SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Assist hat tricks

On Saturday night, Federico Higuain did something no Columbus Crew SC player had done in a regular season match in more than 17 years.

First, he whipped a free kick into the New York box, which Jonathan Mensah headed home to give Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute. In the 54th minute, Higuain played Justin Meram into the Red Bulls penalty area. Meram cut up the New York defense and fired a shot into the far side netting to give Columbus a 2-1 lead. In the 66th minute, Higuain’s corner kick found the head of Josh Williams, who redirected the ball into the goal for a 3-1 Columbus lead. When the final whistle sounded, not only did Columbus earn a critical 3-2 win, but Higuain walked off the field with the first regular season Crew SC assist hat trick since Dante Washington accomplished the feat on June 24, 2000. Much was made of the 12-year gap between the goal hat tricks of Edson Buddle in 2004 and Ola Kamara in 2016, but the assist hat trick drought was five years longer, which I never realized until now.

Nonetheless, Pipa ended the drought.

“The wizard that is Pipa makes everything easier for our entire team,” said Williams, who completed Pipa’s assist hat trick with that corner kick header. “He’s someone who seems to be able to play any pass his mind can come up with. I knew after the first few training sessions I ever had with him that he had the ability to put the ball pretty much wherever he wanted. So long as we get to those spots, the ball will be there.”

Williams did and the ball was, so put it in the record books. All told, there have been eight assist hat tricks in Crew SC history, spanning all competitions. There have been four in regular season play, two in the playoffs, and two in the Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup.

Here’s a chronological look at these historic performances, including some fun facts.

1. ANSIL ELCOCK

April 18, 1998

Columbus 5, Miami 1

What a treat this game turned out to be. Trinidad & Tobago international Ansil Elcock, famous for his blazing speed, infectious cackle, and overall goofball tendencies, assisted on a Jason Farrell goal in the 37th minute, then assisted on goals by Stern John in the 48th and 56th minutes. John would go on to score another goal in the 70th minute, meaning Columbus had a goal hat trick and assist hat trick in the same game. And the two types of hat trick players were cousins!

What a day at the Horseshoe.

2. ANSIL ELCOCK

September 30, 1998 (playoffs)

Columbus 5, MetroStars 3

Unbelievable. A guy with 13 regular season assists and five playoff assists in his five-year Columbus career recorded the first assist hat trick in both regular season and playoff history for the Black & Gold.

He is the only player in Crew SC history with multiple career assist hat tricks in all competitions and he did it in the same year!

This time he assisted on goals by Brian McBride in the 9th minute, Rob Smith in the 33rd minute, and Stern John in the 58th minute as Columbus built a 5-1 lead within the first hour of a 5-3 win.

3. ROBERT WARZYCHA

August 18, 1999

Columbus 4, at MetroStars 2

As the club’s all-time assist leader, Warzycha’s name is one you’d expect to see on this list and here he is.

He became the first Crew SC player to register a road assist hat trick when he filled the stat sheet at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1999. He assisted on a Stern John goal in the 17th minute when Brian Maisonneuve headed a Warzycha corner kick to John for the finish. He picked up a free kick assist when he rolled the set piece to John DeBrito, who unleashed a 22-yard blast in the 47th minute. Then he picked up a run of play secondary assist on another Stern John goal in the 62nd minute.

Amazingly, John had a hat trick in that game too, so it was another goal AND assist hat trick day for the Black & Gold.

4. DANTE WASHINGTON

June 24, 2000

Columbus 3, New England 1

All-Star striker Dante Washington recorded the first assist hat trick in MAPFRE Stadium history and became the first Crew SC player to record an assist hat trick on his team’s only three goals. He assisted on a Jason Farrell goal in the 15th minute, a Jeff Cunningham goal in the 69th minute, and a John Wilmar Perez goal in the 87th minute. Dante was known as more of a muscular power forward, but his coach, Tom Fitzgerald, took great delight in Dante showing off other facets of his game.

“Everybody seems to think that Dante has the touch of a rhinoceros out there,” Fitz said after the game, “but he has the ability to mix it up. The pass on that first goal was perfectly weighted.”

Bonus fun fact:

Dante Washington is the only player in Columbus Crew SC history to have a three-assist game and also a three-goal game. On June 16, 2001, he scored a hat trick at MAPFRE Stadium in a 6-1 blowout of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. He also recorded two assists that night, so he narrowly missed recording both types of hat tricks in the same game! Nonetheless, contributing to five goals in a single game is a club record.   

Anyway, it’s so much fun that something Federico Higuain did on a fall evening in 2017 led to my discovery of Dante Washington being the only player in club history to have a goal hat trick and an assist hat trick. That’s something really cool about Dante’s career and I never would have realized it had Pipa not delivered such a memorable, research-worthy performance 13 years after Dante last wore the Black & Gold.

This seriously made my day.

Especially when I texted Dante with the news about his belatedly-discovered unique historical feat for the Black & Gold and he responded in typical deadpan Dante fashion: “I guess I did OK then?”

5. JEFF CUNNINGHAM

August 6, 2003 (Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup)

MetroStars 4, Columbus 3

This was a bummer of a game in that it was the first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game in defense of Crew SC’s 2002 championship, and it ended with a 4-3 loss despite jumping out to a 3-1 first-half lead.

This game did have two fun feats though, and they simultaneously culminated in the 43rd minute when Jeff Cunningham assisted on a goal by Brian Maisonneuve to give Columbus that 3-1 lead.  For Maisonneuve, it meant the rare goal / own-goal combo. (He had scored an own-goal in the 24th minute.) For Cunningham, it was the club’s first assist hat trick in U.S. Open Cup play. Cunningham had earlier assisted on goals by Edson Buddle in the 10th and 11th minutes. Also, Cunningham’s passing display was the first instance in any competition of a Columbus player getting an assist hat trick with three primary assists.

6. SEBASTIAN ROZENTAL

July 12, 2006 (Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup)

Columbus 4, at Michigan 1

Sure, this came against a fourth-division club in the Premier Development League, but it was still an official competition.

A Chilean playmaker, Rozental didn’t exactly light the world on fire playing for the worst team in Crew SC history, registering just three goals and one assist in 20 MLS appearances, but he tore up the PDL’s flagship club on a July evening in a high school stadium in Rochester Hills, MI. He assisted on corner kick goals by Ezra Hendrickson in the 16th minute and Ivan Becerra in the 59th minute, as well as a Jacob Thomas goal from the run of play in the 87th minute. Like Cunningham three years earlier, Rozental earned the assist hat trick off of three primary assists.

Bonus fun fact:

The Bucks’ goalkeeper in that game was a young man by the name of Steve Clark, who would go on to mind the nets for Crew SC from 2014-2016 and backstop the Black & Gold to an Eastern Conference championship in 2015.

7. GUILLERMO BARROS SCHELOTTO

November 23, 2008 (MLS Cup)

Columbus 3, New York 1 (in Carson, CA)

Looking back, until Pipa proved otherwise, maybe one could have thought that the assist hat trick was permanently retired in Columbus after achieving its most perfect form.

On the way to winning the MLS Cup MVP, Schelotto stole the ball in front of the benches with a pullback move that kept the ball in bounds, then played Alejandro Moreno through for the first goal in the 31st minute. In the 53rd minute, mere moments after New York tied the game, Schelotto served a corner kick to the head of Chad Marshall for the go-ahead goal that would prove to be the game-winner. Then, in the 83rd minute, Schelotto not only saw Frankie Hejduk’s out-of-nowhere overlapping run, he scooped a perfect pass that cleared the defense, left New York goalkeeper Danny Cepero stranded in no man’s land, and hit Hejduk precisely in stride to nod home the goal that would seal an MLS Cup championship.

Not only was it an assist hat trick, but Schelotto assisted on all the Columbus goals, had the primary assist on all three, and did it on the biggest possible stage to deliver an MLS Cup title. It’s the assist hat trick on this list that everyone remembers and for good reason. It was pure perfection of the highest order by the incomparable Schelotto.

(Note: When searching the Columbus Dispatch archives, “the incomparable Schelotto” will produce a bevy of Michael Arace columns. But truth is truth, and if I owe Arace royalties for his trademark Schelotto adjective, so be it.)

8. FEDERICO HIGUAIN

September 23, 2017

Columbus 3, New York 2

As mentioned, a free kick to Mensah in the 6th minute, a through ball to Meram in the 54th minute, and a corner kick to Williams in the 66th minute.

Even after researching seven other prior instances, Higuain’s assist hat trick still has a few unique wrinkles to offer. Saturday was the first time in Columbus Crew SC history that a player recorded three primary assists in MLS regular season play. Not only that, Higuain became the first player in Crew SC history in any competition to record an assist hat trick with primary assists on three different assist types: run of play, free kick, and corner kick. A primary assist cycle! How about THAT?

On a slightly different tangent, and this is staggering to think about, but of the eight instances in club history across all competitions, Higuain became the FIFTH Crew SC player to do it against the New York Red Bulls franchise, which was previously known as the MetroStars. There have been two instances in the regular season, two in the playoffs, and one in the U.S. Open Cup, so the swath of this damage spreads across all three domestic competitions. If these two teams ever meet in CONCACAF Champions League, the Red Bulls better brace themselves for a Columbus assist hat trick.

CREW SC ASSIST HAT TRICKS BY THE NUMBERS

Regular season:

* Ansil Elcock 4/18/1998
* Robert Warzycha 8/18/1999
* Dante Washington 6/24/2000
* Federico Higuain 9/23/2017

Playoffs:

* Ansil Elock 9/30/1998
* Guillermo Barros Schelotto 11/23/2008

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup:

* Jeff Cunningham 8/6/2003
* Sebastian Rozental 7/12/2006

Three Primary Assists:

* Jeff Cunningham 8/6/2003 (USOC)
* Sebastian Rozental 7/12/2006 (USOC)
* Guillermo Barros Schelotto 11/23/2008 (MLS Cup)
* Federico Higuain 9/23/2017 (MLS regular season)

Assist Cycle (run of play, free kick, corner kick):

* Robert Warzycha 8/18/1999 [secondary assists on run of play and corner kick]
* Federico Higuain 9/23/2017 [all primary assists]

Crew SC Assist Hat-Trick Opponents (all competitions):

* 5x: MetroStars / New York Red Bulls (2x MLS, 2x playoffs, 1x USOC)
* 1x: Miami Fusion (MLS)
* 1x: New England Revolution (MLS)
* 1x: Michigan Bucks (USOC)

By venue, all competitions:

* 3x: MAPFRE Stadium (2x MLS, 1x USOC)
* 2x: Ohio Stadium (1x MLS, 1x Playoffs)
* 1x: StubHub Center, Carson, CA (1x Playoffs)
* 1x: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (1x MLS)
* 1x: Stoney Creek High School, Rochester Hills, MI (1x USOC)

Goal Hat Trick & Assist Hat Trick in Same Game (Team):

* 4/18/1998: Stern John (3 goals) & Ansil Elcock (3 assists)
* 8/18/1999: Stern John (3 goals) & Robert Warzycha (3 assists)
[Two assists toward the Stern John hat trick in each instance.]

Multiple Assist Hat Tricks in Crew SC Career (all comps):

* Ansil Elcock (4/18/1998 in MLS and 9/30/1998 in playoffs)

Goal Hat Trick & Assist Hat Trick in Crew SC Career:

* Dante Washington (3 assists 6/24/2000 and 3 goals 6/16/2001)

Questions? Comments? Have a better shorthand for “assist hat tricks” than the one my mind keeps defaulting to that I can’t use on the official team website? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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