this:

2014

08/16/14: Crew 4, LA Galaxy 1

08/23/14: Crew 3, Houston 0

09/07/14: Crew 3, Chivas USA 0

Yowzers. That’s three straight home wins by 3+ goals. It’s only the second time in club history that the Crew have accomplished that feat in MLS play. The other instance occurred 13 years ago.

2001

08/01/01: Crew 3, Chicago 0

08/15/01: Crew 3, Dallas 0

09/01/01: Crew 4, New England 1

If you factor in all competitions, the 1999 Crew also accomplished the feat, kicking it off with a U.S. Open Cup win over the then-third division Carolina Dynamo.

1999

07/13/99: Crew 3, Carolina 0  [U.S. Open Cup]

07/24/99: Crew 4, Dallas 1

08/01/99: Crew 4, Miami 0

MR. NUMBERS NERD: SCORING AT LEAST THREE AT HOME

By winning three consecutive home games by 3+ goals, it’s axiomatic that the Crew have scored at least three goals in three straight home games. If we disregard the margin of victory, it is the fourth time the Crew have accomplished this in regular season play. The first time also set the record with four consecutive home games with 3+ goals.

1998

08/08/98: Crew 6, New England 1

08/16/98: Crew 5, Kansas City 3

08/22/98: Crew 3, Tampa Bay 1

09/06/98: Crew 4, MetroStars 3

2001

(See previous section for results.)

2008

08/23/08: Crew 3, Salt Lake 0

09/06/08: Crew 4, New England 0

09/18/08: Crew 3, New York 1

2014

(See previous section for results.)

If you factor in all competitions, there are two more instances, including one that spilled over into the 1998 playoffs.

1998

09/24/98: Tampa Bay 4, Crew 3

09/30/98: Crew 5, MetroStars 3 [playoffs]

10/18/98: Crew 4, D.C. United 2 [playoffs]

1999

(See previous section for results.)

How about 1998, huh? There were two games in between the regular season streak and the streak that stretched into the playoffs. That means the Crew scored 3+ goals in seven out of nine home games to finish the 1998 campaign, including the playoffs. Incredible. Then again, having Brian McBride, Stern John and Jeff Cunningham available to finish off the chances you create…that’s a recipe for goals.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: GALAXY RESPONSE EDITION

The Crew’s 4-1 win over the LA Galaxy on August 16 was definitely a signature win over a top opponent. The win was impressive enough at the time, but the Galaxy’s response made the Crew Stadium scoreline even more impressive. The Galaxy went on to win their next five games by a combined score of 19-4. When I asked Peter Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau if any other MLS team had gone +15 over the course of a five-game winning streak, he revealed that the 1998 Galaxy were the only other team to do so. Expounding on Hirdt’s research, I found that the 1998 Galaxy also outscored their opponents 19-4 during their streak.

1998 GALAXY

06/04/98: Galaxy 8, at Dallas 1

06/07/98: Galaxy 5, New England 1

06/17/98: Galaxy 2, Colorado 1

06/27/98: Galaxy 2, at San Jose 1

07/03/98: Galaxy 2, Kansas City 0

2014 GALAXY

08/20/14: Galaxy 4, at Colorado 3

08/23/14: Galaxy 2, Vancouver 0

08/27/14: Galaxy 4, D.C. United 1

08/31/14: Galaxy 3, at Chivas USA 0

09/05/14: Galaxy 6, Colorado 0

The Galaxy’s winning streak ended with a 2-2 draw in Montreal on Wednesday. That’s still an active six-game unbeaten streak. In fact, it’s fun to break down LA’s impressive stretches on either side of getting whomped by the Crew.

12 games prior to the Crew whomping: 7-1-4, 26 GF, 12 GA, +14 GD

Crew whomping: 0-1-0, 1 GF, 4 GA, -3 GD

Six games post-Crew whomping: 5-0-1, 21 GF, 6 GA, +15 GD

Blowing out the Galaxy was special when it happened, but it’s growing even more special with each new accumulation of added context.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: NO TRIUMPHANT TRIFECTA IN 2014

On September 29, 2013, the unthinkable happened…the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians and Columbus Crew all won on the same day. The Browns beat Cincinnati 17-6, the Indians won 5-2 in Minnesota and then the Crew won 4-2 in Dallas. It was the ninth time my three favorite sports teams all played on the same date, and it was the first time they pulled off the triumphant trifecta.

Sunday marked the tenth time that all three schedules coincided. The Crew, as we know, shut out Chivas USA, 3-0. Indians shut out the White Sox, 2-0. Alas, the Browns lost to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-27, on a last-second field goal. Trifecta denied.

For Crew fans whose allegiances run toward the Ohio River, the Bengals won 23-16 in Baltimore, but the Reds lost at home to the Mets, 4-3, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. It was the ninth time that the Crew, Reds and Bengals all played on the same day. The Crew and the Cincy teams have never pulled off the triumphant trifecta, although the Reds made it tantalizingly/frustratingly close on Sunday.

The combined Crew-Cleveland record on their trifecta dates: 12-17-1.

(Crew: 4-5-1 / Indians: 5-5 / Browns: 3-7)

The combined Crew-Cincinnati record on their trifecta dates: 11-14-2.

(Crew: 4-3-2 / Reds: 5-4 / Bengals: 2-7)

MR. NUMBERS NERD: COLUMBUS TRIFECTAS

And heck, just because I was curious and I like to procrastinate by disappearing down research rabbit holes, there have been 14 Columbus-themed trifecta dates where the Crew, Blue Jackets and football Buckeyes played on the same date. Of those 14, there have been a pair of triumphant trifectas.

OCTOBER 7, 2006:

Crew 4, at Chicago 1

Blue Jackets 5, at Chicago 4

Buckeyes 35, Bowling Green 7

NOVEMBER 8, 2008:

Crew 2, Kansas City 0 [playoffs]

Blue Jackets 3, Calgary 1

Buckeyes 45, at Northwestern 10

The combined Crew-Jackets-Buckeyes record on their trifecta dates: 23-17-2.

(Crew: 4-8-2 / Blue Jackets: 7-7-0 / Buckeyes: 12-2)

The three teams’ schedules do not conspire to produce any Columbus-themed trifecta opportunities in 2014, although a Crew playoff appearance could potentially change that.

THE REUNION

I recently wrote a story about Frankie Hejduk lending his MLS Cup championship ring to 11-year-old Brooke Langhirt after she broke two bones in her arm and needed a distraction while being transported to the hospital. If you haven’t yet read the incredible tale about “Dude of the Ring” you may do so by clicking HERE. The story was important to me because it was not only a story about Crew family, but also about good people helping good people and having that faith in humanity rewarded.

I had spoken to Brooke’s father, Vince, for the story, but our conversation was by telephone. On Sunday, I got to the stadium early so I had time to meet the Langhirt family in person at their tailgate. I spent a good hour chatting with them and they were such friendly and hospitable people that I could immediately sense why Frankie said he felt a connection during that brief, hectic encounter a few weeks ago. Brooke’s perpetual smile and good cheer seemed remarkable given her full arm cast and a fall sports season that is more or less down the tubes. But like Vince told me when we spoke by phone, sometimes adults take things harder than kids do.

Near the end of that article, Frankie mentioned that he hoped to reunite with Brooke under better circumstances. As the game clock ticked toward 90 minutes, Frankie’s wish came true as he spent several minutes talking with Brooke and her family. He not only got his picture with Brooke and her cast, while she once again wore his ring of course, but he also got to wear the black and gold bracelet that she gave to him as a thank you gift—which she made while working somewhat one-handed in anticipation of seeing him again.

Meram’s meathooks and the 3-0 win were great, but it was the Frankie and Brooke reunion that made my day. A beautiful ending to a beautiful afternoon.

Questions? Comments? Think the Crew should install a meat locker behind each goal to intimidate opposing goalkeepers? Free free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk

Steve Sirk’s new book, “Kirk Urso: Forever Massive”, is available at the Crew Gear store or by ordering online HERE. All proceeds go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for congenital heart defect research.

 

 

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