Sirkness from Seattle

Steve Sirk travels with the team to Seattle for the USOC Final against the Sounders

THE FINAL CHAPTER (UPDATED: 10/07/10 8:49pm)

I am back in Columbus now. I figured I should offer some final conclusion, plus also tack on a few extra random nuggets that I didn’t include due to either time or memory constraints.

The result of the game was disappointing, of course. From a biased point of view, I can understand the Crew’s frustration that Seattle’s goals were the result of bounces going the Sounders’ way. And then to have Robbie’s shot rattle the crossbar in the 85th seemed to underscore that point.

And I can also understand the Crew’s frustration because they created three artistic and beautiful chances. Even if Seattle had more of the game, the Gaven, Burns, and Rogers chances were well constructed and worthy of goals. In a way, it was shades of Seattle’s victory in Columbus. A few weeks ago, the Crew carried much more of the game, but Seattle created about five quality chances and finished four of them. On this night, the Crew were only one of three. Those three glorious chances produced a miss, a goal, and a crossbar.

Seattle definitely had more of the game, both in terms of possession and chances, but the Crew’s trio of golden chances certainly coulda/woulda/shoulda been enough to win the game. Seattle’s two goals involved lucky bounces, but the truth is also that the Crew were their own worst enemy on both tallies. Neither goal needed to happen.

On the first, Nyassi challenged Gruenebaum’s punch, so the Hammer wasn’t able to punch it as far as he wanted. The rebound went to Nathan Sturgis, who had his pocket picked by Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Unfortunately, Schelotto knocked the ball right through Eddie Gaven’s legs and directly to Nyassi, who turned in a sea of black shirts and finished past a halfway out and halfway home Gruenebaum. (Sturgis was credited with the assist, but replays clearly show that Schelotto cut out Sturgis and poked the ball through Gaven’s legs. Schelotto himself admitted that he was the one who knocked the ball to Nyassi.)

And the winning goal was just flat out bad. The Sounders did get the fortunate bounce off the crossbar, but that goal was 1% lucky crossbar and 99% flat-footed ball-watching defense from the Crew, both on Zakuani’s header and then Nyassi’s rebound.

As the saying goes, you make your own luck. I don’t always think that’s true, as sometimes there is just plain old lucky luck. But I also think that the “you make your own luck” thing can apply to good luck and bad luck. The first Seattle goal was probably a 50/50 split. After all, Nyassi’s solid challenge on Gruenebaum set the chance in motion. The second Seattle goal was mostly the result of the Crew making their own bad luck. Seattle’s fortunate bounce off of the crossbar can obscure that fact.

But in the end, the U.S. Open Cup final pretty much fit the story of the Crew of late. They are punished for their lapses and they don’t finish their high-percentage chances at a high-percentage rate. The guys poured their heart into the game and were crushed afterward, and I can completely empathize as to why they may have felt snake bitten when emotions were running high. But I suspect the game tape will reveal a few regrettable moments when viewed with slower pulses and normal blood pressure.

Seattle definitely carried the game, but in terms of quality chances, the Crew did enough to win. Unfortunately, they also did enough in front of each goal to make their own bad luck.

And so Seattle has the trophy. They forced the Crew to be just about perfect in front of each goal, and leveraging the laws of soccer probability is not a reason to dismiss a champion when a few bounces go their way. I can’t imagine that any neutral observer saw it as an unjust result.

It doesn’t make the disappointment any easier to take. The Crew faced a lot of long odds heading into that match, between the travel, the crowd, the field, and most of all, the problems posed by a talented and speedy Sounders team that is firing on all cylinders right now. Yet every person who bleeds black and gold will be forever haunted by Gaven’s wide shot, Seattle’s sloppy equalizer, and The Tale of Two Crossbars.

The Sounders are a deserving champion, no doubt about it. But the Crew were oh so close to pulling off a classic road heist. In a season with many coulda/shoulda/woulda results for the Crew, this coulda/shoulda/woulda hurt most.

Thankfully, this was not the end of the season. There is still plenty to play for.

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Here are a few random nuggets that didn’t get included due to lack of time or short-term memory…

*As the team got ready for their morning walk on Wednesday, Gruenebaum came up to me and said that every time he sees me, I am eating an apple. I said that was not true.

“I saw you eating one yesterday before training, and you’re eating one now,” he said. “That’s twice.”

Convinced that he had successfully proven that “twice” equals “every time”, the Hebrew Hammer moved the conversation along.

“Honeycrisp apples are the best,” he said of my pumpkin-sized honeycrisp. “Have you ever put honey on a honeycrisp apple? You have to try it. It’s a Jew thing, but trust me, it’s incredible.”

* On Sunday, I told Jason Garey of a television show that I stumbled across called Hillbilly Handfishin’. It’s a show about noodling, which is when fishermen stick their hands into catfish holes and wait for the catfish to clomp down on their hands so they can then pull them out of the water. Garey told me he has no desire to stick his hands into catfish holes, which are sometimes occupied by alligators, water moccasins, and snapping turtles.

“I’m not THAT hillbilly, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I only do rod and reel fishing.”

The premise of the show is that these noodlers bring in people from the city and take them on a noodling adventure. I noted that the featured noodlers appear to be in their fifties, and their torsos are completely covered, front and back, with a thick and impenetrable coat of graying man fur.

“They should have a calendar for those noodling guys like they do for firefighters,” Garey said. “It would be a real hot seller in rural areas.”

* Before the game, I chatted with Simon Borg of MLSsoccer.com. Borg, of course, is the guy who riled up the Crew fan community by insisting, on the league’s site no less, that the referee made the correct decision in Mexico to strip the Crew of a goal and to caution Emilio Renteria for entering the field without permission, although the replays showed the referee emphatically waving Renteria on to the field, not once, but twice.

As kickoff approached, Borg said, “I am convinced that this is going to the Crew.”

I replied, “But you’re also the guy who was convinced that the referee got it right in Mexico, so now we’re (screwed).”

Please direct all hate mail to wherever it was that you directed the last onslaught of Simon Borg hate mail.

* Crew fan Evonne Segall tweeted a question about the Crew’s silver medal ceremony. On TV, she saw Adam Moffat accept his silver medal and say something to the medal presenter, who then cracked a smile. She wanted to know what Moffat said. Like me, Moffat tends to mask disappointment with humor, and apparently the Crew’s loss sent the Scot in search of some comfort food.

“I asked him if it had chocolate inside,” Moffat explained.

* I know other Crew fans made the gazillion-mile trip, so I don’t mean to exclude them, but hats off to Crew fan Bob Morgan, who served as a one man welcoming committee at the team hotel, offering encouragement after a tough loss. The guys were inconsolable as they quietly marched off the bus and into hotel for their team dinner and postgame meeting, but Bob’s heart was in the right place.

* On the flight home, we landed in Chicago, where the team got off to stay and the rest of us connected to a Columbus flight. Actually, I don’t think we landed in Chicago. We landed in Milwaukee and then the plane drove the rest of the way to Chicago. At least that’s what it felt like. We seriously drove for a solid ten minutes after landing.

When the plane landed and people could check cell phones, I asked Dr. J if the Cincinnati Reds had won their playoff game against the Philadelphia Phillies. He gave me a thumbs-down.

“They were facing Halladay, so they probably got no-hit,” he said.

Once we were in the terminal, we had Paco pull up the scores. Sure enough, Halladay pitched a no-hitter against the Reds. It was only the second playoff no-hitter in MLB history. Dr. J swore that he was making a sarcastic joke and had no knowledge of the no-hitter when he made that comment. 

“I heard someone on the plane say that the Phillies won, and since we lost the Open Cup last night, I just figured that the Reds losing on a no-hitter would fit right in,” he said. “I didn’t know it was really a no-hitter until Paco looked it up.”

Judging by the look on his face when Paco announced that it was a no-hitter, I believe him.
 
* If Seattle had an official oxymoronic slogan, it would be, “Seattle: Home of the Homeless.” There are a staggering number of homeless people and panhandlers in downtown Seattle. I can’t say that I have seen anything like it any of the other cities I have visited. Too many coffee shops, not enough charity shelters. If the most bleeding-hearted of Seattle residents gave spare change to everyone who asked for it, they would soon be living on the streets themselves.

I’m not trying to be flippant about it. The temperate climate makes Seattle a desirable destination for the homeless, as does Seattle’s bustling tourism trade. And I want to stress that I never felt harassed or felt like I was in danger. What little aggressiveness I saw was sadly directed at the non-existent entities visible only to the occasional mentally ill person who was invariably off on his own, harming no one but the imaginary opponent. In fact, some of the panhandlers tried to approach their predicament with humor. At the hotel, I overheard a man saying that he encountered a panhandler holding a sign that read, “Too ugly to prostitute”, which was funny on the surface, but doubly sad just a billionth of an inch below the surface.

I thought a lot about the Seattle homeless situation on the flights home. Doing some quick research today, it appears that the award-winning Downtown Emergency Services Center (www.desc.org) has been doing a great job in assisting Seattle’s homeless community. I just sent $20.00 their way, and if you have enjoyed this running blog, I might suggest sending a single dollar.

I want to be clear that you, the reader, owe me or the world absolutely nothing for this blog, so don’t feel obligated or that I am twisting your arm. But having seen the situation first hand, I would be remiss in not using this platform to constructively panhandle on the Seattle homeless community’s behalf. And if you want to keep it local, that’s great too. Help in your community, be it Columbus or elsewhere, may slow Seattle’s migratory influx, which would surely help in a different way.

(UPDATE: For some reason, DESC’s online donation administrator requires a $10 minimum donation, which regrettably and severely hampers the convenience of my $1 plan. If you are still wish to send $1, their physical address can be found here: http://www.desc.org/donate.html. Doing a little more research, I see that the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness makes no mention of a minimum donation on their donation page, so a $1 donation should work. You can read about the organization here: http://www.homelessinfo.org/about_us/ .)

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Seattle. It was fun seeing Sounders jerseys and scarves around town, and hearing about the occasional smack talk directed at members of our traveling party. When it comes to the Sounders, the community at large is definitely engaged.

Speaking of stadiums, Qwest Field is an amazing venue, crappy plastic surface aside. The NFL structure is surprisingly intimate in its soccer configuration, the crowd is loud in both voice and apparel, and the amenities are plentiful. I was skeptical when the plans were first announced, but having experienced it, I am now a believer. Just get some real grass, please.

There is plenty to see and do in Seattle. Apart from the travel obstacle, I also gained an appreciation for how much down time the players have to contend with while on the road. The staff has plenty of work to occupy their minds, but for the players, it can be maddening waiting for game time. A place like Seattle at least gives the players something to do, between the coffee shops, cafes, and the bustling Pike Place Market, all of which are within an easy walk of the hotel. Sitting in a coffee shop window and people-watching sure beats sitting around a hotel room and watching TV all day.

And I can’t stress this enough— the people watching in Seattle is exquisite. As we left for the airport, I saw another classic scene. Unfortunately, the bus was pulling out, so I never got a chance to snap a photo. But here’s what we saw. In front of our hotel in the middle of downtown Seattle, we saw a woman walking a kitten on a leash, as if it were a dog. As if that weren’t peculiar enough, she also wore one of those hands-free baby carriers that parents use to hold their infants to their chests while walking about. Except this woman wore it backwards, like a backpack. And it held a life-sized baby doll. So to recap, at noon on a Wednesday in downtown Seattle, some chick decided to walk a kitten on a leash while lugging a life-sized baby doll around in an infant carrier that she wore like a backpack.

And that is perfectly normal in Seattle. What a wondrous and wonderful place to visit.

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POSTGAME THOUGHTS FROM GBAUM, BURNS, GUILLE, ROGERS & FRANCIS (UPDATED: 10/06/10 1:37pm)

Here are postgame comments from the Crew’s quiet locker room….

ANDY GRUENEBAUM

On the game overall…

“It’s a tough one to swallow. We gave up to really weird goals, and when you give up two goals on the road like that, it’s going to be tough to win. We almost came back, but Robbie hit the crossbar. It was a great strike and I thought it was in, but…(silence.) We battled hard and this is a tough place to play. We knew we would have to be almost flawless back there, but it didn’t happen.”

On the tale of two crossbars, whereby Seattle scored the winner off a crossbar rebound, but the Crew’s 85th minute chance clanged away….

“Little bounces like that can determine a game, but you make your own luck as well. They got some bounces on their goals. The first goal was a weird bounce that we had a chance to clear and didn’t, and the second goal was the same way.”

On getting the opportunity to start for the duration of the Open Cup and Champions League tournaments…

“It’s good to get games, especially meaningful games. To be honest, it also makes it that much tougher to be on the losing end of it. A championship game is chance to prove what you can do. Not just me, but all of us as a team, especially as we head into the playoffs. Now we need to focus on what’s going to happen now with the playoffs.”

KEVIN BURNS

Kevin Burns picked a heck of a time to score his first career goal. In the 24th minute, Franke Hejduk ran on to an incisive Schelotto pass, then sent a diagonal pass against the grain toward a trailing Burns. Steven Lenhart stopped the ball for a moment, and then laid it off to Burns, who knocked the ball inside the left post to give the Crew a 1-0 lead.

Burns on the goal….

“Frankie did a really good job of getting around the end like he always does. And now that I am fit, I am trying to get into the box as much as possible. The ball came into Stevie, and I don’t think he saw me at first. I yelled ‘leave’ but it was too late on the first ball. But Stevie did a good job of touching the ball over to me, and I just picked a spot. I don’t think I got much on it, but it went in the corner.”

After the goal, Burns exhorted his teammates, yelling ”Come on! Come on!”
Burns on that fired-up moment…

“Any time you score early, you know there is a still a lot of time left to play. I’ve never been into celebrating that early. I knew we had a long game ahead of us. They had a couple of fluke goals. I don’t think that those were the best goals, but they got the goals. It was very difficult, because when you get your first goal, you want to win.”

On the fact that league play resumes in a matter of days, despite the disappointment of losing the cup final…

“I think we just have to push it aside. It’s over now. There’s nothing more we can do about it. It sucks, though, because this was the first trophy we could have won this year, and now it’s gone. Getting to the final is still an accomplishment, but we want to win. With the success of this team, the standards are high. But we still have the biggest one to play for, which is MLS Cup. There’s still a lot to play for.”

GUILLERMO BARROS SCHELOTTO

On the game and the play that led to Seattle’s first goal…

“I think the game was very even. I think they tie the game at the end of the first half when I do not have fortune on this play because I try to touch the ball to Eddie or BC, but the ball go in between them, and then Nyasssi get the ball and shoot and tie the game.”

On getting back to league play after losing the cup final…

“We had the resolution about to win the U.S. Open Cup, but we lose. We recover and to play against Chicago and try to win because it is very important for home field position and confidence.”

After the game, I noticed Schelotto saying something to Kevin Burns on the podium. Schelotto on that conversation…

“I say congratulations. He is every young—more young than me. I say maybe he will play more final. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it is very important when you get the final, and you get the field, you play very hard. You may win, you may lose, but you leave everything on the field and you take it easy after the game.”

On whether Burns did that…

“Yes, I think everyone did on the field the best thing. Sometimes it is not enough to win, like today. But I think the team play very hard, but they score one more time than us. But I don’t think they play very much better than us.”

ROBBIE ROGERS

Rogers came off the bench in the 81st minute and nearly tied the game in the 85th. He took a feed from Frankie Hejduk and slammed it off the bottom of crossbar from just inside the box. It would be the Crew’s last big chance to tie the score.

Rogers on the shot…

“I didn’t have time to think about it, to be honest with you. I was just focused on making contact and getting my hips around the ball. I thought it had a great chance, but then it was just kinda heartbreak.”

On the game in general…

“They’re a great team and I thought they deserved to win today. They were better than us tonight. They created chances and finished two chances, while we were a bit unlucky with some of ours. We need to find a way to win. That’s why we’ve been so good in the past, because we’d always find ways to win. Right now, we need to get out of this rut. Right now, I am confident in every single guy in this room. We have a great group of guys, but we’ve all got to do something to change it.”

On overcoming the disappointment since there is still more to play for…

“It feels weird. It’s kinda strange. It’s the same kind of feeling as when we were knocked out of the playoffs last year, except now our season isn’t over. We have a chance to reenergize. It’s good that we have a chance to play again on Friday in Chicago. Now we have a chance to prove ourselves in the league again, and I think that is a positive.”

On how he feels after coming back from knee surgery…

“I feel great. It’s my second game back and I think I played about 8 or 9 minutes. I am happy to be back training with these guys again. I still have a ways to go, but it’s just really fun to be out there.”

SHAUN FRANCIS

The last player to leave the locker room was Shaun Francis. The rookie sat in front of his locker with his head bowed, deep in thought for what seemed like an eternity. It was clear that he took the loss hard. After giving him time to sort it all out, I spoke with Francis about the game.

“Both teams played well. It was a great game. Both teams were attacking and defending all over the place. It was a final. It was a final, so both teams gave their best. It’s just too bad that we came out on the losing end.

“This was my first final for the team, and I wanted to come out of it with a victory. You never want to go to a final and lose. It’s something I take seriously. Even though it is my first season and my first final, and there may be more to come, you have to take every one the same way. That’s because you don’t know. You may never get that chance again, so you have to take it. This loss, I take it to heart.”

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WARZYCHA QUOTES  (UPDATED: 10/06/10 12:23pm)

Here are Crew coach Robert Warzycha’s postgame remarks while speaking with several reporters in the bowels of Qwest Field…

On his thoughts on the game overall:

“I think we limited Seattle to few chances today. The opening five minutes they had momentum, but then we scored the early goal and then they were possessing from side to side. That goal before half helped them a lot. I think we played tactically well in the second half, and their second goal came from nowhere.”

On the speed of Seattle’s wingers, which posed problems for the Crew:

“Obviously, you have to match speed with speed. Nyassi is a fast guy, and we do not have anybody that fast on the right side, so we have to be smart. You have to have people come over to help, you have to possess the ball to make them chase.”

On what he saw on the two Seattle goals:

“The first one, Andy punched the ball, and it fell to one of their guys. We didn’t apply pressure right away and he had a free shot. The second one, I don’t think Frankie knew Zakuani was behind him. Then it took a lucky bounce off of the crossbar. I said that the goal came from nowhere because it was not a dangerous situation.”

On if there was anything he would have done differently:

“I wish we would have scored the goal instead of hit the crossbar near the end. Sometimes you need some luck, but we did not get it today.”

On giving the entire tournament to Andy Gruenebaum in goal:

“He has played well in Champions League and the Open Cup, so we thought that we were going to let him continue, and he did well. It’s good to have two good goalkeepers that you can use at any time.”

On if he had considered starting William Hesmer in goal:

“Absolutely. Absolutely. You think about it just the same as the other players. Early in the tournament, we decided that Andy was going to play in the Open Cup and Champions League. That was the decision, and he was playing well, so he deserved to play today.”

On the strangeness of having a disappointing loss in a final, yet still having much more to play for:

“Win or lose, that was going to be the last game of the tournament. Now we need to focus on the league and the playoffs.”

On how the team will respond to the loss:

“We’ll see next game. We’re disappointed not just because we lost a game, but because it was a cup final. But I think we are mentally strong and that we will see a good team on the field against Chicago.”

On Kevin Burns making his first career goal an important one:

“I think (Burns) played very well today. I was happy with is performance. It was good for Kevin that he scored that goal. That’s huge for him.”

On Seattle’s home field advantage:

“Obviously, it’s nice to play in front of your own crowd. Especially when it’s 36,000. (Note: 31,311.)  As we’ve always said, when the crowd supports you, you feel like you have an extra player on the field. It was good for Seattle that they have these guys supporting them that way.”

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ALIVE AND WELL (UPDATED: 10/06/10 11:43am)

Congratulations to the Seattle Sounders for repeating as U.S. Open Cup champions. Qwest Field was definitely rocking last night. Apart from the result of the game, I have enjoyed my brief glimpse of Seattle.

Last night, the postgame blahs and my recent lack of sleep caught up with me. I sat at the computer for a little bit in a mental fog, then just went to bed. Today is a travel day, but I will try to squeeze out some postgame comments before we leave. But I just wanted to let you all know that I am alive and well and did not, in a moment of despairing angst, sign up for the accelerated version of the Kurt Cobain Fantasy Camp.

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PREGAME PHOTOS (UPDATED: 10/05/10 10:37pm)

No time for captions. The game is about to start. But here are some photos from before the game. Most of them speak for themselves, but to answer questions that may arise....1. Those are bomb-sniffing dogs. 2. Yes, there was a high-chair made available to the Crew.

OPEN CUP MEMORIES: BRIAN DUNSETH (UPDATED: 10/5/10 9:05pm)

This afternoon, I spoke with former Crew (and everyone else) defender Brian Dunseth about his memories of the Crew’s 2002 U.S. Open Cup title.

“I remember our disappointment from not meeting LA in the MLS Cup final the previous weekend. We felt it should have been a doubleheader for both cups. After MLS Cup, LA made a big show of trying to play down the Open Cup. They were saying things like, ‘We’re still partying and celebrating our championship, so it will be tough to get up for this game.’ It was digs like that that gave guys like Clarkie and McBride all of the bulletin board material they would need. I don’t know who wrote it, but I remember that when we came into the locker room, someone had written F*** THEM really big on the white board. Everyone was cracking up and was ready to play.

“It was an incredible atmosphere, even though the crowd wasn’t large. Everyone who was there that night gave everything they had in support of the team, and we felt it. I remember seeing Lamar Hunt and Clark Hunt sitting up in their box. They had come down before the game and wished us luck. But to look up during the game and to see that man sitting in the stadium he built, watching us play for the tournament that had been renamed in his honor, we wanted to be able to present that trophy to him.

“The game itself was a battle. I remember Clarkie setting the tone by almost ripping Fish’s (Carlos Ruiz’s) ankle off his leg about 30 seconds into the game. I was also in awe watching Brian McBride and Alexi Lalas engage in aerial battles all night. We’re talking about two of the best-ever American players in the air.

“Three images stand out for me that night. First is spring Westie and watching him play the ball across to Freddy Garcia for the goal. The second is running back to Buschie after the final whistle and just going crazy. I love that picture of the two of us. And third, I remember being next to McBride and Bobby when we handed that trophy to Lamar Hunt. Lamar was such a humble man, so it meant a lot to win the game and hand him that trophy that night.

“And I will never forget the atmosphere. I am biased because I played in the first ever game there as a visiting player, and played there as a Crew player, but to this day, there is something special about that stadium. This is going to sound weird, but every stadium has its own smell. The moment I step into Crew Stadium and smell that grass, it takes me back. The game that night was everything you think of when you think of fall in Columbus. I can still feel it. I know that is the most random thing ever, but I feel a deep connection with that stadium.

“In the end, that was the only trophy I won in my playing career. Actually, that’s not true, because I also won the Supporters’ Shield with Miami in 2001, but a lot of that was lost with 9/11, plus the Shield wasn’t as big of a deal back then as it is now. The 2002 U.S. Open Cup is something I will always treasure. I have the ring, the gold medal, and the plaque in my office today. I also have a lunchbox with me, Kyle Martino, Edson Buddle, and McBride on it. That wasn’t part of winning the Open Cup, but I still have it.”

That’s a shame. I would love to see a lunchbox ceremony after tonight’s game.

Before we hung up, Dunny also wanted to offer one important historical clarification.

“I’ve read some of the articles where Duncan claimed that he was going to finish that goal if Freddy Garcia didn’t, but I want everyone to know that Duncan is telling lies. Duncan would have kicked the ball over the north end and into the players’ parking lot. I don’t care how close he was. One of us would have had a soccer ball through our windshield, and there would have been parallel scuff marks at the six yard box—one from Duncan’s right foot and the other from his nose. Don’t let Duncan rewrite history, Sirk. You have to publish the truth.”

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BONUS: Ugh. This is a little cringe-worthy, but here’s the sappy drivel I wrote after the Crew won the Open Cup in 2002. Take a trip down memory lane if you dare. Sorry if you barf.

Click Here

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WALKING AROUND SEATTLE (UPDATED: 10/5/10 6:45pm)

Before ever visiting Seattle, I had always imagined that walking around town would involve passing ubiquitous clusters of scraggly-bearded, facially-pierced, pot-smoking hippie types on every corner. Now that I have wandered around the city, I have learned that it is not true. Only some of them openly smoke pot on the street.

I was present when one guy casually chucked his joint aside as the bicycle cops rode past. The police noticed.

“Sir, I think you dropped your blunt,” the officer said in a helpful tone of voice. The police then assisted the man in finding his discarded doobie. Once it was located, a long conversation ensued. When I looked back a few minutes later, there was no sign of the police or the buzzed and butterfingered man, so I assume the cops hauled him back to the station. I didn’t see that part though, so I’m not sure how the bike police solved the problem posed by their mode of transport. To take the guy in, I don’t know if they used a tandem bike or attached a pedicab to the back of their one-seater.

Speaking of transport, there are streetcars and buses everywhere, which is a good thing. Well, unless you are the guy who screamed at the bus for not coming close enough to the curb.

“YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO COME OVER HERE!” be shrieked. “YOU COULDN’T WAIT FOR THAT OTHER BUS TO MOVE, SO YOU’RE JUST GOING TO PULL PART WAY AROUND HIM AND EXPECT ME TO GET ON? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE CURB!”

He then waved off the bus and refused to get on. In fairness, I double-checked, and yep, he was certainly able-bodied, judging by the way he furiously stomped around on the sidewalk while throwing his temper tantrum.

Okay, perhaps I am not being fair to Seattle at the moment, as there were plenty of normal people walking about as well. Like the waifish model-looking chick who walked around in body-clinging black stretch-pants type material, except for oblong black leather patches on the thighs of the outfit. Zoolander would have been proud. Many men lined up to take pictures of the Pike Place Market and then, at the last second, found their cameras miraculously drifting in her direction. My hands were full at the time or I would have done likewise.

The Pike Place Market is definitely worth the visit if you are in Seattle. It is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, and it is chock full of fresh seafood, produce, and arts & crafts.

The market’s most famous tenant is the Pike Place Fish Market, where the enthusiastic fishmongers toss more fish through the air than Lew Zealand on the Muppet Show. (Remember the boomerang fish guy? No? Okay, forget I brought it up.) But yes, when someone buys a large fish, the guy working the floor tosses the fish through the air to someone working behind the counter, so the fish can be wrapped. Tourists gather around in breathless anticipation of deceased salmon recreating the majestic leaps of their abbreviated lifetimes.

I passed a large cooler full of live crayfish. I just assumed that this is what the haul looks like when Jason Garey goes back home to Louisiana.

As I stood around waiting for tossed trout, a heaved halibut, or a catapulted cod, I was approached by a fellow tourist.

“Do you see that sign that says tilapia for $6.99?” he asked.

I sure did.

“I lived in Hawaii for 38 years, and nobody ate tilapia,” he said. “It’s a garbage fish. If we caught one, we’d to cut it up for bait so we could catch something better. Now they ship it to the mainland because people will pay $6.99 a pound for it.”

Seeing as my taste buds hold all seafood in equal contempt, I will take his word for it.

The interior of the market is a brightly lit bazaar, with stall after stall of fresh food and arts and crafts. Here’s a look at the interior hallway of the market. And yes, in case you are wondering, the lower floor is down. Thank you, helpful sign!

I had just met up with Crew PR man Dave Stephany for lunch, and as we walked through the market, we were asked to try free samples at some pasta maker’s stall.

“Free samples!” said the man behind the counter. “We even give free samples to Columbus Crew fans!”

We stopped and had a sample, and as we left, the man said, “I will see you tomorrow night!”

So it turns out that Dr. J and Paco were not the only ones singled out in the market, although our pasta guy made no mention of using black & gold for toilet paper.

We stopped at the newsstand in the market, where Dave picked up a copy of the iconic and pink “La Gazetta dello Sport.” It was the September 23rd edition, newly available to those who like the keep track of the very latest sports news from Italy.

Dave and I took stock of the various dining options available to us in the Pike Place Market, and we settled on a tiny diner nestled into an interior corner called Three Girls. It was there that I ate the most amazing meatloaf sandwich ever made. Apparently it is their specialty, and they have been in business in the same spot since 1912. The garlic & rosemary bread was exquisite. If I lived here, I would eat no other bread. They have a bakery out front that sells it by the loaf.

Here’s a photo of half of my sandwich. Just looking at this picture makes me hungry. Forget Five Guys. I much prefer Three Girls.

After lunch with Dave, I bought some honeycrisp apples the size of pumpkins. I seriously wanted to carve and Jack O’Latern into one of them, but I didn’t have a knife. So I wandered down by Elliott Bay. It was there that I saw this large totem pole. Sorry, it will not work in warding off Schelotto’s spirit.

Here’s a shot from Elliott Bay, looking back up the hill toward the city.

Nearby, I also encountered this sign. Steven Lenhart and Robbie Rogers, please take note. In Seattle, skateboarding IS a crime!

Seattle is city filled with caffeine-addled coffee-slurpers, which is why every other storefront is a coffee shop. However, of the 613 Starbucks locations that are within walking distance of our hotel, this is the one and only original Starbucks. This is the queen bee that birthed an empire of mochacappafrappalattechino merchants the world over.

A little ways down from the original Starbucks, I came across this sign on the sidewalk.

That sign does not bode well for having drinks and hitting on women. Two of the three connotations are thoroughly undesirable. Etta’s is playing up the seafood angle, but why chance it?

Before I end this missive, I must reflect on the street performer scene in Seattle. It is incredibly varied. Not only did I see the typical singer-songwriter type of busker, but I also came across a Dixieland jazz outfit, an acapella singing group, and even a guy playing a piano!

I have never ever seen a piano busker before in my life. It was awesome. The thing is, that piano is at the bottom of a very steep hill. It probably wasn’t so bad bringing the piano down in the morning, but that’s got to be one heck of a task to bring it back at the end of the workday.

This guy here wasn’t really a busker, as he had no hat or case for collections:

He just stood on the corner informing everyone that the end times were coming and that we are all going to Hell to burn in an eternal lake of fire. He was notable mainly because he had brought his own microphone and PA system. As you can see, nobody was standing near him. I’m not sure if it’s because people were freaked out or because there was no simply need to get near him to his use of electric amplification.

And finally, here is the highlight of my day. I encountered this avant garde street performer near the corner of the hippie bakery that was selling vegan snickerdoodles. (Yum!) As you will see, he was dressed in a blue speed skating unitard, wore goofy sunglasses, and cut his own hair. I watched in amazement as he took a piece of chalk and drew four circles on the sidewalk. He then wrote on his tiny chalkboard, “NO GOD, ETC.” After establishing the title of his piece, he took a bag of fruit and placed a red apple in three of the four circles, and a green apple in the other circle. In my head, I started singing the “three of these things belong together” song from Sesame Street.

What happened next was amazing. He reached into his box and pulled out a series of dismembered doll parts that were hanging from marionette strings. There was a head, a torso, an arm, and a leg, each dangling from the sticks, and all tied to each other at the bottom as well. He also pulled out a yellow recorder, which he put into his mouth and started playing with one hand. He tooted away as his other hand worked the marionette rig, making the dismembered doll parts dance and jiggle above the four apples that he had placed on the sidewalk. And that was apparently the show.

See, I wasn’t kidding. I would never ever kid about something like that.

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GUATEMALAN LAUNDRY (UPDATED: 10/5/10 3:33pm)

Last Wednesday, the Crew played in what was surely the muddiest game in their history. The field in their 2-1 loss to Municipal in Guatemala City was in farcical condition, with lakes of standing water everywhere. Moments after taking the field in their pristine yellow jerseys and socks, the Crew looked to be dressed in dark brown.

I heard equipment man Rusty Wummel talking some about it on Saturday, but now on Wednesday morning, I asked him for a recap of what that trip and its aftermath entailed for him.

“It was a nightmare,” he said. “It was hell. Everything was brown and black from the mud. The socks were in hideous condition. It was an all-day laundry affair. It took several washes to get the uniforms and socks back to their original color.”

It was actually double trouble for Wummel, as he had to wash two sets of everything.

“The guys did a complete uniform change at halftime—socks, second socks if they wear another pair under their game socks, compression gear, shorts, jerseys,” he said. “It was a full change. Everything was soaked. The bags were heavy as hell that night.”

Heavy bags were nothing compared to what awaited him once the Crew got back home.

“When we got back to Columbus on Thursday and I opened the bags on Friday,” he said. “I almost threw up. It was nasty. It was nauseating. It was like walking into an outhouse in 100-degree weather.”

A long day of laundry ensued.

“The jerseys went through two reclaim cycles,” he explained. “A reclaim cycle goes through many different temperatures, and it’s over an hour long. Each cycle has different amounts of detergent, different amounts of oxidizer to get the stains out and neutralize the smells, and the socks went through the same process.”

Amazingly, Wummel got most everything looking good as new. In fact, the yellow socks worn Saturday against San Jose were the same yellow socks that had been blackened in Guatemala City. But for all his success, Wummel still hasn’t been able to close the book on that trip.

“There are still three pieces that I am going to have to soak when we get home, and then hand wash,” he said. “There’s a Gino Padula pregame shirt, an Andres Mendoza game jersey, and then a Padula game jersey.”

I found it odd that two of the three items belonged to the same player, Padula.

“For some reason, the Argentine made a mess on that trip,” Wummel said. “He was bad. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he got his pregame jersey so dirty when he was wearing a rain top on top of it. I don’t understand how that works. He’s like Pigpen from the Peanuts. Somehow dirt just gravitates toward him. But then again, that’s what happens when you play in a swamp.”

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FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTROVERSY (UPDATED: 10/5/10 3:10pm)

Keeping with the football theme, there was also trouble in paradise on the fantasy football front. As we watched the Browns-Bengals game on Sunday, William Hesmer told me of some shady actions undertaken by Commissioner Carroll.

First, let me rewind. After Saturday night’s game, Andy Gruenebaum promised fireworks at the airport if his trade with Dave Lagow did not get approved. The Hammer was sending Joseph Addai and Larry Fitzgerald to Lagow in exchange for Maurice Jones-Drew and Chad Ochocinco. G-baum was convinced that he had enough approvals to avoid a veto of the trade.

By Sunday morning, there were four votes in favor, one vote opposed, and three non-votes. The online system requires a majority to automatically push through a trade. Since there was no majority in either direction for an 8-team league, the trade languished until Carroll manually approved the trade using his commissioner powers.

“That’s shady,” Hesmer said. “He approved that trade at 11:19am on a Sunday morning without saying a word to anyone. People think that BC is this quiet, honest, and forthright person, but then he does shady stuff like this. He can be pushed around. G-baum probably called him a dozen times lobbying for the trade until BC caved.”

When we chatted a few hours later in Chicago, Frankie Hejduk said he has no problem with the trade. I told him if he had actually voted for it, all of this controversy could have been avoided.

“I never vote yes or no on any of that stuff,” Hejduk said. “I just sit on the fence, dude. The only problem with sitting on the fence is that you get shot at by both sides.”

Speaking of both sides, it was in Chicago that I got Commissioner Carroll’s official response to the grumblings of Hesmer and others.

“The rule is that four people need to veto it,” Carroll explained. “In this case, four people approved it and only one person vetoed it. There were three non-votes, so the trade goes through. There has been some chirping from the other members of the league, but the commissioner doesn’t pay attention to chirping.”

Someone then mentioned that Carroll’s team faces Hejduk’s team during Hejduk’s bye week. (Note: It is actually the San Diego Chargers’ bye week, but since Frankie’s team consists largely of hometown Chargers, it is also considered Frankie’s bye week and a guaranteed victory for his opponent.)

“See!” said Hesmer. “That’s more shadiness! He scheduled himself for Frankie’s bye week!”

“The computer makes the schedule,” Carroll replied.

“Based on the order you list the teams,” Hemser countered.

“Yeah, I am cheating, which is why I am at the bottom of the league,” Carroll said.

Duncan Oughton, overhearing the conversation, attempted to cheer up Carroll by saying, “But at least you’ve got that guaranteed win over Frankie to look forward to.”

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On an unrelated note, I asked Carroll if his commissioner duties require that he occasionally meet with players who are violating the league’s personal conduct policy. I pointed out that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has called players into his office and meted out stiff suspensions based on various criminal and non-criminal activities that have brought the league into disrepute.

“I don’t worry about that because I am a member of this league too,” Carroll said. “If someone wants to do anything like that, it just means I have a better chance of making the playoffs. For that reason, I don’t care how people carry themselves.”

GUILLE’S QUERY (UPDATED: 10/5/10 2:23pm)

Everyone loves a good Schelotto story, so here’s one from the flight out.

“This story happened because Guillermo does not always enunciate his words,” explained Duncan Oughton.

In just about every conceivable way, Guille is just one of the guys. Never mind his stature or his paychecks, he is still a regular guy with his teammates. He goes out of his way to understand them and to fit in with them. What more proof could be needed other than to say that he has joined the locker room’s NFL picks pool. Every week, Guille earnestly picks the winners and losers of the NFL’s scheduled games, and assigns weights to each prediction based on his level of certainty. This is the other key component of the story.

So here’s the scene. Guille is checking the NFL scores on his cell phone before the plane takes off. He decides to see how one of his teammates is faring in the contest.

“Dunc,” he says to Oughton, who is seated in the row in front of him. “Dunc!”

Oughton turns his head.

“Dunc, how are you in bed?”

“Pardon me?” a stunned Oughton replies.

“How are you in bed?”

“That’s a little personal, isn’t it? But if you must know, I am great.”

Growing exasperated, Guille asks, “Do you have San Francisco or Falcon?”

And that’s when it finally dawned on Oughton that Schelotto was asking about the locker room football pool. He was asking about bet with a “t”, not bed with a “d.”

“When he first started asking me how I was bed, I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Oughton said. “I thought maybe it was an offer, which was pretty bold on an airplane with other passengers sitting right there. The guy sitting next to him was dying of laughter, so I am pretty sure he also thought Guille was asking how I was in bed. I wasn’t the only one that heard it that way.”

I expressed amazement that Schelotto was in the football pool. I mean, does he even know what’s going on in American football?

“Guille has his system,” Oughton explained. “He is a very studious man. He does lots of research online before making his picks. He looks at the standings and he reads the opinions of the various experts, and then once he’s done all that, he sprinkles in a bit of his own intuition.”

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POST-TRAINING COMMENTS ABOUT THE FINAL (UPDATED: 10/5/10 12:36pm)

Brian Carroll: “We’re excited to come out here as an entire group and be a part of this Open Cup final. We want to put on a good performance and come out of here with a trophy. We know it’s going to be a great atmosphere and a tough test. Seattle is a great team and this is a tough environment to play in, but we are going to put our heart and soul into the game. We’re certainly capable if we put on a good performance and play like we are able to. They were sharp when we played them at our place, and now we need to be sharp at their place.”

Kevin Burns: “We’re excited about it. This is the first trophy we can win this year, and we know it’s all for nothing if you don’t win.”

Burns has steadily earned more playing time after missing all of 2008 with an injury, allowing him to feel more a part of the team’s success.

“I think any time you are playing, you are going to be happier and feel like more of a part of it,” he said. “But still, whoever coach plays (Tuesday), we’re all a part of trying to win it. I got a ring in 2008 because of those guys, so whoever plays (Tuesday) is trying to win for all of us.”

And then there’s the one and only Schelotto, whose comments, as always, are presented in their unedited Guille-speak. Schelotto collects team trophies like he ought to be on that TV show “Hoarders”, but the Open Cup is the only domestic trophy he has not won since coming stateside. He would like for that to change.

“I am excited,” he said. “I hope after the game we win and have celebration, the team, for this cup. We are excited about the game and excited that we can get a new title, so we are waiting for (Tuesday).”

Always confident, Schelotto is not fazed by the plastic grass.

“It feel different, but we play one week ago in Boston and we did it very well with scoring,” he said of the plastic pitch. “I think we are always more of the game, and we can score. Seattle is getting better every day of the MLS season, but we have confidence about ourself.”

MONDAY TRAINING (UPDATED: 10/5/10 11:11am)

As the bus arrived at Qwest Field, we were met by a golf cart, which then drove in front of us.

“Are we getting an official golf cart escort?” I asked aloud.

“All he needs is a siren,” replied head athletic trainer Dave Lagow. “Or maybe he’s just making the noise with his mouth. WHEEEEwhewwwww WHEEEEwhewwwww WHEEEEwheeeeew.”

Our golf cart escort dropped led us to our final destination, where we could cut through the underbelly of the stadium and onto the thick, luscious, all-natural….GAH!

Dr. J was not impressed with my photo of Qwest Field’s fake grass.

“Take a picture with a line in it so people can tell what they are looking at,” he said. “An intersecting line would be even better.”

Fine. Here is another picture of the plastic field, incorporating Dr. J’s artistic vision:

So much better, right?

On the bright side (literally), none of the forecasted rain had materialized, so practice took place under clear blue skies. No, seriously. I have a photo of Seattle’s blue sky to prove it, and I even included the top the of the Hawk’s Nest to prove I took it at Qwest Field:

For good measure, here are another couple of shots of Qwest Field. I was really impressed with the place, and I can see how it would have an intimate feel with a packed lower bowl. And as an NFL stadium? My goodness. It looks incredible.

Meanwhile, on the field, here are a few shots of the guys playing limited touch keep-away drills.

The team engaged in a spirited training session. And since Tuesday’s match is a tournament final, and the specter of penalties looms, the team finished off practice by running the entire roster through a few rounds of PKs. This produced my favorite moment of training. Guillermo Barros Schelotto lined up for a spot kick, and as he started to approach the ball, Emilio Renteria yelled and ran toward Guille and even tossed a ball in his way. Despite the impromptu distractions, Schelotto banked his bullet-like PK off the post and into the net. He never even cracked a smile.

No problem.

As practice drew to a close, equipment man Rusty Wummel laid out dry shirts so players didn’t have to sit in sweaty tops on the ride back the hotel.

The cool down period of practice is a time for various contests. For example, I witnessed a game of soccer horseshoes. Jason Garey and Lagow took on the team of Shaun Francis and strength coach Mike Tremble. The “horseshoe pit” had a water bottle placed at either end. Each team had one player near each water bottle. The first player had to kick the ball in the air to their teammate at the other end. The second player then had to trap the ball to the ground and make it stop as close to the water bottle as possible. Whichever team’s ball came closest earned a point.

Here’s a photo of Garey and Tremble at one end of the horseshoe pit:

And here’s a photo showing the end result of a play at their end. Garey’s trap bested Tremble’s. In fact, the Garey/Lagow team pasted the Frano/Tremble team.

Another extracurricular activity that I stumbled across came about rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Danny O’Rourke walked up to Robbie Rogers and said, “pushup contest.” Robbie nodded his head and said, “pushup contest.”

And just like that, it was on. Both players dropped to the ground and started doing pushups. They would call out pushup variations, such as one leg off the ground with the knee bent…

They also did a bit where they had to stagger their arm positions, and then periodically flip them. I noted that Robbie flipped his hand positions in one fell swoop at the top of a pushup, but Danny did his in stages. He would move the one hand up, and then move the other hand down.

“I’ve done about 300 pushups so far this morning,” Danny explained.

I don’t know who the actual winner of the pushup contest was. They both did dozens upon dozens of complicated pushups and they stopped at the same time. I am positive that 10 out of 10 health experts would agree that they were BOTH winners.

Oh, and one final picture. I went to snap a photo of the Open Cup ball, but Wummel dove to the turf and injected his smiling face into the photo:

I think it’s fair to say that there are days when the players would be hard pressed to tell you which of those two items they would like to kick harder.

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OPEN CUP MEMORIES: DUNCAN OUGHTON (UPDATED: 9/5/10 9:05am)

Duncan Oughton is the sole remaining player for the Crew's 2002 U.S. Open Cup championship team. During out layover in Chicago, I asked him to reflect on that historic night.

"I remember it wasn’t a huge crowd like it’s going to be at this one," he said. "It was cold. Very cold. I remember that I personally wore awful red boots that I didn’t like. They had run out of the boots I like in black, so they sent me red ones. Me in red boots was certainly something out of the ordinary. The game was a bit of a battle and Freddy Garcia banged a goal, which was pretty cool. I remember Bobby Warzycha getting in late and saving one off of the line. And I remember me and Simon Elliott kicking each other quite a few times. That was fun."

Although it was only his second MLS season, Oughton knew how much the title meant to the club and guys like longtime Crew vets like Warzycha, Brian McBride, Mike Clark, and Brian Maisonneuve.

"It was an amazing feeling to lift that trophy," he said. "It was our first trophy, and for it to be the Lamar Hunt Open Cup was special. It was nice to put something in the trophy cabinet, and it was nice to be a part of it with some of those core Crew players from the club’s early years. We were a tight knit group. I still talk to a lot of those guys, so it was really special."

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RUSTY’S ROOMMATES (UPDATED: 9/4/10 11:16pm)

Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel lives with lots and lots of stuff on the road. He passed along some photos from first thing this morning, before we left for training.

Here are bags of shoes and gloves and all sorts of stuff…

Here is another wall lined with those ubiquitous black bags…

And here is a photo of each player’s practice gear, ready for individual pick up starting at 8:00am so that the guys could get ready before loading on to the charter bus to Qwest Field. Each little bundle is that specific player’s personal boot bag and his practice shirt, shorts, and socks.

So there’s a tiny glimpse of life on the road from the equipment man’s point of view.

MONDAY MORNING, BEFORE TRAINING

I came downstairs before training, bought myself a $1.65 apple for breakfast, then sat down at the table with Danny O’Rourke after a well-meaning hotel visitor saw his Crew gear and asked him if he was a member of a rowing team. Danny explained that he was actually a soccer player and that the Columbus Crew would be playing at Qwest Field against the local Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night.

After the guest walked away, Danny put a finger-pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“When I’m at an airport on the road, I just say ‘yes’ when people ask me if I am on a rowing team,” he said. “It’s just easier. But I try to be nicer about it at the hotels.”

That makes sense. At the hotel, the players are around residents and visitors in an MLS city, so it’s worth spending a few extra minutes to make them aware of the league and the local team. Even if it makes them want to commit imaginary suicide afterward.

Anyway, Danny and I were soon joined by Kevin Burns, who immediately started peppering O’Rourke with questions. “Would you rather be a mammal or a reptile? Do you prefer apples or bananas? Do you think there is more water or land on the earth?” and so on. Just stream of consciousness, one question after another.

“Can’t you see we’re having a conversation?” O’Rourke growled.
Undeterred, Burns carried on with the ceaseless straight-faced interrogation from behind Danny’s left shoulder.

“Can you imagine putting up with him for three years?” O’Rourke asked me. “The key is to never answer. If you answer him, it just encourages him, and he gets even more annoying.”

Burnsie’s line of questioning reminded me of Jim Gaffigan’s guest appearance on Flight of the Conchords. In the episode, Gaffigan’s preferred style of human interaction is to mercilessly bombard people with mundane questions.

Check out a clip here:

Just imagine that Jim Gaffigan is Kevin Burns, and just pretend that Bret and Jemaine are Danny O’Rourke, except for the parts where Bret and Jemaine answer any of the questions. Danny would never do that.

As we were wrapping up the Burns nuisance, more and more players flocked to the enormous round table. I wanted to take a picture, so Jason Garey quickly pulled out a newspaper.

“Get a picture of this so I look smart,” he said.

Ah yes, now the world can see that Jason Garey prepares for training by studying the Wall Street Journal, contemplating the latest developments in America’s sourness on the trade front.

But the real reason I pulled out my cell phone was to take a picture of the table. In this crappy photo, you can see Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gino Padula on the far side of the circular table. That big black circle in the middle actually spins around. That way, if the table is crowded with people eating a meal, you can place the food items on the inner circle and spin it around to pass the food.

As Chad Marshall sat down with his breakfast, Schelotto called out to him.

“Chad, you put your food on this,” he said, patting the rotating black circle.

Although he surely had to know what was coming, Marshall complied. Guille then quickly spun the circle so that Marshall’s breakfast was now in front of him.

“Thank you very much for this food!” Guille giggled.

When the table’s laughter died down, Schelotto pretended to try to wheel the food back to Marshall. He gripped the circle as tight as he could and pantomimed putting all of his might into budging the motionless wheel in Marshall’s direction.

“I give back the food but is broke!” Guille said with mock exasperation. “It no move!”

Once the group’s laughter subsided, Schelotto relented and let Marshall eat breakfast. Then it was time to board the bus. However, before the players could get on the bus, they had to make their way through several autograph seekers, who were armed with boxes of media guides, trading cards, and player photos.

Here’s a shot of Marshall obliging some of the autograph seekers…

On the bus ride to Qwest Field, Dr. J (team physician Dr. Scott Johnson) told me an amazing story. As always, he and assistant trainer Skylar “Paco” Richards got up for a six mile jog. Their route took them by the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market, where the employees routinely chuck dead fish through the air and catch them in wrapping paper as hordes of tourists applaud and take pictures.

“So we jogged by the fish market and started talking to the guys,” Dr. J said. “They saw our Crew stuff and said, ‘You guys are in town already, huh?’ and we told them we got in last night. We asked them if they would wear some black and gold tomorrow, and one guy laughed and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll wipe my (butt) with it.’”

How awesome is that? Even the Pike Place fish-chuckers are fired up for this game!

I’ll end this update on that fantastic note, so y’all have something to read while I write about training.

OPEN CUP MEMORIES: ROBERT WARZYCHA (UPDATED: 9/4/10 5:33pm)

In my quest to check in with members of the 2002 U.S. Open Cup championship team, Robert Warzycha was an easy guy to find. He is currently coaching the team that is playing for the 2010 title, but eight years ago, he made a goal line clearance of an Alejandro Moreno shot in stoppage time to preserve the Crew’s 1-0 victory.

“It was a good team effort,” Warzycha said. “Even though we played the game at home, I think LA was the favorite, to be honest with you. But we pulled it off. I only played the last few minutes, but it was the first trophy that we won, so we were very happy.”

The Open Cup victory was an important breakthrough for a team that banged its head against the D.C. United dynasty of the late 90s and also suffered a heartbreaking loss in the 1998 Open Cup final in Chicago. For that core group of Crew originals, October 24, 2002, was a magical night.

“It was my last game, so it was special for me, but it was special for all those guys,” he said. “We had tried so hard to win something for Columbus for all those years, and we were coming up short. But on that night, we finally came through on a Freddy Garcia goal.”

Making a game saving play at that last moment of his final game, and then hoisting a trophy afterward, had to be the perfect ending to Warzycha’s playing career, right?

“I never thought about it that way,” he said. “I just thought of it as a good trophy for the club. But it was probably a good time for me to retire anyway, so I was happy I could contribute in my last game.”

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THE KIWI PINATA (UPDATED: 9/4/10 4:09pm)

In two road CONCACAF Champions League games, Duncan Oughton has been slapped by a coach, had his head stomped on, and has been punched in the face. None of these infractions resulted in a yellow card. This raises the question…why do foreigners hate Duncan Oughton so much?

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “That’s a good question. I didn’t even realize I got punched in the face. I just thought it was maybe an elbow or something. That’s what happens when you are numb to pain. It makes you hard. You can ask Andy Iro about that. He’ll tell you how hard he is. But to answer your question, I don’t know why people from south of the border hate me so much.”

As we spoke, we were walking with Iro, who was holding a plate and eating his dinner. Oughton was holding Iro’s drink for him.

I asked Oughton about his awesome move in the Guatemalan monsoon whereby he slid into a large puddle to soak his opponent, even though Oughton wasn’t going to win the ball.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” he explained. “You can do things to deceive people. Ultimately, when you have no skills, you have to use smoke and mirrors. You can ask Andy Iro about that as well.”

Iro was chewing his dinner, so he had no immediate comment. Oughton then tried to hand Iro’s drink back to him because it was too cold to hold. Iro motioned that he had no free hands.

“Iro, you’re such a (boob)head,” Oughton declared.

Despite having a cold drink-holding hand, and despite being used as a piñata by CONCACAF opposition, there is some good news for the Kiwi. The scoring has been corrected from the Municipal game, and Oughton has now been rightfully credited with an assist on Iro’s goal.

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ANDY IRO SPEAKS ON… (UPDATED: 9/4/10 3:33pm)

…Saturday’s shutout and reversing the trend of giving up early goals:

“For the past few years we have been very solid defensively, so to be leaking the goals we have been…whether it was lapses of concentration, or tiredness setting in…whatever the reason, we knew it wasn’t good enough. We spoke a lot in the last week about returning to the basics. We went over some things in practice that may seem elementary, but may be things that we’ve lost over the course of past couple of weeks. It was good that it all came together tonight. We limited them to only one really good chance, which Will did well on. We need to take that into Tuesday’s game and the rest of the league campaign.”

….his goal-scoring binge. With Wednesday’s goal in Guatemala, he has now has six goals on the year in all competitions. He entered the year with just two goals to his name.

“I feel confident. The game requires consistency and playing games week in and week out. Not just defensively, but offensive end as well. You get better reads as to where the ball is going to go, and what people’s runs are. I have benefitted from playing more this year. I feel like I can always weigh in with a few goals here and there. Some have been timely, and some, like in Wednesday’s game, became irrelevant. But it’s always nice to score.”

….the Crew’s heavy travel slate, which has seen them go from Boston to Guatemala City to Columbus to Seattle in a little over a week.

“It’s tough, but you want that. It’s better to have a Champions League game Wednesday, a meaningful league match on Saturday, and an Open Cup final on Tuesday than it is to be just going from week to week and being out of the playoff picture. You want all of those competitive games, even if you wish it wasn’t a monsoon in Guatemala.”

….on the monsoon in Guatemala:

“It was a joke. My first thought was why isn’t this game being postponed? But we were already down there, and I don’t know what the alternative would have been. It wasn’t a game, though. It’s one of those games where you can’t take anything from it. Good performance, bad performance…..there was NO performance from either team. But we lost the battle, I guess. We know you are going to have those freak games every now and then, and all you can do is battle.”

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MR. NUMBERS NERD: OPEN CUP EDITION (UPDATED: 9/4/10 2:00pm)

The Crew will be attempting to make history on a few different levels on Tuesday night. Columbus is already one of five clubs to have done the career grand slam of domestic titles (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and U.S. Open Cup.) The others are D.C. United, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kansas City.

But on Tuesday, the Crew have a chance to complete that grand slam with the same core group of players in just a three-year time period. Only D.C. United (1996 MLS Cup and Open Cup & 1997 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield) and Los Angeles (2001 Open Cup & 2002 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield) have done it faster, each doing it in a two-year period. But those teams never won domestic trophies three years in a row.

The only other clubs to do the grand slam in a five-year period are Kansas City (2000 MLS Cup and Supporter’s Shield & 2004 Open Cup) and D.C. United again (2004 MLS Cup, 2006 & 2007 Supporters’ Shields, and 2008 Open Cup), but those clubs only had seven and four holdover players, respectively. The Crew have 16 players gunning for the three-year grand slam, counting Jed Zayner, who is cup-tied to the Crew even though he has been traded to D.C. United.

With a win on Tuesday, the Crew can become only the second team to win at least one domestic honor three years in a row. Only the 2006-2008 United squads have managed to do that, but that group never won an MLS Cup. The Crew would have the complete set of domestic trophies in their three-year run.

So there is definitely some history up for grabs.

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OPEN CUP MEMORIES: JON BUSCH (UPDATED: 9/4/10 1:15pm)

The Crew are playing in their first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final since 2002, when Columbus defeated Los Angeles, 1-0, at Crew Stadium to win the first trophy in franchise history. On the eve of the 2010 final, I am making an effort to catch up with a few of the players from that 2002 team to collect their memories from that important night in Crew history.

First up, is Jon Busch, the fiery goalkeeper who backstopped the team to a title in his first year of significant MLS playing time.

“It was awesome,” Busch said. “It was my first championship and it was amazing. There are two things I really remember. The first thing is that when the ref finally blew the whistle, Dunseth and I just dropped to our knees together and started hugging each other. It looks bad, but I still have the picture and it is amazing. And the other thing I remember is when we got back to the locker room and we handed the cup to Maisonneuve. That was his first championship, so watching an old-ass man cry was pretty awesome. I know what he was feeling, because as I have gotten older, I’ve realized how hard it is to win cups. I appreciate that moment more now than I did back then.”

I told Busch that one of my lasting memories of that night was his impassioned speech at his locker about how his now-wife Nikki stood by him, believed in him, and encouraged him to stick with his soccer career, all while he was knocking around the minor leagues for not much money. His dream had finally come true, and he dedicated the championship to her. It was easily one of the most honest and heartfelt scenes I had ever witnessed in a pro locker room.

“She’s gone everywhere with me,” Busch said eight years later. “That was as much her championship as it was my championship. Even though they aren’t on the field, the support that players get from their wives, girlfriends, and families makes it their championship too. She deserved it.”

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THE TRIP

Before leaving for Seattle, my friend Stephanie gave me two pieces of advice for my stay in Grungeville. “First,” she said, “do not do any heroin. And second, do not marry Courtney Love.” Got it. Note to self: Do not sign up for the Kurt Cobain Fantasy Camp, if there is one.

I do not yet know if the Kurt Cobain Fantasy Camp exists because this was one looooong day of travel. As I type these words, it is 11:17pm Pacific Time, so I doubt the Kurt Cobain Fantasy Camp offices are even open yet. Right now, my Eastern Time self is ready for bed. If that keeps me away from heroin and Courtney Love, so be it. Mission accomplished.

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The day started out promising enough. At Port Columbus, I saw the following sign, and no line queued up in front of it, so I thought we were on easy street.

 

Turns out that was intended for the FLIGHT crew, not the COLUMBUS Crew. So we all had to stand in the regular line and get out shoes checked for explosives just like every other potential terrorist soccer team.

While waiting for the flight, I joined William Hesmer and Jason Garey in watching some NFL action at that famous sports bar known as Wolfgang Puck’s. From the name, I assume they cater to hockey fans, which is why our football viewing experience was less than ideal.

“It’s almost impossible to watch football without the sound,” said Hesmer. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

Ol’ Wofgang kept his TVs turned down, depriving us of the bone-crunching tackles, quarterback cadences, and inane commentary that make NFL Sundays so special. In its place, we were treated to Muzak versions of “What About Love?” by Heart, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, and myriad other FM radio staples from twenty-plus years ago. There’s a reason these versions are never used by NFL Films.
When I became convinced that the Browns were about to blow yet another fourth quarter lead (they didn’t!) and just couldn’t watch anymore, I wandered over to where most of the team had congregated and sat down next to Adam Moffat.

“I’m not a geek,” he said.

Say what?

“I’m not a geek,” he said, “and neither is Eddie.”

Um, huh?

“Me and Eddie are not geeks just because we are sitting directly across from each other playing Settlers of Catan against one another on the computer.”

Sure enough, Gaven and Moffat were seated on opposite sides of the aisle, each with a laptop resting upon its namesake surface. Here are the geeks in action…

 
 

It turns out that the computer rounded the game out with two fake players named Ross and Joey, of Friends fame. In the end, Moffat defeated Gaven.

“And Eddie barely beat Ross and Joey,” Moffat helpfully added while showing me his screen.

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During our extended layover in Chicago, I had dinner at Billy Goat Chicago, which did not serve goat, as far as I could tell. Rather, it was the “Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger, no Pepsi, Coke” place made famous by John Belushi on Saturday Night Live back when I was an infant. They even had a large sign featuring Belushi’s catch phrase, which is what enticed me to eat there. (I am such a simple creature.) I was waited on by a diminutive, non-Belushi-esque woman named Maria, and it turns out that the “cheezeborger” was completely forgettable. At least the airport version of it, anyway. My advice is that if you are at O’Hare, don’t bother trying to recreate a 30-year-old John Belushi SNL skit. Although, in fairness, I didn’t look to see if the food court also had a samurai deli place.

On the way back to the rest of the gang, I noticed that Moffat, Steven Lenhart, Robbie Rogers, and Emilio Renteria had taken over an abandoned trailer of some sort. It looked like it was suppose to hitch on to the back of those little carts that airport personnel drive around. With this thing hitched up, the cart could haul passengers around like an airport hayride, minus the hay. But the trailer part just got left sitting around, so it was commandeered by the four players.

Steve and Emilio struck a pose for the camera…
 

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The flight west was long, but interesting in the fact that we followed the dusk for hours. After a flight delay had extended our layover in Chicago, the sun was settled low in the sky when we left the Windy City….and it stay just above or just below the horizon for the majority of our trip. We were chasing the sun at 30,000 feet, but it eventually outraced us. It was dark when we got to Seattle.
 
When we landed, I was prepared to be greeted by thousands of the Greatest Soccer Fans in America™, dressed in fluorescent lime green, chucking plastic baggies full of overpriced lattes at us. That didn’t happen. What did happen was something I was not prepared for-- the monstrous volume of heavy black baggage that awaited us at baggage claim. I quickly joined Crew head coach Robert Warzycha, defender Eric Brunner, and head athletic trainer Dave Lagow in peeling one black bag after another off of the conveyer belt.

And even this photo doesn’t really do it justice, as there were mounds of bags on the other side of the hand truck. It was hard to take a photo that accurately portrayed the amount of baggage. Onlookers gawked and marveled at the MASSIVENESS of it all.

Of course, all of that baggage had to be lugged on a lengthy hike to the bus. Everybody pitched in. Not good times.

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I left my home at 1:30 pm Eastern and we arrived at the hotel at a little after midnight Eastern. That’s a good ten-and-a-half hours that the team devoted to this trip. I mean, I was having fun, as this is a rare trip to a new city for me. But even my enthusiastic self got worn down by it all. I can only imagine how sapping a trip like this can be when it is a thoroughly mundane aspect of one’s job, not to mention when it was preceded by trips to and from Boston and Guatemala City within the previous week or so. The trip out has certainly given me a first-hand understanding of the challenges that road teams face in MLS.

But we made it. The whole team is out here, all 24 players, and they are itching to fight for another piece of hardware.

I will be sending notes back to Crew HQ throughout the trip, so look back to this space for more. This page will be continually updated, with the newest updates on the top of the page so they are easy to find. I will have stories about the trip, comments from last Saturday since I won’t get to do a proper Notebook for that game, and whatever other random stuff happens to come about while I am out here.

But for now, it’s almost 4:00am Eastern, so I am going to bed.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk