Sirk’s Notebook: Crew 2 Rhinos 1

Sirk’s Notebook: Crew 2 Rhinos 1

The saying goes “better late than never.” That is especially true when “late” is defined was the “94th minute of a tie game that is about to go to 30 minutes of extra time” and “never” refers to “when is your big striker going to score another goal?”

Cue Steven Lenhart. The Crew’s struggling striker rose to the occasion in the dying moments to lift Columbus to a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Rochester Rhinos in a Round of 16 U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday night at Crew Stadium. The win propelled the Crew to the quarterfinals, where they will host the Charleston Battery at 7:30 this coming Tuesday.

The Crew dominated the early proceedings and capped the dominating stretch with an Andy Iro goal off of an Eddie Gaven corner kick in the 30th minute. The game bogged down after that, and Rochester eventually equalized on a top shelf shot from Darren Spicer in the 69th minute. Andy Gruenebaum made a sterling save on another shot destined for the upper 90 a few minutes later, and then the game settled into a rhythm that screamed “overtime”, even after Rochester went down a man after an ejection in the 85th minute.

With a cluttered schedule and the game being played on an early-week work night, nobody in the stadium, on or off the field, was too excited about the prospect of an extra 30 minutes.

“We didn’t want to stick around,” Lenhart said. “When it went in, it was kind of a relief. Everyone went, ‘finally.’ We didn’t play that well, but we battled and kept ourselves in it to get the goal. It was very important because nobody wanted 30 more minutes. I think the fans would have left if it went to overtime. I would have left too. It would have been 10v10.”

SLOW-MO NINJA KICK FOR THE WINNER

The winning goal came out of nowhere, and it was hardly a textbook finish. Eric Brunner lumped a 60 yard ball into the Rochester penalty area. Rhinos defender Frankie Sanfilippo’s attempted clearance was a failure. He headed the ball downward, directly into Lenhart’s thigh. As the ball took one bounce goalward, Lenhart went airborne and attacked the ball with a flying ninja kick. He made contact and tapped a slow dribbler inside the far post for the winner.

“I just wanted to get it over toward the corner, but I think I dinked it a little too soft,” Lenhart said. “Slow motion works for me sometimes. It was my best try.”

It was huge goal for Lenhart, who scored a pair of goals in the CONCAF Champions League on March 10 and then had scored only one goal in the three and a half months since. His last goal had come on May 1 in Seattle. Guillermo Barros Schelotto bequeathed a penalty to Lenhart on Saturday in an effort to get Lenhart a goal, but the penalty was saved.

“I don’t feel I lost any confidence because of that penalty,” Lenhart said. “I try to score at all costs, but I want to do what is helpful to the team. Obviously scoring would be the most helpful. It’s good to score. The hard work paid off. I was trying to work really hard tonight.”

Lenhart’s work rate was indeed through the roof all night. He chased down everything and frequently slapped the turf in frustration after getting knocked to the ground during various quixotic pursuits in the offensive third. But in the end, the flying ninja kicked produced a winner. Lenhart scored a similar goal against Toronto last year, so maybe this is becoming something of a specialty.

“I don’t really have a specialty, dude,” he said. “I haven’t scored many goals. But let’s make it a specialty. Then maybe I will score more.”

DANNY O ALMOST SCORES

Late in the second half, Danny O’Rourke almost erased the need for Lenhart’s heroics. The Crew’s famously goalless enforcer set up for a tailor-made strike of a bouncing ball near the edge of the penalty area, but his shot sailed high.

“I was trying to hit it with the outside of my right foot so I could swerve it back toward the left post,” he explained. “So I was going for dip and swerve to the left post, but I shot it high over the right post. That should give you an idea of how bad a shot it was.”

While I have long been a dreamer that someday Danny will score, I am even more on the bandwagon after learning that Danny is using the idea of his first goal to better the health of others. It seems that an agreement has been reached whereby if Danny scores a goal, equipment man Rusty Wummel will have to quit smoking. Sure, as smoking cessation programs go, waiting for Danny to score a goal is probably about as timely as waiting to die from lung cancer in old age, and Rusty muttered something to the effect that he had nothing to worry about from Danny.

This stopped Danny in his tracks.

“If I ever score a goal,” he said with a menacing stare, “and if I ever smell smoke on you after that day, I will beat the (bleeping weewee) out of you.”

At that moment, I was thankful that I had never started smoking, but Wummel wasn’t fazed.

“If you guys think I’m a (bleep) now,” he warned, “just wait until I can’t smoke a cigarette.”

Everyone nearby agreed. In fact, Danny’s path to a goal may have gotten more difficult, since others may block potential goals just to cap Rusty’s bleepishness at its current nicotine-soothed levels.

MASSIVENESS IS CONTAGIOUS

There has been a peculiar trend in 2010. After the Crew finished 2009 by becoming the first team to win a combined three Supporters Shields / MLS Cups in a two-season span, it appears that their Massiveness is spreading. American pro sports teams that are supported by people within the Crew locker room have now captured the three pro titles awarded this calendar year. In February, Jason Garey’s New Orleans Saints won their first-ever Super Bowl. Then in June, equipment manager Rusty Wummel’s Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. And that was quickly followed by the Los Angeles Lakers ending a grueling 12-month title drought, much to the delight of Steven Lenhart, Robbie Rogers, and others. It’s apparent that the Crew are spreading their massiveness to the teams they follow.

“I believe that’s true, obviously,” said Rogers. “If you watched the Lakers this year—dominance. Any team we follow, they win.”

So does that bode well for the upcoming season for Frankie Hejduk’s San Diego Chargers?

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Rogers, applying the brakes. “I don’t want to take it that far. Except for Frankie’s Chargers, whoever we support wins. Lakers…Blackhawks…Saints.”

At this point, Director of Team Operations Tucker Walther chimed in with a low blow. “Too bad you didn’t support the US National Team against Ghana,” he said.

Rogers wasn’t phased.

“It’s only valid in the states,” he said. “It’s only for teams we root for in our leagues.”

Andy Gruenebaum’s New Jersey Devils were bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and his theory is that none of his teams have won a championship this year because he’s been too busy winning fantasy football championships of his own. But Gruenebaum is now thinking of giving it up so that his KC teams can continue the Crew locker room’s run of championship fandom.

“I was the 2008 fantasy football champion and I won the fantasy football Supporters’ Shield in 2009,” he said. “So we have done competitive fantasy football for two years, and I have won a title each year. Maybe I will take this year off so one of my real world teams can win a title. Maybe the Royals. There’s a chance that they might not finish in last. If they finish in 4th place, that’s a championship. The Chiefs will not per se win a championship, but they will in their own way because they will win more than five games this year. Mark my words. That in and of itself is a championship. I will celebrate that.”

RUSTY ON THE HAWKS

“How about my Blackhawks?” Wummel asked. “It’s hard to put the feeling into words. It started in the womb, when I attended my first game, and I have been a fan ever since. There have been a lot of good times, and a lot of really hard and lean times, and now it’s totally surreal. It’s been a long and strange journey.”

The Crew were inconveniently traveling or playing at the precise moments the first four games were being played, but the Hawks conveniently dropped two of those games so Rusty could watch them lift the Cup in real time without worrying about work or travel.

“My DVR got a good workout,” he said, “and the clincher conveniently happened on our World Cup break so I could celebrate as much as I wanted without ending up in jail. And really, nobody has given me any crap except for Tucker, who is a bitter Red Wings fan.”

ROBBIE ON THE LAKER HATERS

While Rusty has escaped Blackhawk backlash, Rogers said the Laker fans in the Crew locker room have not been as fortunate.

“A lot of people on our team hate on the Lakers, to be honest,” he said. “I feel like more people on our team wanted the Lakers to lose and didn’t care who else won. But me and Steve held strong. And Frankie. He’s a big Laker fan. And Iro, if you want to count him.”

We concluded that since I count Moffat as a Cavaliers fan, I have to count Iro as a Lakers fan. But who are the biggest Laker haters?

“The biggest haters include (head athletic trainer) Dave (Lagow). (Fitness coach) Mike Tremble is a big hater. Guille likes whatever team is playing the Lakers because Steve and I root for them and he likes to pick on us. Danny O’Rourke was a hater because I guess he’s a big Cavs fan, supposedly. We’ll see what happens if LeBron leaves. Danny roots for all kinds of teams. Not much loyalty.”

BLISSY’S BOBBY DAZZLERS

A hot topic in the Crew locker room on Saturday night was Brian Bliss’s footwear. Bliss was apparently very proud of his shiny black dress shoes, which of course left them open for a typical locker room murdering. I overheard such comments as “Someone should have told Bliss that if he would have returned the shoes with his tux, he could have gotten his $25 shoe deposit back.”

Andy Gruenebaum and I caught up with Bliss in the tent, and Bliss spoke of his shoes with evangelical zeal. He even took one off and held it up so that we could get a good view. Gruenebaum noted that a tag on the inside read “sheepskin.”

“Don’t let Duncan see that,” Gruenebaum warned, “or he will go to town on your shoes.”

Bliss, who lives by the motto “skimp on the clothes, splurge on the shoes”, maintains that the shoes are the best money he has ever spent, and even told the tale of how he came to own them. The story makes it sound like Bliss scouts dress shoes as intently as soccer players.

“I saw them at the Johnson & Murphy kiosk at the Atlanta airport and I thought, ‘Those are nice shoes.’ But that was the end of it,” he said. “They were too expensive, so I didn’t buy them. Then a while later, I was at the Johnson & Murphy store at Polaris Mall, and they had them on sale. I don’t think anyone else wanted to buy them, so they were trying to get rid of them. They were on sale, so I said, ‘I’m buyin’ em!’ And I bought ‘em!”

Worried that they may be discontinued if nobody is buying them, Bliss jokingly (I think) said he might buy several pairs so that he has a future supply on hand.

“The good thing about them is that you don’t have to polish ‘em,” he said. “These are patent leather, man! They’re real leather with a patent leather covering so you never have to polish ‘em. All you have to do is take a wet rag and that’s it!”

Bliss was shocked to hear that his months-old shoes were the topic of conversation in the locker room, but he said he knows he’s got some good shoes. He noted that Phoenix Crew Juniors Director of Coaching James Field paid them a compliment during a recent meeting.

“James saw my shoes and said they were real bobby dazzlers,” Bliss said. “He’s from England, so I don’t know ‘bobby dazzler’ means, but I could tell it was a compliment.”

As luck would have it, I told Bliss that I had just learned that Adam Moffat was strangely given a Brit slang dictionary by Steven Lenhart. I said I would have Moffat look it up and get back to us. The email reply from Moffat was disappointing.

“My Brit-slang book must not be up to date because bobby dazzler wasn’t in there,” Moffat wrote. “It is a popular term though, and I did see those shoes Bliss had on and they were definitely bobby dazzlers. I saw him coming a mile away.”

LENHART CLARIFIES HIS BRIT-SLANG GIFT

Saturday night, Moffat told me that the Brit slang dictionary was a gift from Lenhart. I was puzzled as to why Lenhart would buy a Brit slang dictionary for a guy from Scotland. On Tuesday, Lenhart clarified the nature of the gift. It turns out it was for his sister, who is married to Moffat. He simply gave the book to Moffat to take home.

“It was a family present,” Lenhart said. “I figured they could put it on their bookshelf at home. That way, if she didn’t understand what he was saying, she could grab that book of Brit slang and look it up.”

Like me, Lenhart could not resist taking a gander at the contents of the exceptionally thick book.

“I did flip through it,” Lenhart said. “I learned that ‘Pizza Hut’ means ‘slut’ for some reason. I don’t like sluts and I don’t like Pizza Hut, so I guess it works, but that’s the one I randomly flipped to.”

I then had to break the news that the very first time we had a legitimate need for the book, it came up empty on bobby dazzlers.

“Come on,” Lenhart said with supreme disappointment. “Shoot. I bought a bad book. If it doesn’t have bobby dazzlers, it’s not a legit book. Let’s burn it.”

(For the record, UrbanDicitionary.com defines a bobby dazzler as: “A quaint colloquial term from northern England pertaining to someone very special indeed, either through good looks or by simply wearing something fancy.”)

SCOTS INVENTED GOLF, ARE SO-SO AT PUTT-PUTT

Here’s how Moffat spent his World Cup break…

“I went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” he said. “We drove down there, which was a nightmare. They don’t have a freeway down there, and they never told me that before we left. I got the Mapquest the morning we were leaving and it’s like, ‘There’s no freeway!’ So I was taking back country roads through North and South Carolina. It was a nightmare.”

Once they arrived, Moffat said it was mostly a relaxing week, although he did participate in a major sporting event.

“I tied my wife at putt-putt,” he said. “I was strong on the front nine, but I capitulated on the back nine, big time. I was six shots up and we ended up tied. The water holes are the most difficult. I just see it and start shaking. I’m just not meant to do well on those holes.”

SANNEH JERSEY BOUNTY A SUCCESS

More details to come, but I wanted to let everyone know that the Sanneh jersey bounty was a success thanks to your help. The wearer of the shirt has been in contact and he will be swapping the jersey for the autographed 2009 Chad Marshall jersey on Saturday. I will tell the full story once the jersey swap has taken place, but in the meantime, I wanted to let everyone know that arrangements are being made and that I am calling off the dogs.

QUIP O’ THE NIGHT

I will leave you with this gem from Lenhart as he continued to ponder the snail-like speed of his winning goal, even after our interview concluded.

“Imagine how slow that goal is in slow motion,” he said. “They would have to speed it up just to show it in regular slow motion.”

Questions? Comments? Confused that Goalfunkel restored the “goal” part after shearing off the ”funkel” part? 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.