Sirk’s Notebook: Crew 2, Toronto 0

Sirk's Notebook

 

 

The league calls it First Kick.
The supporters call it Crewsmas. Both of those monikers are more catchy and
efficient than the more literal Annual Make Toronto FC Come Down and Stand
Around and Watch the Crew Unveil More League Honors Before Outplaying the
Hosers As Usual Day.

 

Outclassing Toronto enough to win
by four or more goals, the Crew played sloppily and imprecise enough in the
offensive end of the field to win merely 2-0. It’s all three points in the end.
The win gave the Crew an early leg up in the 2010 Trillium Cup competition and
also ran their all-time unbeaten streak against Toronto to 10 games and
counting.

 

“I didn’t think the result was
fair at all,” said Toronto FC coach Preki, sending the assembled media
scrambling for their stat sheets to see if the numbers told a different story
than the one observed by the eyes. Let’s see… the Crew took two-and-a-half
times as many shots as Toronto, had twice as many shots on goal, earned a 10-1
edge in corner kicks, had two clear breakaways, and committed only half as many
fouls. Nope. Sounds about right. The only unjustness in the result is that
there was less than adequate damage done to Toronto’s goal differential.

 

“It wasn’t a great game, but it
was good because we won two-nil,” said Crew midfielder Adam Moffat. “We
probably should have won three-, four-, five- nil, but it’s good to get the
three points either way.”

 

With that case closed, here’s the
usual collection of news, notes, and random foolishness…

 

Andy
I-goal

 

While many (myself included)
assumed that Crew coach Robert Warzycha would insert Gino Padula at his usual
left back spot and move Danny O’Rourke to the center of the defense, Warzycha
felt good about the lineup that had played at Toluca and didn’t want to change
a thing. That meant that Andy Iro remained in the lineup in the central defense
and that O’Rourke remained at left back. The coach’s defensive decision not
only helped put a goose egg on the scoreboard, but amazingly also resulted in
the Crew’s two goals.

 

The first goal came in 29th
minute, courtesy of Iro’s noggin. After Toronto committed a needless foul
against Eddie Gaven in the offensive third near the right touchline, Guillermo
Barros Schelotto swerved a free kick into the box. Iro rumbled forth and beat
everyone to the ball, nodding it past Hoser goalie Stefan Frei.

 

“I actually don’t think I headed
it that cleanly,” said Iro. “There was a guy in front of me, but he jumped
late, so I took a chance and it glanced me head.”

 

Iro doesn’t exactly have a Chad
Marshall-like reputation for aerial dominance. In the past, he has been razzed
by teammates over his heading prowess. In the present too.

 

“No one expected that,” said Adam
Moffat of Iro’s header. “Even he didn’t expect that. He just got lucky that the
ball hit his head. It was good for him, though, because he is the worst header
for a 6’5” guy ever. His heading is an ongoing joke, so it’s good for his
confidence.”

 

Iro got a good laugh out of the
comments by his Scottish friend.

 

“Did you see his breakaway?” he
asked. (More on that in a bit.) “As far as my header, I’ve got more goals than
him right now, haven’t I? Until that changes, he can shut his mouth. There’s a
bit of a Scottish-English rivalry there, and I think he’s still mad about
Braveheart or whatever, but at the end of the day, I let my footie do the
talking.”

 

There’s no doubting that the
scoreboard is literally and figuratively in Iro’s favor after game one.

 

The
Weird Insurance Goal

 

The Crew took a 2-0 lead in the
87th minute in an early contender for Weirdest Goal of the Year. Any goal that
involves a full-field run by Danny O’Rourke, a mutual slide tackle involving a
goalkeeper, an unpressured defender mindlessly blasting the ball off of his
injured goalkeeper, and a swerving chip shot into an empty net HAS to be
considered a little bit strange, right?

 

The play started when O’Rourke
blocked a Julian de Guzman shot at the Crew’s six-yard box. Crew goalkeeper
William Hesmer, who had been sharp in the few instances he had been called
upon, appeared to have the shot covered, but O’Rourke removed all doubt with a
great defensive play. After collecting the ball and making a safe pass,
O’Rourke started running. Not since Forrest Gump has a man dashed so far for no
apparently logical reason.

 

But there was a method to the
madness after all.

 

“Toronto likes to tuck their
midfield in,” said O’Rourke, “so the space is going to be there. And playing on
this team for three or four years, you have confidence that guys are going to
find you in those spots.”

 

Sure enough, at the midfield
circle, Eddie Gaven spotted a bearded flash of yellow streaking up the left
side. The Danny O’Rourke sneak attack was on, so Gaven rolled the ball into the
acres of space behind Toronto’s unsuspecting defense.

 

“First of all, I didn’t think
Eddie would play the ball a mile away,” said O’Rourke. “I thought he would play
it to my feet so I could go to goal.”

 

But with the ball dumped into
space, a game of chicken ensued, pitting a young goalkeeper against one of the
league’s most notorious enforcers.

 

“I think the goalie get afraid
and say ‘I give the ball to Guille!’” said Guillermo Barros Schelotto, laughing
at O’Rourke’s fearsome reputation.

 

Danny and his evil beard bore
down at full throttle while Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei briefly hesitated
before charging toward the oncoming pain train.

 

“I didn’t know if I was going to
get there,” said O’Rourke. “It was about a 95-yard run from where I started.
The goalie hesitated a bit, so I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m going for it.’ That’s
one of those plays where if you go in half-hearted, you get hurt, so I went in
100%.”

 

O’Rourke left his feet to slide
for the ball. Then Frei left his feet to slide for the ball. Frei won the race,
but his clearance hit O’Rourke’s leg, causing the ball to pop up in the air
toward the Toronto goal. A fraction of a second later, the two men collided.
Frei, as all goalkeepers must do when they have taken themselves out of the
play, rolled around in apparent agony, hoping to stop the play.

 

(TFC coach Preki felt it was a
foul. Looking at the replay, it’s nearly impossible to disagree. The fact is
that Frei got there first, then Danny collided with him. If the roles were
reversed, and if that were an opponent and William Hesmer, I would certainly
argue that it was a foul. And I imagine Danny O himself would have had the
opponent in a choke hold to remind him how impolite it is to slide into Hesmer
like that. The Crew caught a lucky break, but there’s no question that O’Rourke
made his own luck with his brain, his heart, and his hustle.)

 

As improbable as it may be that
an O’Rourke-goalkeeper collision somehow did not end in a whistle against O’Rourke,
what happened next was off-the-charts insane. After Frei and O’Rourke each got
a piece of the ball, it popped up into the air into Toronto’s 18-yard box. The
ball fell to TFC defender Nick Garcia, who had both time and space to clear the
ball. There were only two Crew players in his vicinity. O’Rourke was getting up
off the ground several yards away and Schelotto patrolled a vacant patch of
grass about 10 yards into the distance. Garcia had more than adequate time and
space to clear the ball into safety and to see to it that his fallen goalkeeper
was tended to.

 

Instead—and I still can’t believe
this actually happened, no matter how many times I rewatch it— Garcia blasted
the ball off of his prone goalkeeper, playing a perfect bank shot to the feet
of Schelotto of all frickin’ people. Seriously. This actually happened.

 

After receiving the inexplicable
gift at his feet, the Crew’s Argentine legend calmly lofted a swerving chip
shot over the Toronto defense and into the empty net. There wasn’t so much as a
blip in his pulse.

 

“I knew I had some time, and I
knew I had to put the ball inside the goal because the goalie is outside,”
Guille said. “I say it is easy because I have a few seconds and some space, but
I need to be accurate because Garcia give me the ball.”

 

 That last clause is pure Guille gold. Clearly,
Schelotto was implying that when an opponent gives you an astonishing gift, you
need to take full advantage and make them pay, but as always, such sentiments
take on a delightfully unorthodox life of their own in Guille-speak.

 

And what of Danny O’Rourke? For
the second straight game at left back, Danny O created a Crew goal with a
dashing run up the left flank. He wasn’t credited with an assist on either
goal, but neither goal would have happened without him.

 

“Dude, Danny needs to play up
top,” said forward Steven Lenhart. “He’s been getting forward. I think he’s a
creator. He doesn’t get credit for goals or assists, but he creates goals. I
think it’s his beard or something.”

 

The
Broken Breakaway

 

If there was one moment causing a
lot of buzz in the locker room, it was Adam Moffat’s failed breakaway attempt
in the 50th minute. As Moffat approached Stefan Frei’s goal with the ball at
his feet, the crowd eagerly anticipated a vintage Moffat Rocket to double the
Crew’s lead. Instead, the Scot opened his hips and sent a feeble roller, reminiscent
of a Tony Sanneh penalty kick, right to Frei, who easily collected the alleged
shot. While it was an agonizing disappointment at the time, especially in a
one-goal game, it became hilarious to his teammates once the three points were
secure.

 

“Please tell me you are going to
rip on Moffat for that breakaway,” begged Jason Garey as he walked off the
field. “That was terrible! I have never seen anything so awful in my life!”

 

“No comment,” said Lenhart,
before commenting further. “I think he got confused. Maybe their goalie looked
like Will for a second, so Adam dropped it off so Will could clear it. That’s
what I thought. That’s the only explanation I can think of, to be honest. I
think he just got tired.”

 

“I think that’s true,” added
Robbie Rogers, as he iced every joint in his lower body except for his left
ankle. “I was running with him and I was thinking maybe he would pass it to me
so I could put it in. But as he got more and more tired, I got out in front of
him. I couldn’t slow down enough. Then I was hoping he wouldn’t pass it to me
because I was offside.”

 

“Did you see his shot?” asked an
incredulous Andy Iro. “It was shocking. It’s as simple as that. It’s the worst
strike I have ever seen from a Scottish guy. Striking the ball is all they do
over there, isn’t it? It’s just shocking.”

 

Duncan Oughton didn’t even see
it, yet that did not stop him from sharing his thoughts. “I was walking back to
my seat after talking to Mark McCullers, so I missed it,” the Kiwi said. “I’ve
heard nothing but awful things about it. I heard he broke away and tried to
open up his hips for a Thierry Henry-like finish, but he ended up rolling the
ball to the goalkeeper like a Scottish girly-man.”

 

Is it possible? Could the
famously goalless Danny O’Rourke have put together a better breakaway attempt?

 

“You would like to think so after
that display, right?” said O’Rourke, who has yet to score a goal in his entire
professional career. “But I probably would have kicked it out of bounds or
tripped over the ball and given them a counter attack. He made a great run and
then I think he tried to bend it or something. I would DIE for a chance like
that.”

 

Moffat endured all the ribbing
with his usual happy-go-lucky smile. “I suppose you want to talk about the
highlight?” he asked as I wandered over toward his locker.

 

“I just went for finesse,” he
explained, before shifting into his droll Scottish deadpan. “It was a great
save, though. It was a wonderful save. All you can do is put it on target, and
if he makes a fantastic save, what can you do?

 

“I thought Robbie was a
defender,” he said of his breakaway running mate. “I was like, ‘Oh no, he’s
catching me! He’s fast!’ I should have done a slide tackle like Danny O’Rourke.
Someone else would have gotten the goal, but at least we would have scored. But
instead, I tried to finesse it. I promise you it’s the last time I do that.
Next time I am just going to whack it.”

 

Home
is Sweet Home Again

 

After the Crew rattled off a
22-game home unbeaten streak in league play and a 24-game home unbeaten streak
against MLS clubs in all competitions, things suddenly got dodgy on the home
front. Seattle snapped the Crew’s streak last October, and it was soon followed
by home losses to New England in the regular season finale and Real Salt Lake in
the playoffs. That’s a three-game home losing streak.

 

Thankfully, the Crew put that to
rest on Saturday.

 

“Today was the first step toward
winning the Trillium Cup for our fans, and it was also important to get three
points at home,” said Crew captain Frankie Hejduk. “I think we reestablished
that it’s going to be tough for teams to win here.”

 

“I think it was important for us
to regain that confidence at home,” said O’Rourke. “That unbeaten streak was
really cool and it’s something we will always remember and we want to get back
to it. Points in April mean as much as points in October, so it’s good to get
off on the right foot so that we aren’t chasing the league later in the
season.”

 

Supporters’
Shield

 

Before kickoff, the Crew unveiled
the newly minted sign in Championship Row commemorating the team’s 2009
Supporters’ Shield title, the fifth domestic honor in club history. The Crew
are only the second team to win back-to-back Shields. They are now embarking on
a potential three-peat, which would be unprecedented in league history.

 

“We want to win another
Supporters’ Shield,” said Hejduk. “It’s too early to talk dynasty and all that,
but if we could win three Supporters’ Shields in a row, that would be something
special that has never been done before. That’s definitely a goal of ours. We
want to be the best team in the league. Having said that, we can’t get ahead of
ourselves. We have to take it one game at a time like we always have in the
past. Hopefully, by the end of the season, it will come to that point if we
focus on each game along the way. That’s the approach that has worked for us
the past two years.”

 

Mr.
Numbers Nerd: Ownage Edition

 

Toronto couldn’t have picked a
better location to debut their new surrender-flag-white kits. With Saturday’s 2-0
victory, the Crew have run their unbeaten streak against TFC to ten consecutive
matches. The Crew are 5-0-5 against the Hosers all-time, and the 10-game
unbeaten streak is an all-time Crew record against one opponent. The next
longest streak in club history, in all competitions, is seven games, which has
been accomplished multiple times.

 

Given that the Crew have been the
best team in the league over the past two seasons, it should come as no
surprise that they have a few good unbeaten streaks going against various
clubs.

 

Crew’s Current Lengthy Unbeaten
Streaks vs. Other Clubs, All Competitions:

 

1. Toronto. 10 games. (5-0-5)

Last loss: NEVER.

 

2. Kansas City. 7 games. (5-0-2)

Last loss: 9/15/07 at KC. Wizards
3, Crew 2.

 

3. Colorado. 7 games. (4-0-3)

Last loss: 4/8/06 at COL. Rapids
3, Crew1.

 

4. Chicago. 6 games. (1-0-5) 

Last loss: 6/10/08 at Peoria, IL.
Fire 3, Crew 2 (OT). [U.S. Open Cup]

 

In their history, the Crew have
also had 7-game unbeaten streaks against New England (1999-2000) and Dallas (2003-05).

 

There have also been two other
notable streaks that didn’t quite qualify for different reasons. The Crew had a
7-game regular season unbeaten streak against the LA Galaxy from 2004-07, but
there was a 2007 U.S. Open Cup loss mixed in there that cuts the “all
competitions” streak to six games. The Crew also had a 7-game “unbeaten in
actual soccer” streak against New England from 1996-97, but there was a
shootout loss in the middle of that run which technically counts as a loss
under the archaic rules.

 

The Crew’s 10-game unbeaten
streak against the Hosers now mirrors the worst single-opponent winless streak
in club history. The Crew went 0-5-5 in all competitions against the New
England Revolution over a stretch from 2004-07, which includes the infamous
2004 playoff series.

 

Also of note, the Crew have had
three completely separate 5-game winless streaks against the Colorado Rapids.
The Denver club has consistently been a thorn in the Crew’s side over the
years, which makes the Crew’s current unbeaten streak against them as
satisfying as anything involving the historically nondescript and uneventful
Rapids can be. I guess.

 

Jamey
Rootes on Crew Stadium

 

A few weeks ago, I chatted with
the president of the NFL’s Houston Texans, Jamey Rootes, for the “Where Are
They Now?” feature in the current game program. Rootes was the Crew’s President
& General Manager through the end of the 1999 season, and was an integral
part of making Crew Stadium a reality. When I informed him that The House That
Lamar Hired More Qualified People To Build was named the most notable stadium
of the last decade by Stadia magazine, the always-enthusiastic Rootes was
overjoyed.

 

“That’s amazing!” he said. “I
remember back in 1999, an industry magazine named Crew Stadium ‘The Foremost
Sports Facility of 1999’, and that was the same year the Staples Center opened
in Los Angeles. The reason Crew Stadium is still so respected a decade later is
because that building is not about the cement, the steel, the grass, the
scoreboard or anything else.  It’s about
what it has meant to the game of soccer in this country. It’s about Lamar
Hunt’s vision and commitment. It would have been easy for Lamar to walk away
after two failed referendums, but he believed in the sport, he believed in the
league, and he believed in Columbus. Crew Stadium was a major turning point for
MLS, and it’s a facility that all of Columbus can be proud of. It makes me
happy that all of those things still resonate a decade later, even when
compared to all of the sports facilities that have been built since then.”

 

Speaking
of a Decade Ago…

 

On the final weekend in March,
one decade ago, Crew coach Robert Warzycha created the most indelible image of
his Crew career. On March 25, 2000, the Polish midfielder buried a 28-yard
direct free kick in golden goal overtime to give the Crew a 2-1 victory over
the San Jose Earthquakes.

 

The goal atoned for his earlier
miscue. Warzycha swatted down what would have been the equalizing goal.
Although San Jose converted the penalty in the 90th minute to force sudden
death overtime, Warzycha somehow escaped a red card. It was a good thing for
Crew fans, because in the final seconds of the extra session, the Polish Rifle
blasted a bender that whizzed over the Quakes’ wall and dipped into the upper left
corner of the net. Pandemonium ensued, and in an iconic image that endures to
this day, a jubilant Crew Cat lifted Warzycha off the ground and triumphantly
held the free kick hero aloft for all to see.

 

As Warzycha left the locker room
on Saturday, I asked him for his memories of that night.

 

“Yes, I remember I was supposed
to get a red card because I saved a goal with my hand at the very end,” he
said. “They scored the penalty to tie the score, but then I won the game with
the free kick in overtime. I thought it was a very exciting game for the people
that were here because it was the first time there was a golden goal. There was
like 10 seconds to go, so it was great. I still remember that goal 10 years
later.”

 

Warzycha has had a long and
varied Crew career. That goal was not the biggest play he made while wearing number
19—that would be his goal-line clearance of an Alejandro Moreno shot in the
dying moments of the 2002 U.S. Open Cup final, preserving the Crew’s 1-0
triumph and the first hardware in club history. Warzycha has also won an MLS
Cup as a top assistant, and a Supporters’ Shield as the Crew’s head coach. But
still, the free kick goal against San Jose endures as his defining image. From
the moment the renowned free kick specialist stood over the ball, it was the
perfect melding of expectation, do-or-die drama, and execution, all capped by a
classic visual.

 

“I think that moment stands out
because I made everybody in the stadium happy,” he said. “Plus, Crew Cat
carried me around, and then I saw the pictures of me and Crew Cat afterwards.
We can talk about the important moments, like when I saved the goal at the end
of the Open Cup, but I think that free kick was the most exciting for the fans
to remember.”

 

I couldn’t help but ask if Crew
Cat has carried him around or at least given him any piggyback rides since that
night. The ever-serious Warzycha cracked a rare smile.

 

“I will need to talk to the Crew
Cat,” he chuckled, “because after the game today, maybe he could have carried
me around for the 10 years anniversary. It is too late now. Now we will have to
wait for the 20 years anniversary.”

 

Another
Anniversary

 

The night of Robert’s golden goal
against the Quakes coincided with the very first edition of the Notebook.
Yikes. This past weekend marked 10 years of this gibberish. Check the Crew’s
official blog, The Black & Gold Standard (www.blackandgoldstandard.com), on
Wednesday night to find pictures of Warzycha / Crew Cat celebration, as well as
the text of the very first Notebook. Yes, you can see where it all began, and
we can all laugh at how paltry, lame, and undeveloped it was back then.

 

Paco
Wins the NCAA Pool

 

Assistant trainer Skylar “Paco”
Richards has been crowned the Crew’s 2010 NCAA Tournament Pool champion. Having
correctly predicted that Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia would make the
Final Four, nobody else can catch him. His closest pursuers heading into the
weekend were Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, and Brian Carroll, who must all now
bitterly recognize Paco’s superior powers of prognostication.

 

“Kevin Burns cussed me out and
said he’s never talking to me again,” Paco said Sunday night during a cell
phone acceptance speech. “Brian Carroll also said some things that will have to
remain off the record. This is revenge for last year, when my wife finished
second to Alejandro Moreno. The guys were getting sore that my wife was beating
all of them, so they crossed out her name on her sheet and put my name on it to
make themselves feel better. So this victory is for Jennifer.”

 

Paco was noncommittal on the
issue of a title defense next March. “I may not enter next year, just to rub
some salt in the wounds,” he said. “The Richards household has proven all there
is to prove over the last two years. Retiring on top would drive them crazy.”

 

Random
Moments With Steven Lenhart

 

In the 73rd minute, Crew forward
Steven Lenhart got clocked across the face by TFC defender Nick Garcia. Blood
gushed from his nose, so he temporarily left the field to seek medical
treatment. After getting some cotton swabs rammed up into his nostrils, Lenhart
returned to the field.

 

“Dude, I had two of those things
jammed up my nose because I didn’t know which side was bleeding,” he said.
“Then I ran out onto the field and I couldn’t breathe! I was like, ‘Aw, shoot!’
So I just guessed and pulled one out so I could breathe. I guessed right. I
yanked out the correct cotton swab.”

 

Shoes

 

At halftime of the Crew Soccer
Academy’s 3-1 victory over the U.S. U-17 National Team, Crew television analyst
Dante Washington became preoccupied with a goalkeeper’s choice in footwear.

 

“Goalkeepers should not be
allowed to wear orange shoes,” he said. “Goalkeepers, defenders, and defensive
midfielders should only be allowed to wear black shoes. The only color can be
the white from the brand logo, like the three stripes or the swoosh or
whatever. That’s it. They don’t need colored shoes. The flashy shoes should
only be for the flashy players, like forwards, wingers, and attacking mids. NOT
goalies and defenders.”

 

We were soon joined by Crew
assistant coach Mike Lapper. I told Lapper of Dante’s theory, thinking he might
disagree as a former defender.

 

“It’s not a theory,” Lapper said.
“Dante is absolutely correct. Defenders and goalies should only wear black
shoes.”

 

So what about Gino Padula’s
yellow boots that match the Crew’s massive banana kit?

 

“Gino’s an exception,” said
Lapper. “He’s the exception that proves the rule.”

 

“Left backs don’t count because
they’re weird anyway,” Dante offered as an amendment. “I mean, look at Gino.
He’s got the hair, he looks like a pirate, and he’s got yellow boots. The man
is a fashion plate. Left backs are excluded from the rule because they’re all weird
and will do their own thing anyway.”

 

Quip
O’ The Afternoon

 

Since my good buddy Flick, who
could not attend the opener, called from his car and left me a voice mail upon
hearing Crew radio man Neil Sika drop this gem on the air, we’ll close the
Notebook with it. Here’s Neil’s call as Adam Moffat earned a yellow card in the
closing minutes of the first Trillium Cup game of 2010…

 

“Things are getting a bit chippy
down on the field, but that’s to be expected when you’re battling over a
wildflower.”

 

 

Questions?
Comments? Ever eaten a piece of Crewsmas cake? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com.

 

Steve Sirk
is a contributor to TheCrew.com. His first book, “A Massive Season: Sirk’s
Notebook Chronicles the 2008 Columbus Crew” is now available. This story was
not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.