Sirk's Notebook: Weather edition
The Columbus Crew could not shut out the cold, the wind, or the rain. But on a night better suited for crab fishing in the Bering Strait than outdoor soccer in Ohio, the Crew confidently shut out the periwinkle prairie-dwellers of Sporting KC, 1-0. The Sporks entered the game averaging 2.67 goals per game, which proved to be 2.67 more goals than the Crew seem to be capable of conceding at the moment. The shutout was the Crew’s club-record fourth consecutive whitewash, and the team also equaled the club record of 373 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal.
Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer gets the official credit for the goose egg, but he knows better than to hog the glory.
“It’s a team accomplishment,” he said. “The goalkeeper’s name goes behind the shutout column, but really, from top to back, we’re doing an amazing job of defending. We’re organized and we’re communicating. For a goalkeeper, it’s a dream to sit in behind a group of guys like this.”
Sometimes, the back line shares in the credit with the goalkeeper. And that’s certainly appropriate in this instance. In the early going of the 2011, Chad Marshall may be more dominant than he has ever been, if such a thing can be imagined for a two-time MLS Defender of the Year. And he’s doing it with three fresh faces beside him. Sebastian Miranda, Julius James, and rookie Rich Balchan have acquitted themselves well, displaying both speed and defensive poise in the back.
I suppose the defensive midfielder type gets some of the credit from time to time. That’s fair. Kevin Burns has been a wrecking ball. Whether it’s blowing up plays with his size and strength or deftly cutting into passing lanes, he has made progress awfully difficult to come by for the Crew’s opponents.
But with this Crew team, it goes beyond even the farthest reaches of the typical shutout praise recipients. The commitment to defense includes tenacious wingers and ball-hawking forwards.
“It’s everybody in this locker room,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “It goes from Will in the back to Emilio up top. Everyone is busting their butt and communicating, which makes it easier on each other. Hopefully we can keep that up, because once we solve our finishing, we’ll be a tough force to stop.”
SURVIVING AGAINST THE WIND
With wind gusts bending the corner flags to unnaturally acute angles, the Crew had to survive the first 45 minutes with the wind and the rain in their faces. Apart from a silly giveaway that forced a save from Hesmer and one decent header that landed safely in Hesmer’s arms, the Crew held the Sporks at bay.
“I think we really frustrated them in the first half because they weren’t able to break us down while they had the wind,” said Hesmer.
“When we were going into the wind, I was just trying to make sure that there were no mistakes in the back,” added Burns. “I was lumping the ball as much as I could. Guys were probably getting annoyed with me because they wanted to play the ball out, but I wanted no mistakes. We were NOT going to give up a goal that way. With KC playing that many guys forward, it was going to be difficult for me to turn and play forward anyway. I think we did a good job of holding on for those first 25 minutes until we got used to the wind, and I knew once we did that, we were going to be fine.”
ROBBIE SLIDES ONE IN
With the wind at the Crew’s back in the second half, Robbie Rogers put wind in the Crew’s sails with a beautiful sliding shot to give Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute. The play started when midfielder Dilly Duka got knocked to the ground in the KC penalty area. Burns intercepted the Sporks’ clearance and chipped the ball to an alert Duka.
“I was going in there to kill the guy to break up the play,” said Burns, “but I got to the ball first. Then I held it for a count so Dilly could get back onside. That was really good of him, because he could have been lazy.”
Duka then flicked the ball into the path of Rogers’ far-side run.
“We had some good communication,” Duka said. “First, Kevin held the ball because I was coming from an offside position. He played the ball at the right time, and I could hear Robbie behind me talking. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was going to make that run and I knew the defender was between us, so I knew I needed to get enough on it to get it to him.”
With Duka’s flick hitting him in stride, Rogers beat his man with a well-placed chest trap into space, then slipped a sliding shot past KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and into the far side netting.
“I don’t remember much,” Rogers said of the goal. “I just remember Dilly getting the ball to me and then instinct took over. I took a touch and got it to the far post. When it happens that quickly, you don’t even think about it. Your soccer instincts just take over. It was a little bit of luck, but it skipped perfectly toward the far post and went in.”
While Rogers may attribute the goal to instinct and luck, Burns wanted to make sure Rogers got his due.
“Robbie had a great finish,” Burns said. “That was a tight angle. I don’t think he’s going to get enough credit for that goal, but it wasn’t an easy one.”
Rogers celebrated his sliding goal by sprinting to the Nordecke and then sliding on his butt with his fists in the air.
“I don’t know what that was,” Rogers laughed. “I was just happy to get a goal and a win for our team and our fans.”
THE TWO ALMOSTS
Rogers’ goal came at the perfect time because the Crew had a glorious scoring opportunity taken away from them just three minutes earlier. Emilio Renteria got cleaned out with a hard tackle just as he made a one-touch pass to send Eddie Gaven through on a breakaway. Despite Gaven’s one-on-one confrontation with the Sporks’ goalkeeper, referee Juan Guzman declined to play the advantage. In his very first game as an MLS referee, Guzman opted to blow the play dead to issue a yellow card to KC’s Julio Cesar.
The Crew were irate. Goalkeeper William Hesmer sprinted all the way up to the center circle in order to urgently vocalize his thoughts on the matter for the rookie referee.
“It was a new ref, so maybe I should've been a little more calm about it and waited for another time to mention it,” Hesmer said. “It's tough, though, when you are only getting so many looks a game to see such a great chance pulled back. I just wanted him to know, first, how unhappy we all were that he didn't see the play out by awarding the advantage. Two, I wanted him to know that he owed us one. I think he knew immediately that he had erred, so not much needed to be said.”
Hesmer stressed that his grievance was with that one specific play, and was not a reflection on Guzman’s performance over the full 90 minutes.
“Overall,” Hesmer said, “I thought the ref did a great job and was one of the better refs we've had.”
The Crew’s second big “almost” occurred in the 68th minute when a KC goal kick got caught in the jet stream and boomeranged back toward the their own goal. Substitute forward Tommy Heinemann won an aerial challenge all of 30 or so yards from the KC net. His header sprung Rogers into the left side of the box. Rogers cut a pass against the grain, giving Eddie Gaven all day and all night to pick his spot against a defenseless Nielsen, but Nielsen came up with a huge kick save on Gaven’s ill-placed attempt.
Maybe it goes back to Robbie’s instinct vs. thinking comment on his goal. Perhaps Eddie had too much time to think about that one.
FINISHING IT OFF
The Crew may not be all the best at finishing scoring chances in 2011, but with its air-tight defense, they sure can finish off a game. Between the wind advantage and a man advantage gained when Cesar picked up a second yellow card in the 72nd minute, the Crew didn’t give Kansas City a whiff of the goal as the clocked ticked toward 90.
“That was very good,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “Especially playing a man up, instead of putting ourselves into the box and trying to defend the crosses, we made them play quick, and play the way we wanted. Then when we got the ball we obviously kept the game with corner kicks and throw-ins, we kept the game in the corners.”
“I think we’re confident that we can get out with a 1-0 lead,” added Hesmer.
THE WEATHER, PART ONE (THE FANS)
Having run into a friend I hadn’t seen in some time, I watched the second half with him from the concourse above the Nordecke. The official game time weather was “47 degrees and rainy”, but by the end of the game, the temps had fallen to the upper 30s, the winds had become downright ferocious, and the misty, stinging rain was swirling sideways. I jokingly told my friend, “I feel like I’m on Deadliest Catch!”
Such conditions are nothing new for the Crew. The highest kick-off temperature of the season at Crew Stadium has been 48 degrees. The home opener caused Columbus Dispatch reporter Shawn Mitchell to refer to the crowd as “wind-whipped and blue-lipped”, and Saturday’s game had me making comparisons to a popular documentary show about fishing for Alaskan king crab near the Arctic circle. The Crew organization has been taking the hit for Mother Nature’s cruelty. Walk-up ticket sales have been off 60-80 percent compared to the 2010 season average.
But those who listened to the weeklong warnings of a miserable Saturday, then saw that it was going to be a reality, and then STILL decided to forgo the comforts of home to shiver and shout for the Crew, please know that your fortitude did not go unnoticed on the locker room.
“The weather has been awful for our first few home games,” said Hesmer. “The fans that are coming and supporting us in these miserable conditions are troopers. I am just happy they could leave with a win. They deserved it.”
“I’m surprised that many people came out in this weather and actually stayed,” said Kevin Burns. “That was awesome.”
“Our fans are great, man,” said Dilly Duka. “The Nordecke and the supporters in all the other parts of the stadium, they stayed and supported us despite the weather. We won this for them. They were dedicated. They stayed and they supported us, and even sat through what wasn’t the best first half, so we knew we needed to reward them in the second half. We always want to win for us, but we also want to win for them. They really deserved a win tonight.”
THE WEATHER, PART TWO (THE PLAYERS)
While the fans had the option of staying home in such yucky weather, the players did not. They had to play, no matter what. They had to deal with it.
“You basically feel like you’re running in sand when you’re running against a hurricane for the entire first half,” said Hesmer. “In the second half, the breeze picks you up and you feel you can attack a little more, and that leaves (KC) more frustrated.”
At least the field players get to run around. What’s a poor, lonely, goalkeeper to do while standing around in shorts in the midst of the wet and windy onslaught?
“I was pretty cold,” Hesmer said, “but it’s at least a little better when the wind is at your back and rain isn’t coming sideways into your face. I just wish that someday we can get a good bit of weather for a Crew game. I tried to do jumping jacks and leg swings to keep warm. But hey, I’d rather spend the game doing that and communicating and organizing than flying all over the place making saves all night.”
Even though they had the benefit of continuous movement and active engagement, it still wasn’t easy for the field players.
“The first half was really tough when we were going against the wind,” said Duka. “You’re running into it and the rain is hitting you in the eyes, making it hard to see. That made the first half a little rough. The second half, the wind was behind us, so we were able to play a little more, and it showed.”
“The first half, it was really difficult against the wind, but other than that, you don’t really think about it,” said Rogers. “You’re warmed up and your adrenaline is going, and you’re totally into the game. But before the game? You’re just like, ‘I can’t believe we have to warm up in this. This sucks.’
“It’s always like this when we have games here,” Rogers continued. “It was beautiful in Columbus this week. I had barbeques, I went skateboarding, and then on game day, it was hail and lightning at Northstar (Café) today, and then rain and wind tonight. I guess it’s just, like, The Curse of Columbus.”
“Every time we leave Columbus, it gets nice out here while we’re gone,” Duka laughed. “Before the game, I guarantee you that nobody was happy about the weather.”
Burns is confident that the Crew’ presence can alter the weather anywhere.
“I feel like if we played a game in Mexico right now, it would snow,” Burns said. “No matter what we do, it’s just not meant to be.”
ROBBIE ROGERS: THE COCKTAIL
First came the person. Then came the website. And on Sunday, a tweet alerted the world that a new cocktail named The Robbie Rogers was available at the Taj Mahal Bar on High Street. The drink is the brainchild of bartender Michael Goff. It consists of rum, handcrafted blackberry simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and is garnished with blackberries and a lemon wheel.
“After Saturday’s performance, I woke up on Sunday knowing I wanted to give the Crew a shout-out for persevering through a cold and stormy night in Crew Stadium,” said Goff. “At Taj Mahal Bar, the bartenders are encouraged to come up with new things for our daily $3.00 feature cocktail, so I thought about making a variation on the Black & Gold or Black &Yellow, but there are at least a half-dozen drinks sharing that name and none of them felt right for a bright, spring cocktail. Using our team colors as an inspiration, however, led to using blackberries and lemons for the flavor profile. Once I decided that, the rest was just dark-arts bartender kung-fu.”
Goff said it made sense to name the drink after Rogers.
“Robbie's goal on Saturday was such a cracker and his work rate had been excellent all night,” Goff said, adding that the produce involved in the drink also came from Robbie’s native California.
Rogers didn’t know of the drink until he saw Goff’s tweet, which he then re-tweeted.
“When I read his tweet, I was like, ‘Dang, that’s cool. I’m going to retweet that’,” Rogers said.
“When Robbie re-tweeted my original mention of the drink, I was pretty stoked,” Goff said. “You never know if someone is going to be put off by something like that, but I hope he took it as a compliment.”
It would appear so, even though Rogers isn’t much of an imbiber. His preferred beverages are Argentine mate and good old-fashioned chocolate milk. Nevertheless, he said he may stop by to order his namesake drink. Then again, how does one go about doing that?
“I guess if I cruised in there, I would just ask for the Robbie Rogers,” he said. “It would be weird to ask for ‘a myself.’”
Goff has asked that if anyone, including Robbie, wants to come in to get a Robbie Rogers cocktail, please tweet him at @MichaeltheG1 so he came make sure that he has the ingredients available. The initial offering was a great success, as it sold briskly on Sunday and Monday. The drink also got some good reviews.
“My favorite reaction,” Goff said, “had to be from a customer on Sunday night, who said, ‘Well, it's strong, well-balanced, good-looking, and the ladies sure seem to like it. It’s not unlike Robbie Rogers himself.’”
Goff may have more Crew-themed drinks up his sleeve in the future. He describes himself as a staunch Crew supporter for the past five years, although he could not go to many games until moving to Columbus in 2010. He immediately started making up for lost time.
“The day I moved was July 3, and after lugging boxes and furniture all day, the first thing I did was march down to the Hudson Street Hooligans clubhouse, sign up for a membership, and attended that night’s Crew game. We beat the Fire, naturally.”
As for his next Crew concoction, even Goff isn’t sure what it will be.
“I like the idea of doing different drinks for each player, but what in the world would I put in a Chad Marshall Plan? Bourbon and iron shavings?”
QUESTION OF THE NIGHT
“Is that periwinkle?” – Columbus Dispatch reporter Tom Reed, upon seeing the Sporks’ uniforms. After consultation with an online color wheel, it was agreed by all that the Sporks unis were periwinkle in nature. To give credit where credit is due, Tom’s observation directly inspired my “periwinkle prairie-dwellers” reference in the opening paragraph.
ROOT CAUSE IDENTIFIED, PROBLEM SOLVED FOR NEXT HOME GAME
After the game, a staffer went to toss a beer bottle into the garbage, when Director of Team Operations Tucker Walther chastised him and told him to put it in the recycling container.
“This (crappy) weather is probably caused by some weird environmental (crap),” Tucker admonished. “This is all your fault.”
Apparently, it’s the butterfly effect’s lesser known twin, the beer bottle effect. With the beer bottle safely placed in the recycling container, everyone can now breathe easy and buy their tickets with confidence, since better weather is now scientifically guaranteed for the April 30 home matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Once again, Tucker has saved the day.
Questions? Comments? Think that Pneumonia Night would be a suitable early-season Crew promotion? (“The first 5,000 fans get a free post-game chest x-ray courtesy of OhioHealth!”) Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk