SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Historic Hansen

One of the greatest things about attending a live sporting event is that you never know what you are going to see on a given night.

Most of the time, what you see will fall within the fat part of the bell curve — but every now and then — you will see a memorable or noteworthy outlier. In recent Columbus memory, perhaps you were there when the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Montreal Canandiens, 10-0, last fall. Perhaps you were there when Tyler Cloyd pitched a no-hitter for the Columbus Clippers in 2014. Perhaps you were there when the Bozeman Institute of VCR Repair managed to get a first down against the Ohio State Buckeyes. (Okay, not all Columbus sporting events are unpredictable on any given day).

If you were at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night, you were witness to one of those special outlying moments. In the 84th minute, rookie Niko Hansen, in his club and MLS debut, scored the game-winning goal for Columbus Crew SC in a 3-2 triumph over the previously-undefeated Portland Timbers.

In the 22nd season in club history, Hansen became the first Columbus rookie to score the game-winning goal in his MLS debut.

“It was unbelievable,” Hansen said. “When I came on, I had some nerves, but I was ready to go. It wasn’t so much that I knew I was going to score, but I knew I was going to contribute in some way.”

Well, that was certainly SOME WAY to contribute. The play started with Harison Afful whipping a cross into the box from the right flank. Ola Kamara kept his arm pinned to his side and did some sort of unconventional torso twist to shoulder the ball toward the net, forcing a save from Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Once Gleeson pushed aside the shot, the rebound fell right to Hansen, who made no mistake in tucking home the rebound from six yards out, bringing the crowd to its feet.

“It was a great ball in and Ola gets a touch on it and the keeper just parries it out,” Hansen said. “It was an easy ball for me. It has no pace on it and it just popped up in the air. It was a full sprint and all I had to do was put my foot through it and put it in.”

For the next few seconds of delirium, the world faded away.

“It was a little bit of a blackout moment,” he said, “but it was good and I was really excited.”

*****

When Hansen scored the game-winning goal on the first shot of his MLS career, shouting “Hansen!” prompted broadcaster Neil Sika to say “MMMBop” on the air, referencing the 1997 hit by the band Hanson. In the Columbus locker room, it was clear that nobody expects Crew SC’s Hansen to be a one-hit wonder.

Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter saw more than just a kid scoring a clutch goal. He noticed Hansen’s defensive work rate and his ability to keep possession, which are also useful in winning soccer games against talented teams like the Portland Timbers. According to Berhalter, the performance was the culmination of the rookie out of New Mexico making a strong case for playing time and then delivering on that potential.

“I think that it’s been hard to keep Niko off the field, to be honest,” Berhalter said. “The way he’s been training, the way he’s been performing in (preseason and non-league) games. He hasn’t gotten an opportunity yet. This week, he looked good again and we really wanted to get him involved in the game. If you take out the goal, I think his performance was spectacular. I mean, very secure on the ball and his defensive work was excellent. In a debut for him, it shows he’s got quality.”

Being a forward in college, Hansen was not used to much in the way of defensive responsibilities before coming to Columbus. One would never have known it watching him track back to win balls against the vaunted Timbers attack.

“It’s something that I always want to work on,” Hansen said. “I think I did well today.”

*****

Coming out of college, Hansen was touted as “Justin Meram-type” player. Given that Meram’s goal earlier in the evening vaulted him into Crew SC’s 25-goal/25-assist club, that is high praise indeed.

“I’m better looking,” Meram said of the Hansen comparison, drawing laughs from all of his teammates in the area.

When Hansen subbed on for Meram in the 60th minute, the veteran told the rookie to enjoy it. Hansen said it took about five minutes to catch his breath after entering the game. 20 minutes after that, he took the wind out of Portland’s sails with the game-winning goal.

“I was so proud,” Meram said. “He’s got a lot of quality. He’s going to be a hell of a player coming soon. In a big game like this, he responded very well. Defensively he was great, and then he was in the right spot and finished. Scoring in your debut is surreal. I’m just really proud of him. Seeing his development, he’s been exceptional since he’s been drafted.”

Meram conceded that, looks aside, the comparisons between the two players feel legitimate.

“I do see a little of myself in him,” Meram said. “Hopefully I can be the one to mentor him going forward.”

It sounds like the process is already well underway.

“He’s been one of the big guys that has always talked to me,” Hansen said of Meram. “He sees himself in me, a lot. He’s been a guy that’s been there for me, and the coaching staff as well. I take a little bit from everyone that has helped out. It’s just learning as much as I can from those guys.”

Captain Wil Trapp said so far, so good.

“Wonderful,” Trapp said of Hansen’s debut. “He’s one who works hard and doesn’t shy away from the big moments. That was great to see. He’s like a mini-J9. The confidence is there, so it’s just a matter of putting that into the performance. It was great.”

*****

How many ways can one parse a career milestone? On Saturday night, Niko Hansen became ALL of the following:

  1. The 13th Crew SC player to score in his competitive club debut, counting all competitions.

  2. The 11th Crew SC player to score in his first MLS game with the Black & Gold.

  3. The 10th Crew SC player to score in his Black & Gold debut that also happened to be a league match.

  4. The 8th Crew SC player to score in his very first MLS match.

  5. The 6th Crew SC rookie to score in his competitive club debut, counting all competitions.

  6. The 4th Crew SC player to score the game-winning goal in his competitive club debut, counting all competitions.

  7. The 3rd Crew SC rookie to score in his MLS debut.

  8. The 3rd Crew SC rookie to score the game-winning goal in his competitive club debut, counting all competitions.

  9. The 2nd Crew SC player to score the game-winning goal in his first MLS game with Columbus.

  10. The 1st Crew SC rookie to score the game-winning goal in his MLS debut.

THAT’s how many ways there are to parse a career milestone.

My friend Matt Bernhardt (@bernhardtsoccer) and I compiled the following list last year, which I have updated after Saturday. This is the list of Crew SC players who scored in their competitive debut with the Black & Gold, spanning all competitions. Rookies are bolded. Veterans with MLS experience prior to coming to Columbus are in italics. (!) = game-winning goal.

PLAYER

DATE

COMP.

SCORE

GOALS

Brian McBride

4/13/1996

MLS

CLB 4, DC 0

29th, 86th

Pete Marino

4/13/1996

MLS

CLB 4, DC 0

48th

Thomas Dooley

6/21/1997

MLS

CLB 2, NY 1

71st

Ante Razov

4/2/2005

MLS

CLB 3, LA 0

54th

Eric Vasquez

7/16/2005

MLS

CLB 1, @CHI 1

54th

Kei Kamara

4/1/2006

MLS

@KC 3, CLB 1

33rd

Ned Grabavoy

5/13/2006

MLS

CLB 1, COL 0

71st  (!)

Ivan Becerra

7/12/2006

USOC

CLB 4, @Mid-Michigan 1

59th  (!)

Steven Lenhart

5/27/2008

USOC

CLB 2, RSL 0

26th (!)

Dominic Oduro

3/2/2013

MLS

CLB 3, CHV 0

94th +

Cristian Martinez

6/1/2016

MLS

@PHI 3. CLB 2

93rd+

Marshall Hollingsworth

6/15/2016

USOC

CLB 4, TB Rowdies 0

65th

Niko Hansen

3/25/2017

MLS

CLB 3, POR 2

84th (!)

There is one outlier in some of those permutations listed above that does not appear on the competitive debut goal scoring list. That outlier is Leandre Griffit. He made his competitive debut for Columbus Crew SC as a 76th minute substitute on July 6, 2010, in a 3-0 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory over the Charleston Battery. On July 24, 2010, he made his MLS debut, but not his competitive club debut, for Columbus in the 88th minute against the Houston Dynamo and scored in the 90th minute. So that is how “Frenchy” came to be part of permutations Nos. 2 and 4, but not 3.

Whew! Paul Simon offered almost as many ways to leave your lover as I had suggestions for parsing Niko’s incredible feat.

*****

As I finished my conversation with Hansen, goalkeeper Brad Stuver walked over and said, “I wish I had a pie.” He then pantomimed smashing a pie into Hansen’s face as we did our interview.

I explained that the pie gag probably wouldn’t work so well with an audio interview. That’s more of a television interview gag.

Stuver was undeterred.

“But YOU would have seen it,” he said.

True. I could have added it to the list of unlikely events that I didn’t expect to see when I walked out the door to head to MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday. But seeing a rookie score a late game-winning goal on the first shot of his career in his MLS debut was already a satisfactory level of unexpected awesomeness for one night.

You never know what you’re going to see until you see it. And if you were at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday, you were one of the lucky ones who hit the random sports ticket jackpot and saw something that was unique to over two decades of Columbus Crew SC history, which stretches back before the airwaves were originally filled with the sound of “MMMBop.”

*****

POSTSCRIPT

Thanks to the ever-helpful Rick Lawes at MLS HQ and the fine folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, I now have some league-wide perspective on Hansen’s feat. Per the Elias data, Hansen became just the SEVENTH rookie in Major League Soccer’s history to score the game-winning goal in his MLS debut.

Some amazing factoids:

  • The LA Galaxy had it happen in the very first game in club history and never since.
  • It happened TWICE on the SAME DAY in 2001! What are the odds of THAT?
  • D.C. United is the only team to have two different rookies do it, and both instances were on the road in Kansas City! How weird is that? KC is the only team to have it happen against them twice.
  • For as dramatically late as Hansen’s game-winning goal was, it was only the THIRD-latest game-winning goal by a rookie in his MLS debut. Mind-boggling!
  • Although probably not technically an amazing factoid, it is fun to see former Columbus defender Julius James on the list, even if he was wearing the wrong shirt in those days.

Anyway, here is the full list according to data provided by the Elias Sports Bureau…

ROOKIES SCORING GAME-WINNING GOAL IN MLS DEBUT

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

PLAYER

TEAM

DATE

SCORE

GWG MINUTE

Arash Noamouz

LA

4/13/1996

LA 2, MET 1

57th

Mark Lisi

DC

4/7/2001

DC 3, @KC 2

89th

Ali Curtis

TB

4/7/2001

TB 4. @DAL 2

52nd

Todd Dunivant

SJ

4/12/2003

SJ 2, @COL 1

23rd

Julius James

TOR

5/31/2008

TOR 2, LA 0

49th

Alhaji Kamara

DC

5/27/2016

DC 1, @KC 0

86th

Niko Hansen

CLB

3/25/2017

CLB 3, POR 2

84th

Questions? Comments? Ba duba dop, ba du bop, ba duba dop, ba du bop, ba duba dop, ba du, yeah? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk

Topics: 

LIVE YOUR COLORS: Follow Crew SC on the MLS App - The official MLS app gets a major update for 2019, making it easier than ever to keep up with your favorite club, check standings, watch videos and much more.