Aaron Schoenfeld CLBvSEA
Corey Betke / Crew SC Communications

Sirk’s Notebook: No parked bus edition

One thing that’s become apparent so far this season is that, with the exception of that New York clunker, the players of Columbus Crew SC are going to put on a heck of a show when they take the field at MAPFRE Stadium. On Saturday night, Must-See SC was at it again, defeating the Seattle Sounders in a 3-2 thriller that lived up to the advanced billing.

Seattle, of course, has a dynamic duo in Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Columbus, meanwhile, boasts of a killer quartet in Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and Kei Kamara. People came to the park expecting goals. Goals they got. It was that ideal type of game where two skilled attacking teams skillfully attacked. The only bus parked at MAPFRE Stadium was the one that transported the optimistic Sounders from their hotel and the vanquished Sounders back to their hotel.

“It’s a credit to both teams that we both want to play soccer the right way,” said Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst. “We’re both good offensively in terms of spreading out and passing the ball well and making it difficult to defend. At points, they had real difficulties defending us, and vice versa. It was definitely entertaining.”

 

THE TURNING POINT THAT WASN’T

As the game hit the 75th minute, Crew SC had a 3-1 lead and appeared to be on its way to another home victory. A pair of goals by Kamara and another by Higuain tripled the lone Seattle tally by Clint Dempsey, who bent a ridiculous shot around the onrushing defense so that it swerved off the inside of the goalpost, just inches from Steve Clark’s fingertips. It was a beautiful goal, but it only counted as one. The Black & Gold had three quality goals of their own.

No sooner than one could tell oneself that no lead is safe with Dempsey and Obafemi Martins on the field, Dempsey potted his second goal of the night under controversial circumstances. Dempsey was offside on a lob pass to Martins, but was not involved in the play. Steve Clark saved Martins’ shot, but Dempsey cleaned up the rebound. The problem was that he was still offside on Martins’ shot, then benefitted from his advanced position to beat Clark to the rebound. (The Professional Referee Organization would later confirm that the goal should not have counted.)

As Columbus prepared to kick off, several players saw the replay on the scoreboard and immediately protested the goal. Obviously, they weren’t going to change any minds at that point, no matter how passionately they protested. And this, to me, suddenly seemed like a pivotal juncture. Would the Black & Gold be distracted by the injustice? Or would they pull it back together and close out the win?

“Guys are frustrated, of course,” Parkhurst said. “It was a really close call. I’d have to take a look at it. It happens. Of course, we’re fighting out there and emotions are high. It’s just the emotion of the game and the guys were able to reel it back in and we were able to finish off the game.”

“After their second goal, it was like, ‘Wait, I thought we had this one in the bag,’” Ethan Finlay said. “We have to realize that, especially against a team like that, that’s two of the best players in the League. They can make something out of nothing.”

And in that case, from a rule book perspective, they did.

Berhalter empathized with his players’ reaction to the goal and was happy with their response to the adversity posed in the final 15 minutes against a talented Sounders side that was presumably running a conveyor belt from the Lowe’s next door in order to get more kitchen sinks to throw at the Crew SC defense.

“They put us under a lot of pressure,” Berhalter said. “They had a lot of guys forward, they were playing very risky, very offensive orientated and it became challenging. They put some good crosses in the box, they had a lot of bodies, and we responded well. It is disappointing when you see a replay and you think the referee might have gotten the call wrong, so I understand the frustration within the team, but they responded well.”

 

GAME-KILLING CLUE

Four minutes of stoppage always seems like an eternity with a one-goal lead, especially against a team like the Sounders, but Aaron Schoenfeld whittled away at eternity by winning throw-in after corner kick after throw-in. He and his teammates kept the ball pinned 100+ yards away from Steve Clark’s goal. If the killing-off of Saturday’s game were a special edition of the board game Clue, one would have solved the case by declaring, “Schoenfeld. With the ball. In the southwest corner.”

“The defense loves to see that,” Parkhurst said. “We love to see our offensive guys putting in the work and putting their body on the line. They know they’re going to get kicked down there in the corner, and we really appreciate that, us guys in the back.”

“That was great,” Berhalter added. “I like that. Schoenfeld killing off the game in the corner.”

 

PARKHURST MOVES TO D-MID

When Mohammed Saeid left the game in the 63rd minute with a groin strain, Berhalter said he had a tough decision on his hands. He debated putting Kevan George in Saeid’s spot, but ultimately decided to put Tyson Wahl at center back and move Parkhurst up to defensive midfield.

“We felt that putting Michael there, he would be comfortable and build up like we normally do,” Berhalter said. “He would understand that what’s happening because he’s been in the game. There were times where both Dempsey and Martins were in the pocket between the two lines and we really wanted to get a hold of that and we thought Michael would have a better understanding of that since he has been playing in the game.”

Parkhurst said it wasn’t a difficult transition, except for the part where the whole game was no longer in front of him.

“It wasn’t too big of a change because we were defending a lot at that point,” he said. “I was just kinda sitting in front of the back four and picking up Clint and Obafemi when they came in. Luckily, I didn’t get too many balls with guys on my back because I’m not use to that type of thing.”

 

HOME HEX VS. SOUNDERS IS NO MORE

Crew SC has a two-game winning streak on Seattle’s plastic pitch, including The Legend of J90+4, which was last year’s stoppage-time winner from Justin Meram. However, until Saturday night, Columbus had never beaten the Sounders in Columbus. It made no sense. There was the legendary “they broke the floor” game in 2009, when Tyrone Marshall dug up the penalty spot before a late Guillermo Barros Schelotto penalty kick and the Sounders escaped with a 1-0 win. There was that time where Blaise Nkufo racked up a hat-trick in a 4-0 shellacking of the Black & Gold in 2010. There was a 1-1 draw in 2011 that I can’t remember anything about off the top of my head and have no desire to look up. (Yay, professionalism!) And then in 2013, the 10-man Sounders nonetheless won on an Eddie Johnson set-piece header, which turned out to be the last game of the Robert Warzycha’s tenure. Basically, it’s been bad times in Columbus whenever the Sounders come around.

All that came to an end on Saturday night. Surely every citizen of Crewville was happy to move on from that most-annoying winless streak. Well, at least the ones who knew about it, anyway.

“I didn’t even know that to be honest,” Berhalter said. “It’s nice to have a first time [beating Seattle at home]. I’m not sure how many games were even played against them. Probably only like five? So, it’s not a big sample size.”

This wasn’t about mathematically sound rationality. Seattle took Sigi Schmid and Brad Evans before the MLS Cup 2008 euphoria had even worn off, and Columbus supporters’ opinions of everything Sounders has only gotten worse since then, for many, many, many reasons. The home winless streak against the Sounders may have been a small sample size, but it was a most irksome one. But that’s an advantage of the Berhalter regime. It was just another game against a quality opponent. No baggage necessary.

“You care about winning games, regardless about who it’s against,” said Ethan Finlay. “I think it makes it a little bit sweeter, obviously, for our fans because there was a little bit of a rivalry with the expansion and how that worked out. Right now we have their number and hopefully we can keep it that way.”

Yes, now Columbus supporters can rejoice in another small sample size: Crew SC is 2-0-0 vs. the Sounders in the Berhalter era, including a perfect 1-0-0 mark at MAPFRE Stadium. The home game hex is no more.

 

QUOTE-POURRI

Parkhurst, on Dempsey’s goal: “Dempsey…I mean…what a first goal, right? He has a half an inch of space and he put it there. That’s a credit to him.”

Justin Meram, on scoring goals: “Look, I’m not mad if I don’t score. Kei can score 50 more goals as long as we win MLS Cup.”

Finlay, on the win: “We stepped up, we worked our [butts] off, and we’re happy.”

 

MR. NUMBERS NERD: MASSIVE CHAMPS RETURN EDITION

On Saturday night, Chad Marshall became the 11th Massive Champion to take the MAPFRE Stadium field against the team with which he won an MLS Cup title in 2008. It’s always a weird sight, the first time a former champion suits up for the wrong team in front of the good people of Columbus, then tries to beat the Black & Gold.

Because these things make me curious, I’ve made this chart showing first time a Massive Champion made an on-field appearance at MAPFRE Stadium against Crew SC. (Jason Garey and Pat Noonan both made the 18 during their lone respective trips to Columbus as opposing players, but never entered the game.)

Stefani Miglioranzi blazed the trail and Chad Marshall may have ended it. Danny O’Rourke is currently with Timbers 2, so if he gets promoted to Portland’s first team by September, he’s a possibility. Other than that, it would probably require Emmanuel Ekpo to come back to MLS with some other team. I am totally discounting any notion of Eddie Gaven returning from parts unknown and playing for someone else. By this point, he’d probably have to hack three feet off of his glorious red beard just to get it into game shape. That seems like an awful lot of bother.

Anyway, Saturday’s victory pushed Crew SC’s record to 5-4-2 when confronting a Massive Champion for the first time on home turf. It also marked only the second time that two Massive Champions took the field for the opposition in Columbus, as Brad Evans paired with Marshall in the center of the Seattle defense. The only other multi-Champ instance was October 24, 2010, when Miglioranzi and Alejandro Moreno played for Philadelphia in the Eddie Gaven Goalie Game. (Or as William Hesmer probably remembers it, the “Ow! My [Bleeping] Shoulder!” Game.)

That chart above was just for first-time appearances. Adam Moffat leads all Massive Champions in visiting appearances, with five. Earlier this year, Brian Carroll recorded his fourth. With his third appearance, Evans has moved into a tie with Moreno for third place.

All told, in games where at least one Massive Champion plays for the wrong team at MAPFRE Stadium, the Black & Gold are 10-5-6. So whenever the present happens to be, the present has usually triumphed over the past. It’s kind of fitting, actually. On the road to MLS Cup, that’s exactly what happened in the magical 2008 Eastern Conference Final. Such is the circle of Massive life.

 

MR. NUMBERS NERD: 3+ GOALS AT HOME EDITION

Saturday’s game was the third consecutive home match in which Crew SC scored three or more goals. That is the fifth time in club history that the Black & Gold have accomplished the feat in MLS play. Not only that, it’s the second time they’ve already pulled it off in the Berhalter era. When the Chicago Fire come to town on Friday, May 22, Columbus will be looking to equal the club record of four straight, set in 1998.

Here are the instances of 3+ goals in at least three consecutive MLS regular season home matches…

1998

  • 08/08/98: Columbus 6, New England 1
  • 08/16/98: Columbus 5, Kansas City 3
  • 08/22/98: Columbus 3, Tampa Bay 1
  • 09/06/98: Columbus 4, MetroStars 3

2001

  • 08/01/01: Columbus 3, Chicago 0
  • 08/15/01: Columbus 3, Dallas 0
  • 09/01/01: Columbus 4, New England 1

2008

  • 08/23/08: Columbus 3, Salt Lake 0
  • 09/06/08: Columbus 4, New England 0
  • 09/18/08: Columbus 3, New York 1

2014

  • 08/16/14: Columbus 4, LA Galaxy 1
  • 08/23/14: Columbus 3, Houston 0
  • 09/07/14: Columbus 3, Chivas USA 0

2015

  • 04/18/15: Columbus 3, Orlando 0
  • 04/25/15: Columbus 4, Philadelphia 1
  • 05/09/15: Columbus 3, Seattle 2

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, Columbus 3
  • 09/30/98: Columbus 5, MetroStars 3 [Playoffs]
  • 10/18/98: Columbus 4, D.C. United 2 [Playoffs]

1999

  • 07/13/99: Columbus 3, Carolina Dynamo 0 [Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup]
  • 07/24/99: Columbus 4, Dallas 1
  • 08/01/99: Columbus 4, Miami 0

 

NOSTRADORANUS

I chatted with Time Warner Cable SportsChannel pre- and post-game host Chris Doran in the tunnel about an hour or so before kickoff.

SS: “So what do you think tonight?”

CD: “It’s going to be a great game. With these two teams and the attacking talent, it’s going to be very exciting. Or…it could be a bust.”

SS: “So you’re saying it’s going to fall somewhere on the full spectrum of all possible excitement levels.”

CD: “Exactly! But I think it’s going to be an entertaining game. Let me ask you this—how many goals do you think there will be?”

SS: “Five.”

CD: “That’s exactly what I think! With these two offenses, this game has five goals in it.”

SS: “The question is, how do you think that those five goals will be allocated? Probably somewhere between 5-0 and 0-5?”

CD: “It’s going to be 3-2.”

After the game, I got this tweet:

 

Questions? Comments? Remember anything about that 1-1 game from 2011 that I was too lazy to look up? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk.

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

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