Sirk’s Notebook

Galaxy 2 - Crew 0

I stood above the concert stage as the final moments ticked away in Saturday’s “Battle of the Best” at Crew Stadium. Those final moments resembled much of the previous 90-plus minutes, with the Crew camped in front of the Los Angeles goal, throwing everything they had at the Galaxy defense. It was a pointless exercise at that point. Despite 21 shots and 15 corner kicks, the Crew were mere seconds from a 2-0 defeat. But they battled on. A consolation goal might not have offered much consolation, but it would have offered some measure of vindication. All of that relentless offensive pressure would have been for SOMETHING.

I took a look around. The Crew Stadium crowd of 18,139 was starting to disperse. And then I heard it. I glanced over the Nordecke, which was still largely full. What I heard started as a trumpet call, quickly accompanied by some percussion, and then a full-throated blast of singing hit my ears. “Columbus ‘til I die! Columbus ‘til I die!” the voices sang. It reminded me of the band playing on while the Titanic sank. That may not be the perfect analogy since the only thing that sank on this night was the S.S. Massively Undefeated, which was bound to happen at some point anyway. But it still stuck with me. Despite the futility of these last meaningless moments in a frustrating defeat, both the team and its most ardent supporters dutifully kept giving their all until the very end.

“Of course, I noticed that,” said Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer. “I was standing right there. I could feel their sighs when we were close to scoring and just barely missing. Their passion doesn’t quit, and we feed off of that.”

When the final whistle sounded, the players offered their customary thanks to the fans. Then they marched through the tunnel to their locker room, simultaneously annoyed and comforted by the fact that soccer is a strange, cruel game.

“We played very well today,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “We created chances. (The Galaxy) were organized, you couldn't break their defense, and they had luck on their side. I think we created enough chances to win this game. We created two in the first half, hit the post the second half, and 15-0 in corners, all against the best team in MLS. So I think you have to be proud of the team, and I am.”

And yet…

“Well, it was the worst game of the season because we lost.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FIRST GOAL

Given that this historic battle of unbeatens featured the top two defenses in the league, the always crucial first goal seemed as though it would be extra crucial on this night.

Unfortunately for the Crew, it went to the Galaxy against the run of play in the 10th minute. Chris Birchall got behind the Crew’s defense down the Galaxy’s right flank. The Crew scrambled to recover, and in doing so, overcommitted. Trailing the play and completely unmarked, rookie Michael Stephens collected Birchall’s cross and then lasered a shot past Hesmer to give the Galaxy the early lead.

“We got sucked in,” said Hesmer, “and once the chain reaction starts, they have a guy wide open at the far post. He did a great job of finishing.”

Playing without offensive stars Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, who are away with the U.S. World Cup team, there was no doubt what the Galaxy would do from that point.

“We needed that first goal, but we never got it,” lamented Robbie Rogers. “They defend well as a team. They get everyone behind the ball and they do it very well. Bruce (Arena) does a great job keeping them disciplined as a team. They’re smart. In a game where they go down 1-0, it would be interesting to see what they do then because they wouldn’t be able to sit back.”

Yes, it would be interesting to see what they would do if they ever trailed. The problem is, nobody knows. The Galaxy have yet to trail in 2010. They have played 990 minutes to open the season without falling behind even once. According to the fine folks at the Climbing the Ladder blog, this has shattered the old record of 710 minutes set by the 1999 Dallas Burn.

BATTLING THE BUNKER

With the Galaxy bunkered in an effort to make their early goal stand up, the Crew found all sorts of different ways not to score while controlling the game in the Los Angeles end.

* They occasionally forced a save out of Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. None was more spectacular than his point blank save of a Steven Lenhart header in the 16th minute.

* They sometimes shot themselves in the foot with strange decisions. Early in the first half, Guillermo Barros Schelotto attempted a back heel volley on a Robbie Rogers service, and later that half, Lenhart jumped to attempt a flying ninja volley on a ball that Schelotto looped behind the Galaxy defense at head height.

* They found the woodwork. In the 75th minute, Andy Iro headed a Schelotto service off of the right post.

“I thought it was in,” Iro said. “Ideally, I would have wanted to put it back to the other side, but I was backing up and kinda had to get anything on it. It’s just one of those games. I headed it clean, I headed it down, but it doesn’t go in. What can you do?”

* They scored when it didn’t count. In the 76th minute, Jason Garey put the ball past Ricketts, but was a step offside in the goalmouth scrum. Garey and Iro were near the ball, but Garey came back from an offside position to bang the ball home. After the game, Garey and the linesman had an amicable chat in the tunnel as they walked to their respective locker rooms.

“He told me I was off by a step,” Garey explained. “I talked to Iro, and he said he might have been able to shoot it, but I just saw the ball and tried to score a goal. I wish they would have allowed it. That would have been nice. I needed to do a better job of staying on, but I was mixing it up in the box and trying to get into a good spot in front of the goal for a rebound.”

* They missed the target. A lot. Whether they missed by inches, feet, or yards, the Crew only hit the target on four of their 21 shots. The Galaxy defense deserves a lot of credit, though, as they minimized shooting lanes with their numbers and deflected many shots. (Thus all of the corner kicks.)

Add it all up, and it was a very frustrating shutout for the Crew.

“We had a ton of shots, but we couldn’t really find the answer,” said Garey. “We created a lot of chances, but we need to do a better job of putting them away. We need to be able to win games when we dominate.”

“We created the chances,” said Hesmer, “but it just seemed like one of those nights where we could have played a whole ‘nother game and still not scored a goal.  They’re living right, I guess.”

“They were lucky and they defended well, and we just couldn’t ever figure it out,” said Rogers. “I feel they were really lucky today. 21 shots to 3? 15 corners to none? Come on. That’s ridiculous.”

Schelotto, he of the wisdom and wizardry, seemed to take it all in stride.

“After they score, they play very defense,” he said. “We know they play like today. I think we play good, we get possession, we try for both sides, we try set piece, we try with Steve and then with Jason Garey, but today we cannot score. It’s OK.”

THE CLINCHER

The Galaxy iced the game in the 87th minute when Andy Iro lost the ball on a bad trap at midfield. Chris Klein swooped in and started a 2-on-1 the other way. Klein dished the ball off to Tristan Bowen, who put it away to make it 2-0.

“On the second goal, we were pushing forward,” said Iro. “I misjudged the speed of the ball. It came at me pretty fast and it was just one of those things where if I made that touch earlier in the game, we would have been behind the ball if I lost it at the midway line. When it happened, I didn’t think it was anything, but because we were pushing for the goal, we only had one guy back. It goes like that. I’d rather lose 2-0 and be pushing for that equalizing goal than just sit back and not create anything. It was unfortunate, but it happens, and we just need to get on with it.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME EDITION

The Galaxy goals by Stephens and Bowen were the first goals of their respective careers. This continues and odd trend in 2010. The Crew have given up four goals in five home matches, and all four of them have been scored by guys who had zero career goals at the opening whistle. In addition to the pair of LA goalscorers, New England’s Zach Boggs scored the first two goals of his career when the Crew beat the Revs 3-2 on May 8.

Taking the show on the road, New York’s Tony Tchani scored his first career goal in the Crew’s 3-1 win at Red Bull Arena. That means for the season, 5 of the 8 goals the Crew have conceded have been to players with zero career goals entering the match.

San Jose’s Chris Lietch, he of the 173 scoreless appearances in MLS, must be licking his chops in anticipation of Wednesday’s Crew-Quakes matchup.

THE GALAXY AND LUCK

As we’ve seen, the Crew players talked a lot about the Galaxy getting lucky. Here’s another summary from Iro…

“How this team has the best defense in the league is good team defending and, right now, they’re getting lucky,” he said. “A little bit of poor finishing, a little bit of luck…you can only ride that so far. I don’t mean any disrespect to them, because they do defend well as a team, but I think they will get theirs soon enough.”

I was talking about this to Danny O’Rourke before the game. I think any defensive player knows that allowing only two goals in 10 (now 11) games goes beyond good defending. As I told Danny, bad bounces, bad calls, and/or bad footing alone will usually produce more than two goals in any given 10-game stretch. So when defensive guys like Iro or Hesmer say the Galaxy have luck on their side, those guys know what they are talking about. They know a mark like LA’s comes not only from a lot of hard work and flawless execution, but also with more than a dash of good fortune.

One has to think that they are going to be due for some bad breaks somewhere down the line because what they are doing defies all rational expectations. The Galaxy are on pace to allow an astonishing 5.45 goals for the entire SEASON. For comparison’s sake, that’s as many goals as Toronto FC typically surrenders in a single game to the worst team in the league when a playoff berth is at stake.

ARENA ON THE LOPSIDED STATS

Bruce Arena loves flashing superior cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk of his. In this case, he ate Los Canarios Gigantes. Arena seemed bemused by questions about the lopsided stat sheet.

“You know the only thing you should look at? A team that doesn't score a goal has never won a game,” he said. “You don't win a game if you don't score a goal. You can take that statistic and throw it right out the window - corner kicks…you can throw shots out the window.
“We came here to win, and the only thing we worried about was the score. We didn't concern ourselves at the end of the game with who had the most corner kicks, or shots, or offsides, or fouls or all that other stuff. That's the most important aspect. Particularly on the road against a team of this quality.

“I'm not really going to scratch my head over all those statistics. I'm going to take the three points and I'm out of town, real fast. You can make whatever you want out of all that other stuff.”

Well, to my ears, that sounds like an invitation to do an extensive Mr. Numbers Nerd segment!

MR. NUMBERS NERD: FUTILE DOMINATION EDITION

As has already been lamented, the Crew outshot the Galaxy 21-3 and out-corner-kicked the Galaxy 15-0 in this very strange loss. Such statistical dominance in a loss is bound to produce a few interesting tidbits. I threw a bunch of questions and hypotheticals at Rick Lawes over at MLS HQ, and he graciously rummaged through the database for some answers.

* The 15-0 corner kick advantage was not the largest “corner kick shutout” in league history. In fact, Lawes noted that it’s not even the largest corner kick shutout involving the Crew. Both honors occurred in the Crew’s 2-0 win at Colorado on July 27, 2008. The Rapids held a 17-0 edge in corners in that match.

* On Saturday, the Crew became the 15th team to rack up at least 15 corner kicks in one game. They also became the 10th of those 15 teams to lose.

* While it must seem impossible for a team with 20+ shots and 15+ corner kicks to come away with ZERO goals, Lawes discovered that Saturday’s result broke a rather strange tie. For teams amassing at least 20 shots and 15 corners in the same game, there have now been more shutouts than victories.

SHUTOUTS
8/26/00: Los Angeles 3, @San Jose 0 (Quakes: 25 SH, 15 CK)
10/16/05: MetroStars 2, @Chivas USA 0 (Goats: 26 SH, 17 CK)
7/27/08: Columbus 2, @Colorado 0 (Rapids: 23 SH, 17 CK)
5/29/10: Los Angeles 2, @Columbus 0 (Crew: 21 SH, 15 CK)

VICTORIES
7/22/99: @Chicago 2, Dallas 1 (Fire: 20 SH, 15 CK)
8/2/00: @D.C. United 3, MetroStars 2 (United: 20 SH, 15 CK)
9/9/00: @New England 4, MetroStars 3 (Revs: 20 SH, 15 CK)

* And here’s the craziest one of all. The Crew became only the second team in MLS history hold at least a 15-shot AND 15-corner advantage over their opponent. The Crew were involved in both instances, and in both cases, the statistically superior team lost by two goals.

7/27/08: Columbus 2, @Colorado 0
[COL: +18 in shots (23-5) and +17 in corners (17-0)]

5/29/10: Los Angeles 2, @Columbus 0
[CLB: +18 in shots (21-3) and +15 in corners (15-0)]

While I knew it was a butt-kicking, I now realize exactly how statistically rare and crazy that 2008 win at Colorado really was. William Hesmer played the game of his life that night. Sadly for us, the Crew didn’t force a similar performance out of Ricketts on Saturday.

UP TO THE HYPE?

Saturday’s “Battle of the Best” certainly had a lot of build up. After all, it was the latest in the season, both in terms of the calendar and in combined games played, that two undefeated teams had ever met in MLS. As a result, a season-high crowd was on hand, eager to “black out the Galaxy.” Crew investor-operator Clark Hunt flew in from Dallas specifically to attend the high-profile match in person.

So….did it live up to the hype?

“For sure,” said Hesmer. “I think it was an entertaining game for any neutral fan. I think they saw a good and entertaining soccer game. If you’re a Crew fan, you’re really frustrated and disappointed right now, but we hope to bounce back on this two game road trip.”

Rogers offered a dissenting opinion on whether it lived up to the hype. “Not really,” he said. “We had the ball and couldn’t convert our chances, and they played ugly and won. Maybe if it would have been a 3-2 game or 4-3 game. Plus, it just sucks to lose to the other undefeated team because of the battle for the Supporters’ Shield, even though it’s early in the season. So the circumstances weren’t great.”

I need a tiebreaker. Andy Iro, did the match live up to the hype?

“You tell me,” he said. “You tell me.”

Well, since I get to cast Andy’s vote, I am going to align myself with Hesmer and cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of living up to the hype. The Galaxy took their few chances extremely well and the Crew kept the fans in the stands and the viewers at home on the edge of their seats for 90 solid minutes with their all-out attacking pressure. My biggest fear was that this match would somehow end in safety-first 0-0 draw, but it was an action-packed affair as both coaches were willing to live dangerously. The Galaxy bunkered into a shooting gallery and hoped for the best while the Crew threw everyone forward, so the chances came fast and furious throughout. Hype affirmed.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: GOOSE EGGS GALORE EDITION

Saturday morning, my Slovenian brother, Crew radio man Neil Sika, asked me to look into the number of shutouts in 2010. It seemed to him that there was an abnormally high percentage of games ending with at least one zero on the scoreboard. Entering the weekend, 42 of 72 leagues games featured a shutout, for 58.3% of the games.

Neil was definitely on to something. 2010 is the second-most shutout-y season in MLS history through the end of May. Saturday produced only 2 shutouts in 7 games, so the final percentage through the end of May 2010 was 55.7%. (44 of 79 league games.) That is the second highest percentage ever, trailing only 2005, which saw 58.9% of its matches feature shutouts through the end of May.

2010 is also second in terms of goalkeeper shutout percentage. This will always be slightly more than half of the “games with shutouts” percentage because of the possibility of a double shutout. This year, due to a trio of 0-0 draws, goalkeepers have posted a total of 47 shutouts in 158 opportunities (79 games times 2), for a shutout percentage of 29.8%. This again trails only 2005, when individual goalkeepers were putting up goose eggs at a 34.8% clip.

There’s an obvious cause for 2005’s status, however. As expansion teams, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA each put up seasons that rank among the worst all-time in MLS. Those two teams combined to get blanked nine times before the end of May that year. Salt Lake was shutout five times, while Chivas was shutout four times before the calendar even flipped to June. For comparison’s sake, this year’s lone expansion team, the Philadelphia Union, has only been shut out twice thus far.

So in a season where shutouts are getting posted at a near record rate, the Crew were the last team to finally get shut out in 2010, and it took a game in which they fired 21 shots and launched 15 corner kicks to finally keep them off the scoreboard.

What a strange year.

CREW-EL SCHEDULING

Crew equipment man Rusty Rummel is very similar to Vince Vaughn due to the fact that they have both dated Jennifer Aniston. Wait, no, that’s not it. They are very similar in that they are both die-hard Chicago Blackhawks fans. With the Hawks in the Stanley Cup finals, vying for their first championship since 1961, Rusty is a very happy and excited man these days. Just one tiny problem….the scheduling has been cruel from his perspective. Game one took place during the Crew-Galaxy game. Game two took place during the trip from Columbus to San Jose. Game three will take place during the Crew-Earthquakes game. And then game four will take place during the trip from San Jose to Denver.

The Blackhawks currently lead the Philadelphia Flyers two games to none. It is theoretically possible that the Hawks can sweep the series and win their first Stanley Cup in Rusty’s lifetime without Rusty catching more than the occasional glimpse of the action as it unfolds.

“I’m DVRing all of the games anyway,” Wummel said, “plus I am getting text updates from my friends every five seconds while the games are going on.”
 
Somehow, I think he’ll get over it if the Hawks sweep their way to the title.

BOUNTY ON A BAD OMEN

While much has been made of the Crew’s head-scratching inability to score despite playing most of the game at the Galaxy’s 18-yard box, I wasn’t surprised in the least. Before the game kicked off, I noticed The Really, Really, Really Bad Omen of All Bad Omens in the stands. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only couldn’t I believe that such a thing still existed, but it totally blew my mind that someone would actually show it off in Crew Stadium. I asked Massive Report photographer Sam Fahmi to head out into the crowd and snap a picture of the accursed garment so I could have proof in case the Crew lost.

NOTE: To see Sam’s complete Crew-Galaxy photo gallery, please visit: http://massivereport.com/category/image-galleries/05292010-columbus-crew...

Here is what I saw, in all of its blasphemous glory:

Seriously? A Tony Sanneh Crew jersey? That’s what you’re going to wear to the game? The Crew were doomed from the word go.

A brief history lesson for those who may not remember: U.S. World Cup veteran Sanneh was a late-season signing by the 2004 Crew while already in the midst of their record unbeaten streak that would carry them to their first-ever Supporters’ Shield. Sanneh’s two most notable contributions to that Crew team took place in the playoffs against New England, who finished tied for the worst record in the league, yet grabbed the final playoff spot in the east by virtue of a tiebreaker over Chicago.

In the first game, Sanneh slapped rookie Chad Marshall in the face during an on-field disagreement after both went for the same ball on an offensive corner kick. After the game, an anything but contrite Sanneh famously asserted that he was scoring goals when Marshall was still in diapers. (Someday, the reverse may be true.) In the second game, in what may be the single most infamous event in Crew history, Sanneh ripped the ball from the hands of leading scorer Jeff Cunningham, who had never missed a penalty kick in his Crew career, so that he could take the crucial second-half penalty kick himself. After a show of such self-assured bravado, Sanneh then proceeded to hit the feeblest penalty kick ever witnessed. His slow roller was more fitting of the 18th green than the penalty spot, making for a ridiculously easy save and essentially sealing the Crew’s fate.

Tony Sanneh had a long and distinguished career as a soccer player, winning MLS Cups with D.C. United, playing in the Bundesliga, and starting for the most thrilling U.S. World Cup team in most of our lifetimes… but his few months in Columbus were an unqualified disaster. Any Crew fan that lived through the disappointment of 2004 curses Sanneh’s name to this day.

So seeing that Sanneh jersey filled me with dread. And it seems that as is always the case with Sanneh and the Crew, the dread was justified.

Which leads me to my solution. So that this sordid garment never ruins the Crew’s mojo ever again, I HAVE PLACED A BOUNTY ON THAT SANNEH JERSEY. If the owner of the jersey is willing to come forward and turn in the jersey, it will be accepted with no questions asked. Further, with the help of Tucker Walther, the Crew’s director of team operations, we will trade the offending jersey for an authentic game-worn Chad Marshall jersey. The jersey is from the 2009 season, so it has the MLS Cup scudetto patch on the front. On top of that, we will have Chad autograph the shirt.

This is a chance to trade the shirt of the most infamous playoff goat in Crew history for the shirt of the man who came through with two of the clutchest playoff goals in Crew history—the equalizer against the Fire in the 2008 Eastern Conference final and then the game-winning goal in MLS Cup. In Crew fan terms, it’s a chance to trade a misbegotten chumpion for a Massive Champion.

To prove that I am not joking, here is Tucker displaying the goods…

In addition to the jersey swap, I will personally make a $20 donation to the Sanneh Foundation, which is Tony’s non-profit organization for community involvement. I found out about it via a link on Bruce McGuire’s renowned du Nord blog, and if Brucio is highlighting it, that’s all the recommendation I need.

You can find out more about the Sanneh Foundation at this link:
http://www.thesannehfoundation.org/about.htm

So that’s the deal.

I GET:
* The No. 20 Sanneh Crew jersey, that wretched piece of infamous laundry.

YOU GET:
* An autographed, game-worn 2009 Chad Marshall jersey featuring the MLS Cup scudetto.
* A $20 donation to the Sanneh Foundation dedicated in your name.
 
I have no idea who you are, Mr. Blasphemous Tony Sanneh Crew Jersey Wearer, but please contact me at sirk65@yahoo.com if you wish to accept this deal. Given that there’s no guarantee that you are reading this, I would also ask that anyone who knows this guy, or sits near him in section 104, please make him aware that there is a bounty on his crappy shirt.

The sooner we get this resolved, the sooner we can expect 21 Crew shots and 15 Crew corner kicks to result in Crew goals and Crew victories instead of a 2-0 Crew loss.

 RANDOM MOMENT OF AWESOMENESS

Before the game, I stopped in the men’s room above the Nordecke. While in there, I couldn’t help but notice a guy wearing a big Darth Vader mask standing at a urinal. That was hilarious in and of itself. But as I left, I overheard the following comment…

“Man, I never knew Darth Vader had to pee. I always thought you were mostly machine.”

Questions? Comments? Have suggestions for what I should do to the Sanneh jersey if we pull off this trade? 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.