Sirk’s Notebook

Crew 2, D.C. United 0

Renteria

Photo Credit: 
Jamie Sabau (Getty Images)

On a sweltering summer Saturday, 15,334 sweat-soaked mortals and one Brad Friedel poured into Crew Stadium in the hopes that the Black & Gold would soothe the crowd’s collective case of the Red, White & Blahs. Mere hours after the United States had been eliminated from the 2010 World Cup with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Ghana, the Columbus Crew rode to the rescue with a 2-0 victory over long-time nemesis D.C. United.

The game opened with a manic first half that saw each team take 11 shots, most of which were more threatening to the 737s approaching Port Columbus than the opposition’s goal. Despite the ample opportunities, each team took a shutout to the locker room.

The Crew carried the play from the start of the second half and a goal seemed imminent. At any moment, something was going to happen to overcome what looked to be another shot-happy goose egg. And then it happened. Divine Argentine Intervention…

THE HAND OF GUILL (GHEEZH)

The Crew took a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute in a most startling fashion. Jason Garey played a ball into the right side of the box for Emilio Renteria. The Venezuelan chipped the ball to the back post, and it looked to be a perfect finish. Alas, the ball clanged off the inside of the post, but it bounced right to Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who booted the rebound into the net from a few feet away. One problem-- Schelotto did this after knocking the rebound down to his shoes with his outstretched right arm. Nevertheless, the goal was given.

Schelotto admitted to the contact, but said that the quick rebound played his arm and that he had no intention of handling the ball. (As always, all Schelotto quotes are left unaltered from their original, awesome Guille-speak.)

“Yeah, the ball hit me in the arm after post,” Schelotto said. “I get surprised. I don’t know if the ref saw the play. Maybe he understand the ball hit me just… I don’t have the intention to set the ball next to me to put inside the goal. I saw the ball is coming inside the post, but when it comes to my body I get surprised. I need to say the true, the ball hit me in the arm, but I don’t have the intention to set the ball. It just hit me in the arm. It hit me, then I look and find the ball and put it inside the goal.”

After putting the ball inside the goal, Schelotto immediately looked to the referee, and his look made it appear as though Guille was looking for either the goal, or, failing that, forgiveness.

“I saw him (the referee) because I understand maybe he saw I put the hands with intention. He can say foul. But maybe he saw the play and understand that the ball hit me in the arm, that’s it.”

TALKING ABOUT THE THING THAT’S NOT BEING TALKED ABOUT

United coach Curt Onalfo was understandably upset that the first goal of the game was the result of a handball. When first asked about it, he declared that he would not be speaking about the call.

“I don't want to comment on it, because I don't want to get fined,” Onalfo said. “Everyone in the stadium saw it. But you know, we're not a group that looks at those things. For me, we had clear-cut chances throughout the game, especially in the first half. You're away on the road against a very good team that is very good at home, and we have three or four big time chances in the first half, and you have to bury them. It is that simple. As far as I am concerned, we had the opportunity in our hands and we let it slip away with our inability to put the ball in the back of the next tonight. It could have been a much different game if we score early, and things change, regardless of what happened on that particular first goal for Columbus.”

So far, so good. But then another group of reporters made their way into the press conference, and the handball came up a second time.

“I don't want to comment,” Onalfo said. “I'm telling you, if I do comment it’s going to cost me, and as far as I'm concerned, the person who was in the middle is not worth me losing any money because everybody in the stadium saw what happened, so I'm not commenting on that. Even the other coaching staff and players were very gracious in commenting to us on that particular play.”

A little more dicey, but still a solid job of commenting on the thing that’s not being commented on. Onalfo played that well. His paycheck should be none the lighter.

CREW REACTIONS TO THE HAND OF GUILL

The Crew made no denials, nor offered any apologies, for the Hand of Guill.

“There are situations like this that sometimes they go for you, and sometimes they go against you,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha. “There was a situation in Dallas where, while I wasn't the referee, there was this quick free kick... There are going to be some calls for and against, and they'll even out by the end of the season.”

“I did see the Hand of Guill,” said midfielder Adam Moffat. “I didn’t know if it was a goal. It was kind of a blur, and then I thought it was handball. I’m glad it got given. We’ll take it. Sometimes you need that fortune, because sometimes it goes against you too.”

“I think that’s pretty South American,” mused midfielder Robbie Rogers. “Guys down there use their hands in the box to score goals. If that had been me, it would have been a foul and a red card, but Guillermo got a goal and a pat on the back. But we were going to score no matter what. We had the momentum and we were creating chances. If we didn’t score then, we would have scored another time.”

Rogers then revealed the secret training regimen that made the goal possible.

“I think Guille made that play because we’ve been teaching him basketball,” he explained. “I’ve been dunking on him, but he’s getting better. He’s getting the hang of it. That was a deft touch by him tonight.”

Wait…dunking on Guille?

“We lower the basket to 5’10” so I can dunk on it and he can’t.”

BRUNNER’S GOAL AND LONELY CELEBRATION

To remove any doubt over the validity of the result, the Crew tacked on a second goal in the 87th minute. Schelotto sent a corner kick toward the near post, where Steven Lenhart got a slight touch on the ball with his newly-shorn head. The ball went to the back post where a completely unmarked Eric Brunner banged it home with his right foot.

What followed was pure comedy. Whereas most goals result in a joyous mob of hugs and high-fives, Brunner ran to celebrate in front of the Nordecke…all by himself. Given the hot and humid conditions and the late stage of the game, most of his teammates opted to head toward the bench to rehydrate after the goal.

“It was a one-man celebration,” Moffat chuckled. “Everyone was tuckered. I was slowly trotting behind him and he turned around and said, ‘Is it a goal? Is it a goal?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, keep going.’ All by himself. Poor Brunner. That was a good finish and it was his first goal for the team. He allegedly scored one last year, but we all know that one was going wide and that the league was generous and gave it to him. This one was definitely his, and nobody celebrated with him.”

“Brunner scored and I was like, ‘Hey, sweet’,” said Robbie Rogers. “Then I turned around and got some water. We were happy, of course, but it was so hot and humid that it was like, ‘Whatever, Eric. I’m thirsty.’ We were joking in here after the game, telling him that the whole stadium booed him when he scored his goal. We just like to give Brunner a hard time. That worked out perfectly. It was awesome.”

CONTRASTING VIEWS ON THE LENHART PK

The Crew had a chance take a 3-0 in stoppage time when Steven Lenhart earned a penalty kick for Columbus. With the victory all but assured, the Crew’s resident PK specialist, Schelotto, offered the opportunity to Lenhart. Still searching for his second goal of the regular season, Lenhart accepted. He stepped up to the spot and drilled a low shot up the middle. The shot was hit with such force that DCU goalkeeper Troy Perkins couldn’t have gotten out of the way if he had tried. Perkins made the save.

While I did not personally witness it, other reporters had observed that Schelotto and Warzycha were having a discussion as they walked off the field. Naturally, the two Crew legends were asked about their conversation, and I think it’s funny how each of them opened their remarks when asked about that discussion.

Warzycha: “Well, I'm a coach and he's a player, so we talked about the game.”

Schelotto: “No, no, no. No discussion. It was more a meeting on the field after the game.”

So it was just a coach and a player talking about the game, but it wasn’t a discussion, but more of a meeting. After their opening comments, each man willingly elaborated on the nature of that talk/discussion/meeting.

“I don't think, in my mind, that Steven should take the penalty,” Warzycha said. “I think the game of soccer is specific. We remember the time (June 10) when D.C. was winning 3-0 in Seattle and Seattle scored two goals in the last minute. Why would you put the team in a situation like this? 3-0 is 3-0. There's no way they would come back from 3-0 down, but like everybody says, 2-0 is the worst score in soccer. I think (Schelotto) should have taken it. He was taking all the penalty kicks until this time.”

And from Schelotto’s view, the game was surely in hand and the penalty was a chance to build Lenhart’s confidence with no pressure on the line.

“We (Guille & Warzycha) talk about the shoot, because I think in the last minute, Steve-o would want to shoot to get confidence to get the score in. I did it just to say ‘Steven should you maybe get the confidence get a score in?’ He no get angry, but Bobby say, ‘We need to be professional until the last second on the field. You shoot.’”

Schelotto was clear that PK switcheroo was solely his idea in an effort to lift Lenhart.

“I say to him, ‘You shoot and take the confidence with this penalty,’ but he couldn’t,” Guille explained.
“He need to take a relax next time and send the ball in very close to post, not middle.”

(Kind of funny to hear Guille urging people not to shoot up the middle on PKs, isn’t it?)

As tempting as it may be to manufacture controversy over this difference of opinion between Schelotto and Warzycha, all I saw was two men with valid viewpoints being true to themselves.

Warzycha believes that even with the lead, you play to win until the final whistle. He knows that soccer is a strange and cruel game, so even a two-goal lead in stoppage time is no time for penalty-kick experimentation, not when two goals can happen in the blink of an eye. (He mentioned Seattle and D.C. on June 10, and heck, the next morning, as if to prove his point, a thoroughly outclassed England side would have scored two goals in about 30 seconds if the referees had seen that the long-range shot had crossed the goal line.) Warzycha is right that three goals kills the game dead in a way that two goals doesn’t. Even if the odds were long for a United comeback, Warzycha believes that you play to win until you extinguish the odds completely.

And let’s not forget that Warzycha has been with the Crew since 1996. Like everyone who has been around since the beginning, I am sure the very sight of D.C. United alters the chemicals coursing through his blood and into his brain. No matter the records and no matter the situation, when you have the chance to finish off D.C. United, you do it. And you do it as lopsidedly as possible. You want Schelotto to bury that penalty to make it 3-0. Then maybe you tell the referee to add more stoppage time for the penalty because you want the chance to make it 4-0. Robert Warzycha has been with the Crew so long, I imagine deep down in his psyche, he wants to beat United 10-0 every time the Crew plays them.

So I get it. And it’s all valid. And it’s all Robert Warzycha being true to himself.

On the other hand, this was also Guille being Guille. He has shown time and time again that he is a magnanimous superstar who is wired to think in terms of team success. A player of his stature could have easily said, “I take the penalties around here” and then further stuffed his stat line for his own personal glory. Instead, Schelotto evaluated the game situation and decided that the stoppage time penalty was a virtually risk-free opportunity to get a slumping teammate back on track. As acting captain, he made the call on the field, doing what he believed was in the best interests of the team.

So I get that too. And it’s all valid. And it’s all Guillermo Barros Schelotto being true to himself.

So in the end, these two Crew legends had a difference of valid opinions and have ironed out the roadmap for future situations. These things happen. I fail to see any controversy. It’s just a shame that in this particular instance, neither Warzycha, Schelotto, nor Lenhart got what they were seeking from Saturday’s penalty kick. Their hearts were all in the right place.

COHETE DEL RENTERIA

Emilio Renteria terrorized D.C. United for 70 minutes on Saturday. Playing on the right flank and eventually moving up top, Renteria’s speed, strength, and skill created numerous opportunities for the Crew, including the fateful post-banging that set up the Hand of Guill.

But even the play that set up the goal may not have brought as many people out of their seats as did the long-range shot he took in the first half. In the 27th minute, Renteria elicited a stadium-wide gasp when he unleashed a 35-yard laser beam that dipped just behind the crossbar. It was like a Moffat Rocket. It was a Renteria Rocket. Un Cohete del Renteria.

To discuss the shot, I turned to the Crew’s resident long-range rocket expert, Adam Moffat.

“Oh that guy can hit it, man,” said Moffat. “He’s a bit bigger than me, but obviously my technique is better and I can hit it harder.”

Moffat can hit harder than Renteria?

“Definitely,” Moffat said.

But that Cohete del Renteria looked pretty darn impressive.

“It looked all right,” Moffat said, “but if I would have hit it, it would have been on target. That’s the difference.”

And with that, Moffat got serious. Sort of.

“No, he can whack it,” said the Scotsman. “He’s like a bull. He’s got a shot on him. I taught him everything I know. Neither of us speaks English, so there’s no language barrier. It’s good.”

MOFFAT TO RIGHT BACK

Normally a central midfielder, Warzycha pushed Moffat out wide where he served as a forward-moving right back in Frankie Hejduk’s absence. The move was a success.

“You know what you're going to get from Adam,” Warzycha said. “He has a lot of energy on the field, and he's going to give you 110 percent. I wasn't worried about somebody actually getting behind him, and I think he had a good game.”

Moffat clarified that he was definitely playing right back, not right midfield.

“They actually sent me out as a right back, but I was sort of forward a lot,” he said. “But Bobby put me there to make sure I got forward and helped, but also kept it tight defensively. It was a different position for me and I enjoyed it.”

IT WAS HARD ENOUGH AS JUST A FAN

Take all of your emotions from the USA’s World Cup Round of 16 loss to Ghana and then imagine how amplified those emotions would be if you were part of the preliminary World Cup roster and you were watching your friends go down in heartbreaking fashion. Such was the case with Robbie Rogers. We all watched as fans. He watched as a fan, a friend, and a teammate.

“It was tough to be honest with you,” he said after the Crew’s victory. “It was a team I was a part of and a lot of my buddies were playing today. We put a lot of work and effort into this World Cup. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves. Every game, we would go down or not play that well, but we were able to fight back. I was really proud of how the guys fought back today. I predicted that we’d go to overtime, and I predicted that Landon would score on a penalty, but I said we would win 2-1 so I was a little off.”

Remember how tough it was to shake off the U.S. loss and head to Crew Stadium? How difficult it was to shift your mind from World Cup disappointment to the Crew’s first match in three weeks? Well, again, imagine what it would be like if you not only had to do that, but had to do it because you were the one taking the field at Crew Stadium that night.

“It’s hard,” Rogers said, “because you’re super excited for the game all day, and then you watch it, and in the end you’re disappointed…and then it’s like, ‘Hey, I have to take a shower and get to the stadium!’ It’s tough, but then when I got here, I was so excited to be on the soccer field again and to be in front of our fans again.

“Watching the World Cup gave me extra motivation. I came close this time, but my goal is to play in the next World Cup. I know the only way to do that is to play well here in Columbus and help our team be successful. When we win here, it means people will see you.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: DUDE EDITION

The Crew won without captain Frankie Hejduk on Saturday. That by itself is not necessarily unusual. But as the Crew limped into the World Cup break with an 0-2-1 mark while the captain was on the sideline, I received an email from reader Gabe Doman, who wrote: “It seems that over the last two years, when Frankie Hejduk's out, the Crew slump.  Is this perception, or accurate?”

It turns out that it is certainly accurate in relative terms. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Crew have played 21 league games with Hejduk and 21 games without him. They are still a winning team without Hejduk. Saturday’s win has bumped them to 9-6-6 with a +3 goal differential. That’s good for 1.57 points per game.

But WITH Hejduk? In the same span, the Crew are 11-3-7 with a +14 goal differential. That’s good for 1.90 points per game.

Over the course of a 30-game season, that pro-rated difference comes out to 57 points versus 47 points. Without Hejduk, the Crew are a very good team. With him, they are a full 10 points better than that.

Thanks for the question, Gabe!

BOOK CLUB

As we chatted, Adam Moffat reached into his locker.

“I got a nice book tonight, though,” he said. “You might like it.”

And with that, he handed me a book called “Brit-Slang: An Uncensored A to Z of the People’s Language, Including Rhyming Slang.”

“Have a little gander,” Moffat urged. “Steve got it for me.”

Wait, Lenhart got a book of Brit slang for a Brit? Huh? Why?

“I’m not sure why,” Moffat said. “I think he’s just trying to get me back on track. You never know what you’ll find at Half Price Books.”

I took a gander as instructed. I flipped to a random page, and the very first word I saw was “firk.”

“Here’s one,” I said. “Firk. F-I-R-K.”

“Off by just one letter,” Moffat noted.

“The definition,” I said, “is a centuries old euphemism for the word (eff).”

“That’s perfect.”

“So you can say, ‘Firk Sirk.’”

“Firk Sirk…,” Moffat pondered. “That’s a good little rhyme for people who are angry at you.”

After flipping through a few more pages, I handed Moffat his book of Brit slang. I told him that when he was done with it, he should lend it to Andy Iro. That way Steve can truly get his money’s worth.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS

I wrote a book review of Beau Dure’s excellent new MLS offering, “Long-Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer.” It was originally for the Notebook, but I figured the Notebooks are usually long enough and I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle, so I put it up at the Black & Gold Standard instead. If you haven’t seen it, you can read the review at this link: http://blackandgoldstandard.com/?p=3082

MODEL GOALKEEPER

As I walked by Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in the tent after the game, he said I should write about this thing that he has going on. I said sure and asked what that might be.

“Nude modeling,” he said, in his typical excitable deadpan. “It’s what I’ve been doing lately. With this body, it would be a crime not to.”

I said that explains the rumor I heard that a massive new Andy Gruenebaum banner was going up on the south side of the stadium overlooking the Crew Kicker Plaza.

“It’s tasteful,” Gruenebaum said defensively. “People don’t need to worry or get uptight about it. It’s natural. It’s very tasteful and artistic.”

I walked away thinking that the Hebrew Hammer and I had engaged in a facetious, straight-faced, goofy conversation, but after doing some research, it appears that Andy was not kidding.

For example, local sculptor Mike L. Angelo of New Rome recently unveiled a Gruenebaum-modeled piece called “Hammer”…

Not to be outdone, Alex Andros of Antioch College has also unveiled a brand new sculpture based on Gruenebaum’s semi-nude pose, which the artist has dubbed “Venus de G-baum”…

 I think we can all agree that the earth is a better and more cultured home for mankind thanks to the timeless, priceless artistry inspired by the perfect human form that is Andy Gruenebaum.

And that’s why we love this team, isn’t it? Not only do they win, but they buoy our spirits after a World Cup loss. And they offer us the ability to ruminate on diverging valid opinions from two experienced international soccer minds. And they offer us a hilarious goalkeeper who sends me scrambling for Sam Fahmi’s 5-second Photoshop skills, a goofball striker who buys a book of Brit slang for a midfielder from Scotland, and a technical director who has a greater love and affection for shoes than all the main characters from Sex in the City combined.

Oh, wait. The Brian Bliss shoe story will have to wait until the Open Cup Notebook. As will the story of how the Crew’s Massiveness affects the teams they root for. As well as the exciting new developments in the Sanneh jersey bounty.

But for now, the Open Cup beckons. The Rochester Rhinos are in town, so we can only hope that Duncan Oughton is warming up his bicycle. Be there.

Questions? Comments? Think Moffat and Renteria should have a Rocket-Off to see who truly hits a harder ball? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via Twitter @stevesirk

Steve Sirk is a contributor to TheCrew.com. His first book,
“A Massive Season”, which chronicles the Crew’s 2008 MLS Cup
championship campaign, is currently available at the Crew Gear store and
Amazon.com. This article was not subject to the approval of Major
League Soccer or its clubs.