Sirk's Notebook: 2012 Debut Edition

G-Baum's saves, Stadium improvements, a tweeting Finch, and much more

Andy Gruenebaum

Photo Credit: 
Jamie Sabau

On the surface, Crewsmas is about spending time with the Crew family and celebrating the renewal of spring and strengthening the bonds of our togetherness and blahblahblah. But opening the presents is always the best part. In 2012, Crew fans got to unwrap and enjoy two new Crewmas gifts bought for them by McCullers, Bliss, and Warzycha during the height of the Crewsmas shopping season: midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and forward Olman Vargas. Both would score in their home debut, leading the Crew to a 2-0 victory over the visiting Montreal Impact.

As always, here are a collection of notes, quotes, anecdotes, and/or general silliness surrounding Saturday’s game.

HELLO MILO

Mirosevic was all over the field in his home debit, making tackles near the back line and looking dangerous in the final third. He completed an astonishing 90.4% of his passes. Those are center-back-knocking-it-around-the-back-line accuracy numbers, but Mirosevic did it as a central midfielder.

In the 19th minute, he suffered a red-card elbow to the head while going up for an aerial challenge with Montreal’s Jed Brovsky. Brovsky did not swing his elbow with intent, a la Andy Herron on Jay Heaps several years ago, but his elbow was high and caught Mirosevic in the noggin. With concussion awareness at an all-time high, referees are not apt to be so forgiving for wayward elbows, regardless of intent. None of the Crew players I talked to felt it was a malicious elbow, including Mirosevic, even though he didn’t appreciate the knock to the head.

“I don’t think he meant to hit me as he did,” Mirosevic said, “but there are things in football that always happen, and you have to get used to it. I have nothing to say about that.”

Just eleven minutes later, Mirosevic scored his first goal in a Crew uniform on a penalty kick conversion. The penalty was the result of Emilio Renteria’s relentless effort. The hulking forward had the ball about 25 yards from goal, surrounded by six blue shirts. With nowhere to go with the ball, he decided to bull his way through the crowd. He fought off two challenges outside the box, changing direction each time. Then he accelerated into the box and survived a lunge from behind by Impact midfielder Felipe Martins. However, Felipe would not go quietly. He grabbed Renteria’s arm and lunged from behind a second time. Felipe’s foot touched the top of the ball as he bounced off of Renteria’s muscular frame. As Felipe fell to the ground, he rolled up the back of Renteria’s legs and brought him down with a tangled, reverse scissor tackle, just as Renteria took another touch.

“I think that play was like the game for him,” Mirosevic said. “There were two guys always around him.”

Mirosevic then stepped to the spot and went to the upper left side of the net, beating Montreal goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Mirosevic figures to be the primary penalty kick taker on the team.

“It started in preseason,” he said, “and I scored a few there, so I feel confidence in this moment to take them. But when I am not going to feel confident, I will hand the ball to somebody else.”

Since he felt confident on Saturday, he got himself a goal courtesy of Renteria’s grunt work.

“Yes, thank you!” Milo said as he patted Renteria on the back, eliciting a smile from his teammate.

MEET GOL-MAN OLMAN VARGAS

Vargas proved to be a very good aerial target and a dangerous partner for Renteria. In the 66th minute, he got on the end of a Shaun Francis cross and headed home the insurance goal on what Crew head coach Robert Warzycha dubbed “a perfect shot.” Given that Ricketts was playing out of his mind in the Montreal net, a perfect shot was required.  Upon scoring, Vargas raced to the Nordecke, turned around, and used his thumbs to point at the name on the back of his jersey.

“It was the first one, so people get to know me,” he said with a laugh.

As for the goal itself, Vargas said, “There was good movement off the ball. We have been working in practice on the movement, like running to the first post. It was a good cross and I finished it well. The experience was unexplainable. It was exciting to come here and score for the first time. It gave me confidence because that is what a forward is supposed to do.”


DANGEROUS TRIO

With Mirosevic playing behind the Renteria-Vargas forward tandem, the Crew’s offense looked infinitely more dangerous than it did with Renteria as the sole striker in Colorado. Of course, the Crew also played up a man, but this trio looked like a handful. Especially with Renteria bulldozing by land and Vargas soaring above.

“Compared to one or two weeks before, we are already feeling more confidence with each other,” Renteria said of his partnership with Vargas. “We know when one of us makes a movement, the other one makes the other movement.”

“I felt very comfortable since Emilio is a guy who has been in the league for a couple of years already,” Vargas said. “We communicated well so we knew how to move off of the ball.”

On Saturday, it was Renteria who did a lot of the grunt work, both on and off the ball. “I thought it was physical and I also struggled a lot,” he said, “so today was my day for running. I would run knowing that the ball might not be coming to me. Today was my day for teamwork.”

Mirosevic agreed.

“The two forwards did a great job of running for every ball,” he said, “so I think maybe that’s why Emilio was a little exhausted at the end.”

The effect of the forward combo can be felt elsewhere on the field. For left back Shaun Francis, who likes to get forward, it’s a blessing to have those targets in the opposing penalty area.

“Having Vargas and Emilio, you know that if you put a ball in the box, they are going to go fight,” he said. “You just want to keeping serving the ball and playing them in the box because you don’t want them to lose confidence and not put in the effort to go for a ball. If I play a bad ball, they are going to be upset, so I have to keep playing good balls. Today it paid off and we got a good goal by Vargas.”
 

MAN OF THE MATCH: ANDY GRUENEBAUM

The Hebrew Hammer earned the locker room champagne bottle as the Crew’s Man of the Match. He made six saves in picking up the shutout. He deflected the honor as it if were a Montreal shot on goal.

“The guys in front of me, Chad and Danny, game in and game out, make the game predictable,” Gruenebaum said. “I think you’re going to see shots in any game in this league. It’s rare that you don’t. If they can make it predictable, then yeah, you might have to make some big saves, but I have to credit those guys in front of me. It starts with the back four, and the team defending was better today.”

Gruenebaum is making the most of his opportunity while incumbent starter William Hesmer recovers from a preseason ankle injury. The Crew’s goalkeeping situation, which also includes homegrown keeper Matt Lampson, is starting to look eerily reminiscent of the Crew’s forward logjam near the turn of the century, back when Brian McBride, Dante Washington, Jeff Cunningham, and Edson Buddle fought each other for minutes. It’s even harder for goalkeepers since, unlike forwards, only one of them can play at a time.

“We’re fortunate enough to have the best tandem of goalkeepers in the league,” O’Rourke said. “Obviously, we want Will back to 100% healthy, but we know that when Gruenebaum is in there, we don’t skip a beat. We miss some of Will’s leadership, but I think Andy did a good job of communicating today, which helped. So while we miss Will’s leadership, I think where Andy can make up for that is with certain saves that he can make to keep us in the game. Today he did what he does best. The guy is just an incredible shot saver. He’s very quick and has great reflexes. We’re so fortunate to have both of those guys.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL BOOST

After a lackluster shutout loss in Colorado two weeks earlier, the Crew got a much needed boost by winning at home.

“After we lost the game in Colorado, it was two very difficult weeks,” said Mirosevic. “In the moment of the game where they miss a player, it was very important for us to score in that moment because if we didn’t do it and it went to the second half at 0-0, maybe we would start being a little nervous and more anxious. I’m happy for that, most of all because I think the team performed in a good way today.”

Gruenebaum said there was no need to hit the panic button after the Colorado loss. “It was one game,” he said. “And playing at Colorado, clearly there’s a reason why we are unsuccessful there, and why a lot of teams are unsuccessful there. Today was our home opener. We knew we were going to have a good crowd and we didn’t want to disappoint them. We got the job done. That was the most important thing.”

“We were very sad for the game in Colorado,” said Renteria, “but we had to turn the page and keep working because when we play here, people like us to be winning all the time. Our confidence has to be up all the time when we play here.”

Danny O’Rourke knows that it wasn’t a flawless victory, and that the Crew had the benefit of a red card and a penalty kick, so he’s not one to get too carried away by the Crewsmas spirit.

“At the end of the day, we’ll take it,” he said, “but last year we got in the habit of winning games while a man up, so let’s not get in that habit. I mean, we need to win those games, but there were times when (Montreal’s) Josh (Gardner) whipped in some good crosses from his side and we didn’t do a good job of getting onto our man on some headers. They could have made it 1-0 even after the red card. We need to look at the film and get better.”

Mirosevic acknowledged that there is more to work on, but he left the field satisfied with the Crew’s performance on the whole.

“I think we have to improve a little bit on a lot of things still,” Milo said, “but I finish happy today because we scored two goals and we had, like, three or four clear chances. That’s important to start saying, ‘Okay, we are doing good things.’”

GBAUM’S MOST ACROBATIC SAVE

While Gruenebaum made more important saves over the course of the match, including a quick reaction save on a Sanna Nyassi header in the 15th minute, his most acrobatic stop came in the 87th minute when he had to change directions and launch himself in order to barely tip a shot deflected by O’Rourke’s lunging block attempt.

“Danny’s still looking for his first MLS goal and he doesn’t care which goal it goes in,” Gruenebaum said. “He thanked me for saving the own goal, and I thanked him for padding my stats.”

O’Rourke, naturally, had a different recollection.

“Would that have been an own goal?” he wondered while receiving treatment from head athletic trainer Dave Lagow. “If so, would I have celebrated? I was so angry when he saved it. I yelled at him. He robbed me. What was more impressive is that the guy was going across, so Andy was leaning the other way, then had to change direction and make an ODP save.”

ODP stands for Olympic Development Program, which is the first rung in identifying youth players for national consideration. It would be fair to say that ODP goalkeepers engage in some show dives to make their saves look more impressive. And that’s what Danny saw on that play.

“He kicked his legs out a little bit for extra emphasis,” O’Rourke noted. “Remember when Andy made SportsCenter’s ‘Not Top Ten’ when he got scored on by (New York goalkeeper) Danny Cepero?”

Lagow just shook his head, adding, “All you need to is to give him the slightest little crack when talking about Gbaum and he will somehow work in that Danny Cepero story.”

Undeterred, O’Rourke continued. “The point is, I think he gave that little extra leg kick to try to get into SportsCenter’s real Top Ten. I hope he does. I believe he was number two on the Not Top Ten, so he has to do two or better on the real Top Ten to cancel it out.”

I didn’t watch SportsCenter that night, so I don’t know whether or not Gbaum is squared away in Danny’s mental SportsCenter ledger.

DANNY AND CHAD: TOGETHER AGAIN

There’s something about leap years that sees O’Rourke transition to center back to team up with Chad Marshall. With injuries to Julius James and Carlos Mendes, the finally-healthy versatile midfielder/defender slid back into the position he first learned during the Crew’s championship season.

“Any time you’re playing around Chad it’s easy,” O’Rourke said. “He cleans the ball up well. I think playing there has eased the transition in terms of regaining my fitness because I don’t have to run as much as I would in the center of the park or as an outside back, so I’ve been able to mentally get back into the game and still get 90 minutes in. It’s pretty fun to be back there with Chad, cracking jokes and reminiscing.”

Wait, what?

“Chad and I are trying to become friends again,” O’Rourke explained. “After 2009, I had surgery, and he had his girlfriend, and then I bought a puppy, and then Halo came out with Halo Reach and everyone stopped playing Halo 3, so we stopped having that in common, and then he became a Columbus State student which takes up a lot of his time because that’s pretty difficult for him, and then I started hanging out with Dave (Lagow) a lot and Chad got jealous because Dave and I had a good relationship, but then I started talking to other doctors and Dave got jealous….so after all that, Chad and I are trying to rekindle our friendship.”

Oh. In that case, hopefully their re-bonding will receive a boost from additional rounds of shutout therapy.

J-WILL MAKES MLS DEBUT

Josh Williams got the most anticipated Crewsmas gift of all. He signed with the Crew on September 15, 2010. That fall, he made a pair of appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League, coming off the bench at Municipal and starting at Joe Public. And then he didn’t see another official minute of action until he made his MLS debut in the 75th minute on Saturday.

“It’s a dream come true,” Williams said of finally taking the field at Crew Stadium. “It’s been a long time in the making. It was good to get out there and help the team to a 2-0 win. I’m just glad I was able to contribute.”

Williams’ odyssey was underscored just six minutes earlier, when forward Aaron Schoenfeld made his Crew debut after signing with the club the day before.

“I was actually joking with him about that,” Williams said. “I told him, ‘For me, this was a long time coming. For you, you come in and sign and you’re on in a couple of days.’ I was joking with him, but I was also really happy for him.”

Plenty of players and staff were glad to see Williams get finally rewarded with minutes.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Shaun Francis, echoing the comments of many. “I see him all day at practice and he’s put in a lot of work. There’s nothing else you can ask for from a kid like Josh. It paid off. He got in today. And I think he’s a very solid player. He did well.”
 
Despite the happy occasion, Williams didn’t have a chance to immediately celebrate the milestone. After the league match, the Akron native and Cleveland State alum started and played 74 minutes in the reserve match.

“I was telling Duncan that I came into the game in the 75th minute and there’s a big crowd and it’s such a high and an adrenaline rush, and then 15 minutes later, you have to sit down. And then you have to try to get ready for another game. It took me a few minutes to find my legs again.”

TRE’S REVERVE LEAGUE BOMB

The Crew’s reserves dropped a 2-1 decision, but the highlight was unquestionably an 89th minute bomb from rookie right back Tre Perry. The ball came out to Perry roughly 25 yards from goal. He unleashed a wicked shot to the upper 90 of the far post.

“When you’re in that spot on a set piece, you always dream about what if it pops out to me,” Perry said of his massive blast. “You just visualize it, and then it popped out to me perfectly. I had time and just took a swing. It flew the right way this time.”

Williams, watching from the bench, loved it.

“He played well all day, and when that ball game to him, we were yelling from the sideline for him to hit it,” Williams said. “As soon as he hit it, everyone jumped off the bench because we knew it was in. That was a great strike, man. That was awesome. I’m not gonna say it was luck. I mean, I haven’t seen him hit one like that before, but maybe he only saves it for games. I don’t know. (Former Crew midfielder, Adam) Moffat had a bomb, but maybe Tre’s got that in his back pocket. Urso hit a couple of those in preseason, with both his left and right foot, so we all know Urso’s got a bomb, but that was the first one I’ve seen from Tre. I’ll take it. That was a great hit.”

So is this indeed part of the Perry arsenal?

“I guess it is!” Perry laughed. He declined to do battle with Urso’s stockpile of Moffat Rockets, adding, “I wouldn’t put myself in his class in terms of striking them from distance.”

STADIUM IMPROVEMENTS, PART ONE

The Crew unveiled many new stadium improvements this Crewsmas, and one of my favorites is the series of historical photo banners lining the lower concourses. There were a lot of great memories highlighted, such as Crew Cat triumphantly lifting Robert Warzycha after his golden goal against San Jose in 2000, Frankie Hejduk kissing MLS Cup, Chad Marshall’s iconic header over Brian McBride in the 2008 Eastern Conference Final, the U.S. Men’s National Team celebrating their official qualification to the World Cup after Dos-A-Cero, Part Dos, in 2005, and many, many more.

After the game, O’Rourke said he hadn’t had a chance to go out and look at all of the various banners, but he also figured he didn’t need to.

“I just assumed there was a separate banner for every job that Duncan does for the club,” he said of his ubiquitous former teammate, Duncan Oughton. "Let’s see, there’s coach…and I use that term lightly… game announcer, radio host, ticket sales, Bliss's secretary, and Crew Cat. Without Duncan, the club might fall apart.”

COMEMORATING A TWEETING FINCH

Josh Williams was finally rewarded for his hard work over the years. Someday, Jamie Finch will hopefully know the feeling. On March 19, the Crew released Finch, a supplemental draft pick from the University of Washington. Because of a knee injury that prevented him from joining the team until a month into camp, Finch was behind the curve from the outset. The reality is that it’s difficult for a supplemental pick to earn a roster spot without a healthy and productive pre-season, especially with other quality professional trialists at the same position.

When a supplemental draftee gets released, it rarely causes a ripple. But these guys are real people with real dreams, and every now and then, it’s good to take notice. In his short few weeks with the team, Finch made it easy to take notice. He quickly claimed the title of best tweeter in Crew history. (You can follow him at @ImCalledFinch.) Remember Mike Mucino’s goal scoring binge in the 2001 preseason? Finch pulled off the twitter equivalent of that in 2012. He quickly bonded with the Crew’s twitter fan base through a barrage of amusing tweets and plenty of fan interaction.

My plan was to have a regular Notebook feature where Finch and I delved deeper into a favorite, recent tweet of his as the season went along. All of that went out the window with his release, but I feel his brief and digitally memorable stay should be commemorated somehow. What follows is a much-abridged timeline of Finch’s three and a half weeks with the Columbus Crew. He has also elaborated via email on a few select tweets.

* February 23: About to head to my first practice in a #Crew96 jersey. STOKEDD

* February 23: I'm trying to control a toenail jailbreak right now, I have already lost one and another is plotting a very painful escape as we speak.

* February 28: Saw a list of banned supplements... I'm shocked that people voluntarily consume stuff called Jet Fuel, Spawn, Jungle Warfare and Nasty Mass.

* February 28: I've been reading a book, while pacing the hotel hallway, while wearing cleats that I'm trying to break in... glad there weren't witnesses.

* February 29: Luckily all of us have been eating at Firehouse Subs all week down in Charleston so we can put out the Fire. #Crew96

* March 1: Just like there are Africanized bees I'm convinced there are Charlestonized gnats down here. They are vicious.

“Those gnats really were out of control,” Finch later added. “I had never even heard of gnats biting. They’re definitely more benign in Seattle, but down in Charleston, they were all over the place when there wasn't wind. I remember someone having a bunch of bites, I think it may have been Lampson, but I know they were quite an annoyance for everyone.”

* March 3: It's raining pretty hard. If the field floods, I assume l'll be converted from left back to coxswain so we can compete as the rowing Crew.

* March 3: First time in the Midwest tomorrow. Not sure what to expect other than the descent into Columbus being my last elevation change for a while.

* March 5: This morning made me question why there isn't a law that requires housekeeping to make sure there are no alarms set for new hotel guests.

* March 5: Venturing out to OSU campus in the snow to see what makes the football player alums put the "The" in "The Ohio State University."

“I still don't really understand the whole ‘THE’ thing, but it was nice,’ Finch added. “The Horseshoe wasn't exactly what I would call an example of beautiful architecture, but it was pretty impressive just because of the size and the reputation. I can't say it lives up to UW campus or stadium, but anyone that has been to Seattle on a nice day knows that is pretty hard to beat.”

[NOTE: I have spent about eight days in Seattle in my life, and it has been gorgeous and sunny every single day. Nary a raindrop. I am convinced they invent the rain thing just to keep people away.—SS.]
 
*  March 8: Major milestone today... I've officially been with the Crew for one haircut. For me, that's a standard measure of time.

“It’s usually about two weeks in between haircuts,” Finch wrote when asked to clarify the time measurement. “Unfortunately, I only made it to the first one.  It really is pretty close to being clockwork though.”

* March 9: If Disney is ever looking for replacement elevators on their Tower of Terror rides I think our hotel has a worthy candidate.

Seems Finch wasn’t the only one to have taken that ride. “It was kind of funny, whenever we told guys on the team where we were staying, everyone would get a knowing look on their face.”

* March 10: "Wave of obesity hits Columbus as overzealous Crew fans take the slogan ‘Be Massive’ too literally." #fakeheadlines

* March 12: It's a bit odd that a city named after a famous nautical explorer is completely landlocked. "In 1492, Columbus sailed the"... Olentangy?

* March 13: If you were to picture Columbus as a hurricane of restaurants and points of interest our hotel would fall squarely in the eye of that storm.

* March 14: It is Pi Day which reminds me that there is a new American Pie movie that will inevitably result in more bad jokes referring to my last name.

“Brook, our strength coach, is notorious for always throwing out movie lines,” Finch added. “Cole (Grossman) would even test him by naming a movie and then having him name a quote from the movie. When I first got here, he had a couple lines from American Pie that I hadn't heard for a little while. Never gets old…”

* March 16: Better slide tackle someone early in the game tomorrow... Grass stains count as wearing green right? #Crew96

* March 18: Struggling to get enough sleep in the room with an air-conditioner that sounds like it was made by Harley Davidson. #hotelliving

“You seriously should have heard the air-conditioner in our room, though. It drowned out the TV and anything else that was going on and woke me up on several occasions.”

* March 19: Heading back to Seattle tomorrow... wish things had gone differently, but enjoyed my time here. Good luck to all of the guys and #Crew96.

* March 19: Meanwhile, all over Columbus, Crew fans hover over the unfollow button.

Far from hovering over the unfollow button, Finch continued to attract more followers, even after his release. He developed a quick bond with online Crew fans, and continues to churn out amusing tweets as he trains and looks for his next opportunity. (March 23: “While doing hills 2day my surroundings started looking like an Instagram pic. Either exhaustion or hill workouts bring out my artistic side.”)

“Overall, my time with the Crew was a great experience,” Finch wrote in an email. “Obviously, I wish things could have gone differently. Getting to know the guys has to have been the highlight and it really is one of the best groups of individuals I have been a part of.”

As for his active tweeting, Finch felt that the fan interaction had tangential benefits.

“I'm glad people got some entertainment from my tweets. Twitter helped to maintain my sanity through the many days of hotel life. It was great to see the response that I got from Crew fans and fun to get to share some of the stupid stuff I come up with. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the support for the team in real life, but the online support seems to be alive and kicking for the Crew. Hopefully at some point in the future, there will be more #Crew96 tweets on my Twitter feed.”

Finch continues to work on getting healthy and fit so he is ready the next time opportunity knocks. Crew teammate Eric Gehrig described Finch as “a clever young man” and feels that he will be an asset wherever he winds up.

“For me, I appreciate the player that you know you can count on to give his very best every time he steps onto the field, and that's what Jamie is,” Gehrig said. “In his few chances to play because of the knee, Jamie battled and scrapped with all he had, despite the fact he had a bum knee. Not to mention that his left foot is candy. In the end, it didn't work out, but I know Jamie will find his place somewhere in the soccer world. His attitude, effort, and desire are contagious and what every coach wants in a player. Throw in his technical skill as a player, and he's class. A little more experience and time around the pro game and Jamie will push through.”

Considering that his two preseason roommates, Nemanja Vukovic and Aaron Schoenfeld, successfully signed with the Crew, Finch jokingly developed a plan to continue to helping the Crew even if he’s not on the roster. When told that he was the anti-Robbie Rogers in terms of keeping roommates in Columbus, he replied, “Yeah, the Crew should hire me as a professional roommate. Maybe I'll get the call if they are on the DP hunt.”

SPEAKING OF AMERICAN PIE…

Finch isn’t the Crew’s only link to the American Pie movie franchise. After all, Andy Gruenebaum has starred as the character Jim in each movie.

 “Hopefully as I age, people won’t think I look like him anymore,” Gruenebaum said. “In high school, I could see it. I knew somehow this would come up.”

So with Gbaum as Jim, and a guy named Finch, the Crew were really working the American Pie angle this pre-season.

“That’s how we’ve got to draft guys from now on,” Gruenebaum said. “We need to get a cast going. I think there’s a few Stiffler types in here, but we need an actual lookalike Stiffler.”

And a lookalike Stiffler’s Mom for Finch. And let’s not forget that back in 2002, the Crew also had a Shermanator, which was Brian Dunseth’s nickname for rookie teammate Chris Leitch.
 
RANDOM FASHION NON-SEQUITER OF THE DAY

O’Rourke: “How much did you pay for that shirt?”

Gruenebaum: “I got a good deal on it.”

O’Rourke: “Did Uncle Mort make it at the tailor?”

HOW RUSTY WON AN AWARD

Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel won the award for MLS Equipment Manager of the Year in 2011. On Saturday, we may have learned the real reason why.

After the game, team operations man Tucker Walther said something to team physician Dr. Johnson about getting him an updated sideline jacket for 2012. Dr. J said, “No, that’s OK. I’m waiting on Rusty to offer me one out of the goodness of his heart.”

This elicited much laughter from everyone within earshot. Especially since Rusty has to be extra-protective of his equipment inventory early in the season to ensure that it lasts the year. This prompted Danny O to launch into a theory.

“Rusty was named Equipment Manager of the Year last year, probably because he gave out the least amount of stuff,” Danny said. “At the end of the year, whichever equipment manager returns the most unused stuff to adidas or the league wins that award. It would be like if I started a No Goals in MLS Award and it was me and a bunch of rookies who only played in two games. I just might have a chance to win that.”

I noted that since Danny has played in the first two games and Carlos Mendes has been out injured, he has once again vaulted ahead of Mendes, 147 scoreless MLS appearances to 146.

Danny nodded. “I’m the one who hurt his hamstring so I could get that record back.”

NCAA POOL

Gruenebaum has taken to running an NCAA pool with predictable results.

“I’m in first,” he said. “My two brackets are first and second. My wife’s bracket is in third. Tommy (Heinemann) is hot on our heels. People think I rig it. They asked me to run it, and then when I’m winning, people say, ‘I’m not giving you my money because clearly you rigged it.’ We locked it into ESPN! There’s nothing I can do. It’s locked into ESPN. I can’t touch it!”

“I feel differently,” countered O’Rourke. “And Will’s not paying because he said it’s an inside job. It’s a broken record. This guy cheats at everything. The first person to jump up and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll take care of the basketball pool’ is Gruenebaum. Yeah, of course you will…”

Instead of being excited that his two teams—a Kansas Jayhawk since birth and a Kentucky Wildcat since going to school there— are both alive in the Final Four, as predicted in his brackets, Gruenebaum is under siege from those whose brackets haven’t fared as well. It has taken its toll.

“I’m not running anything anymore,” Gruenebaum said. “I try to be a good guy and run things, and then people complain. So I’m done. I’m not running anything. Until fantasy football.”

Which, conveniently, is the next thing.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: MAPLE LAUGH EDITION

With the victory over Montreal, not only did the Crew improve to 3-0-1 against Canadian teams on Crewsmas, but they improved their total all-time record against Canadian teams to 8-1-7. They are 5-1-7 vs. Toronto, 2-0-0 vs. Vancouver, and 1-0-0 vs. Montreal.

On Saturday, at 2pm on Fox Sports Ohio, the Crew will look to avenge their only loss to a Canadian team, as it was Toronto FC that laid an astonishing 4-2 whipping on the Crew last September 10 at Crew Stadium. This will be the first time the teams have met since then, and the Crew will be looking to remain unbeaten all-time on Canadian soil.

Well, technically, they have never won on Canadian soil either. They are 0-0-2 on Canadian soil and 2-0-3 on Canadian FieldTurf.  But you get the idea.

STADIUM IMPROVEMENTS, PART TWO

During the Crew’s college scrimmage doubleheader on St. Patrick’s Day, Crew Stadium operations guru Scott DeBolt dropped this amazing factoid on me:

On that one day, with just a few hundred people in attendance, the Crew sold more footlong hotdogs than they did at any of the three regular season games at which they were available in 2011. To be fair, the footlongs were only available in select locations on three dates last year and weren’t publicized at all, while this year they are one of the many upgraded menu options around the stadium.

Still, that factoid is mindboggling. Groping for an answer, DeBolt said, “Either it’s because we didn’t publicize them last year, or it says a lot about our diets this year.”

Who watches their diet during the Crewsmas holiday season? Nobody, that’s who. Certainly not the Crew, who once again feasted upon the traditional Canadian cuisine on Crewmas.

Questions? Comments? Think it’s fitting that the team that has committed the most fouls in MLS is called the Impact? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk