Sirk's Notebook: Easter Edition

A Crew Bunny, tough loss and support for Julius James

Crew Bunny

Photo Credit: 
TJ Ansley

The Easter Bunny visited Crew Stadium on Saturday, but it was the Crew who laid an egg. The Enormous Crew Easter Egg of 2012. Eager to make a statement against a talent-laden, non-Canadian MLS team, the Crew instead suffered a 4-1 goring from the New York Red Bulls.

It wasn’t over before it began. It was over shortly after it began. The Red Bulls took the lead in the 3rd minute, and then doubled their advantage in the 13th minute. And that was before Thierry Henry had even scored a goal. He added one before the half to make it 3-0, then punctuated the romp with a goal in the 90th minute. At least it was sunny out.

“I think we played against a very good team,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha. “We didn't do much to stop them scoring goals. That's how I feel.”

The scoreboard validated the coach’s feelings.

“It was a difficult game,” added Crew midfielder Milovan Mirosevic. “We have to be disappointed with the game we played today, especially the first half. It is not impossible, but almost, to come back from 3-0 in the first half against a team that plays very good.”

EARLY HOLE

New York got off to a dream start when Henry floated a pass into the Crew penalty area. Kenny Cooper posted up against Eric Gehrig, bumped Gehrig back off the ball, then spun around and fired a low shot between Gehrig’s legs and inside the near post.

“We knew that if we gave Henry and Cooper space, they were going to punish us,” Gehrig said. “That’s what they did. The first goal, I gave too much space to Cooper on the turn.”

“I saw Gehrig and was maybe one step to the far post because Gehrig had the near,” said goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. “The only place he could have put it was apparently through his legs. It’s really unlucky because he didn’t really have anything to that near post, but when it snuck through, I knew it was trouble. In a perfect world, the ball would go off of Gehrig’s leg with no danger whatsoever, but that’s how it goes.”

“Thierry played me a great pass and found me in a great spot,” Cooper said. “Fortunately, it snuck in. It was nice to get that early goal.”

THE HOLE GETS DEEPER

Cooper bagged his second goal of the game in the 13th minute when Dane Richards waltzed around Crew midfielder Bernardo Anor and took a shot that deflected off of Gehrig as he made an attempt to block it. The deflection found Cooper’s head. His header toward the far post appeared to be going wide, but the ball had so much spin that it checked up and rolled inside the far post.

“Fortunately, that one snuck in too,” Cooper said.

Gruenebaum opted to stay on his line after the deflected shot, rather than make an aggressive play for the ball. The keeper thought it would have been a losing gamble, and his decision would have paid off if it weren’t for the wicked, path-altering spin on Cooper’s header.

“It froze me when the ball was blocked because the ball had so much spin on it and it was dipping down,” he said. “I didn’t think I could get a fist to it before Cooper could head it, so I held my ground. Then he headed it and got perfect spin on it. It’s just not a good goal to give up. It’s an unlucky goal for all involved, but when you’re scoring goals at a pace like that, you get the great bounces and you’re in the right place at the right time. It’s good for them because he definitely took advantage of the opportunity.”

Gehrig felt the goal, while unlucky in one sense, was the end result of a collective breakdown.

“We have to prevent Dane from getting the shot,” he said, “When he shot it, it hit off of my knee, went over Chad’s head, and straight to Cooper’s head. That was today in a nutshell. It was an unfortunate goal, but I would be lying if I tried to say that we couldn’t have done something to prevent that first shot. I’m not going to make excuses here.”

Henry made it 3-0 before halftime, and then the game was over for all intents and purposes. With a three-goal lead, New York sat back in the second half, and the Crew had many chances to score. Second-half substitutes Dilly Duka and Ethan Finlay provided a spark. Emilio Renteria had a pair of glorious chances to get the Crew on the board with over 25 minutes to play, but squandered both. The Crew didn’t break through until the 89th minute, when Chad Marshall headed home a Kirk Urso corner kick. In the 90th minute, Henry answered by slamming home a wicked half-volley to complete the scoring and emphatically reassert New York’s scoreboard dominance.

SECOND HALF IS CREW’S CONSOLATION, HENRY’S FRUSTRATION

The Crew, naturally, sought out the good in the second half.

“I think the second half was very positive,” Warzycha said. “We created a number of chances, and that's a positive. We can play against teams like New York, if everybody is on the same page. If we pressure, if we work hard, if we win the second ball, I think we can play. I think we showed that in the second half. We probably could have scored three or four goals. At least we had chances.”

“Unfortunately, we didn’t do it since the beginning,” added Mirosevic. “Things would be different if we played the first half like the second one.”

While it would be easy to dismiss the second half as a reflection of the scoreboard, Henry was not happy with the Red Bulls’ second half performance. Even leading 3-0 on the road, the Frenchman felt that New York tried to give the game back to Columbus.

“I was pissed with the second half,” Henry told my TheCrew.com cohort Cody Sharrett. “I think we should be better than that. We’re 3-nil up away from home. Why are you scared? Why do you panic at times in the back? Keep the ball. You’re 3-nil up, what else do you want?

“I know you still have to work hard and it’s not easy to play against Columbus, we all know it,” he continued. “But you’re 3-nil up. At times, I just thought that in the back we could be more composed. When you play a game like we played, the second half should be, in brackets, a tiny bit easier than what it was. As I said, and I’m not scared to say it, they should have come back into the game. If they put the ball in the back of the net, it could have been 3-3.”

After the Crew finally scored, it felt as if Henry’s immediate answer, in which he pulverized a half-volley into the back of the Crew net to restore the three-goal advantage, was intended as a message. That appears to have been the case, given that Henry was so unhappy with the second half.

“That’s why I was a bit pissed off when I put the ball in the back of the net because it could have been— should have been— an easier second half. You have to give them credit. Columbus came back. They fought into it and should have scored more goals.”

AFTERMATH

 The Crew glumly dissected their inexplicable slow start to the game.

“I think we came out flat for whatever reason,” said Gruenebaum. “It’s not the start you want. Those guys are on fire. We knew that going in and just needed to a better job of shutting them down. Bottom line is that we came out flat, and there’s no excuse for it at home, and it starts with me. I think the energy has to be better from the get-go.

“I think they outworked us, which is rarely the case with our team,” he continued. “It seemed like they were everywhere for second balls and knockdowns. They were moving the ball and they were playing as a team. Our success the last few weeks was based on team defending, and winning the ball, and then attacking from there. Today, they did the grinding work and then when they won the ball, they were composed.”

Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven was of similar mind and fewer words.

“We put ourselves in a whole by not coming out the way we should have,” Gaven said.  “There’s not too much to say about a game like this. Everything that could have gone wrong, did.”

RED HOT RED BULLS STRIKE FORCE

New York strikers Henry and Cooper entered the match holding the top two spots in the league scoring race. Cooper briefly passed Henry when he scored his fifth and sixth goals of the season, but Henry leapfrogged back into the lead with his sixth and seventh goals of the campaign. The duo has combined for 13 goals in five games, whereas the next closest TEAM (Real Salt Lake) has 11 goals in six games.

Cooper attributes that success to Henry and the rest of his teammates.

“It’s an incredibly talented group that’s here,” he said. “Our captain, Thierry, is exceptional. He has led by example and he was phenomenal again today. He can score goals and he can create. He’s amazing. He has everything. His quality is obvious out there. He’s a personal hero of mine, so it’s a great privilege to play on the same field as him.”

Mirosevic said that the Henry-Cooper partnership is dangerous enough without the abundant room to maneuver that the Crew generously offered from the opening whistle.

“Of course they have a good start to the season,” said Mirosevic. “They have been very effective with a lot of precision in the last part of the field. But I still think that today we gave them too much space. I don’t want to say that they didn’t do anything. I just think we helped them a lot. I don’t think it was just because of us, but as a team, I don’t think we did what we had to do.”

TARNISHED MILESTONES

One unfortunate side effect of such a romp is that it casts a pall over some otherwise cheerful milestones. For example, Kirk Urso picked up the first assist of his MLS career on Marshall’s goal. Urso has been the Crew’s corner kick specialist, and it seems a rite of passage for that role is to watch Chad Marshall thump your service into the net with his noggin.

“I know that’s part of my role on this team,” Urso said. “I am always looking to play good balls and to find Chad in there. It was definitely cool to get an assist, and I’m glad to help the team out, but with a 4-1 loss, it didn’t give us the help we needed.”

Marshall’s goal came in the 200th regular season start of his Crew career. He is now within 16 starts of Mike Clark’s club record. Alas, a goal in a milestone game didn’t seem so celebratory after all.

“Well, obviously we'd like the score to be different,” Warzycha said. “Obviously, it was nice that he scored a goal, and has played 200 games, but we'd like to remember this game a little differently.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: RED BULL BUZZSAW EDITION

On March 25, the Red Bulls throttled Colorado, 4-1. Six days later, they mauled Montreal, 5-2. And then on Saturday, they coldcocked Columbus, 4-1.

Prompted by a query from Steve Davis over at NBC Sports Network, Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that the 2012 Red Bulls have become the first MLS team to ever win three consecutive matches by at least three goals apiece.

I would like to join the rest of MLS in wishing the San Jose Earthquakes the best of luck at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. It appears that they’re going to need it. And a Chris Wondolowski double hat-trick.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: HENRY ON FIRE EDITION

Not only did Thierry Henry collect his third consecutive MLS Player of the Week award, but Peter Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau tweeted that Henry was the first MLS player to collect at least one goal and one assist in three straight matches since the Crew’s John Wilmar Perez accomplished the feat in 2001.

Doing some digging of my own, Pelusa tallied precisely one goal and one assist in a 2-1 win vs. San Jose on July 21, a 3-0 win vs. Chicago on Aug. 1, and a 3-1 win at Kansas City on Aug. 4 of that year. His streak came to an end on Aug. 11 when Robert Warzycha and Jeff Cunningham scored unassisted goals in a 2-2 draw at San Jose.

Henry, meanwhile, tallied two goals and an assist vs. Colorado, three goals and an assist vs. Montreal, and two goals and an assist in Columbus, giving him 7 goals and 3 assists during his streak. That led to me look up another fun fact.

In 2011, out of the 540 roster spots available, how many MLS players scored at least 7 goals and also recorded at least 3 assists?

The answer: 18.

In the span of THREE games, Henry has put up a combined goal and assist stat line that was equaled or surpassed by only 18 MLS players over the course THIRTY-FOUR games in 2011! And yes, Henry was one of those 18 players. He had 14 goals and 4 assists last year.

And just for fun, Henry is on pace for 48 goals and 27 assists in 2012.

RESERVES VICTORIOUS

Following the first-team debacle, the Crew’s reserves made amends the best they could, winning by a score of 2-1. Nemanja “Nestzo” Vukovic assisted on both Crew tallies.

Aaron Schoenfeld was the first beneficiary, skying above the defense to head home a Vukovic free kick in the 70th minute, giving the Crew a 1-0 lead.

“We got a free kick in a dangerous area,” Schoenfeld said. “Nestzo whips a ball off of my head. I didn’t even need to do anything. I just kinda let it hit my head. But a goal is a goal, so I’ll take it. I have to give all of the credit to the service, but it was nice to score a goal for Columbus and to get that off of my back. Hopefully I’ll get one with the first team soon.”

The Crew doubled their advantage in the 87th minute when Justin Meram received a pass from Vukovic, shook his defender loose, and then unleashed a laser into the bottom corner of the net.

“It was a great ball,” Meram said. “I just took a fake a step, a little stutter-step, and the defender jumped at it, so I just opened up my hips. I’m really comfortable doing those, and I’m glad I could get a goal.”

Sadly, Homegrown goalkeeper Matt Lampson and his defense lost their shutout in the 90th minute, but the 2-1 win was a statement of both personal and team pride.

“We’re a whole team of 30 players,” said Meram. “We watched the first game and it sucks to see our team lose. The only thing we can do is try to bring the spirits high going into training next week, and also show the coaches that anybody can step up and play a good role with the first team.”

“You want to prove that you deserve minutes with the first team,” Schoenfeld said, “so you come out here and you bring your best. And at the same time, the reserve league is a separate league, so we want to win a championship in that too.”

The 2011 Crew reserves did just that, winning the reserves’ Eastern league.

Also of note, the 89th minute marked the reserve league debut of 14-year-old Ben Swanson, who became the youngest player to appear with the Crew’s reserves. Seemingly no bigger than one of Chad Marshall’s legs, Swanson has been playing up with the Crew’s U16 team since he was 13 years old. The club clearly has their eye on him, so much so that they wanted to get him exposure to the rhythm of a professional game day. The same holds true for a few other notable locals. Crew U18 academy players Rhodes Moore, Brett Elder, and Alex Crognale appeared in the match as second half subs, while U16 goalkeeper Carter Richardson was dressed and available as Lampson’s backup.

It’s great to see promising local kids getting that kind of experience at that stage of their development. I can’t imagine it’s anything but surreal, which is all the more reason to give them that exposure at an early age. The sooner that the surreal becomes the mundane, the better off they will be.

 

GBAUM WINS NCAA POOL. (LACEY, THAT IS)

When Andy Gruenebaum’s Kansas Jayhawks lost the NCAA title game, it also cost him the championship in his NCAA pool. Instead, the victor was his wife, Lacey, who had correctly picked Gruenebaum’s alma mater, Kentucky, to prevail.

“She won it all,” Andy said in a brief concession speech. “It goes in the family pocket, so it’s all good. This is actually the first year that she didn’t ask me for every pick, which is probably why she won. I’m disappointed KU didn’t win, but then again, I went to UK, so it’s all good.”

100% SUPPORT FOR THE FALLEN TRINI

On Thursday, Crew defender Julius James was hospitalized with a spontaneous pneumothorax. It’s hard for me to imagine anything wiping the perpetual easygoing smile off of Julius’ face, but that surely did the trick.

Alas, the smile undoubtedly returned as a hospitalized James began receiving messages from fans and images from Crew Stadium. Banner making legend Rick Thomas created the following banner on behalf of Crew fans everywhere:

James was so moved by the banner and the outpouring of support that he received from the Crew community that he posted the following caps-locked comment on his Facebook page:

“I AM VERY HUMBLED AND SOO THANKFUL FOR THE LOVE, SUPPORT AND PRAYERS THAT EVERYONE HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO SHOW ME OVER THE PAST FEW DAYS...

I AM VERY GRATEFUL AND I FEEL BLESSED TO KNOW SO MANY CARING INDIVIDUALS

I LOVE U”

SNOOZING JULIUS

To end on a lighter note, Julius gave me permission to share this candid photo that I didn’t publish in the Toronto Notebook. As we waited for the very early flight home Sunday morning, most of the guys checked email or chatted amongst themselves. A few guys saw the wait as an opportunity to catch a few more Zs. While someone like, say, Kevan George, awkwardly folded his gangly self into the most uncomfortable position imaginable before nodding off, Julius napped with his usual panache.

As Tucker Walther and I observed Julius snoozing, Tucker said we had to take a picture. Was it because, unlike his uncomfortable countryman, Julius had his shoes off and his feet up? No, although it was befitting of his laid-back style. What made Tucker and I giggle was the appearance that Julius had somehow smuggled a handgun through security and was using it in a stickup in his dreams.

That would be the most easygoing, friendly, chilled out stickup ever.

Get well soon, Julius.

Questions? Comments? Wondering how to fit the Enormous Crew Easter Egg of 2012 into that little dipping cup of dye? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk