Sirk's Notebook: Gaven breaks out

Gaven tallies two, first starts and Danny O returns

Gaven_Schoenfeld

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Two weeks after laying the Enormous Easter Egg of 2012, and a week after a numbing loss in Philadelphia, the previously ice-cold Crew heated up at wind-chilled Crew Stadium. Fueled by five lineup changes and a funk-busting two-goal performance from Eddie Gaven, the Crew played to a 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. Was it a hard-fought point earned after falling behind 1-0 to a good team? Or two points squandered after taking a 2-1 lead? Both. But most importantly, it was an exciting sign of life after two rough losses.

As usual, here’s a collection of notes, quotes, and absurd tangents from Saturday…

HOUSTON GETS ON THE BOARD

Houston took the lead in the 59th minute on a corner kick header by Will Bruin. With normal set piece specialist Brad Davis sidelined, ex-Crew man Adam Moffat did the honors. He swerved a good ball that Bruin looped inside the far post after redirecting it with the back of his head. Moffat jokingly took credit for coaching the second-year forward.

“Back of the head!” Moffat said. “I’d done that before, so I told him, ‘I’d done that against Kansas a few years ago. Use the back of your head. Nobody expects it.’ But no, Will Bruin’s a great young player. Good for him for scoring another goal today, and he made it good for me since I’m not the regular set piece taker. If you can swing a good ball in, we have a lot of big guys, as you may have noticed, so it’s good for me.”

Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was helpless on the perfectly placed redirection.

“There was a lot of traffic in front and I didn’t really get a good look at the ball off his head,” he said. “I just saw where it was going and just couldn’t get there. It’s frustrating to give up a set piece goal. It’s something we pride ourselves in. We’ve got to do a better job than that.”

CREW FLIP THE SCORE

The Crew quickly erased the deficit. In the 63rd minute, Emilio Renteria pressured Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall into a poor headed clearance that went to the feet Eddie Gaven at the edge of the box. Gaven’s rolling shot hit the back of the net, abetted by a touch from Houston defender Andre Hainault. The goal was initially ruled an own goal before it was rightfully attributed to Gaven since the shot was going in the net regardless of Hainault’s touch.

“Basically, he was in the right time at the right place,” Warzycha said of Gaven.

For his second goal, Gaven shifted from opportunistic to eye-popping. The Crew took the lead in the 74th minute when Gaven cracked a 22-yard left-footed half-volley. Left back Nemanja Vukovic swung a cross into the area, where forward Aaron Schoenfeld chested it down into the path of Gaven, who absolutely whaled the ball into the upper reaches of the net. It was a stunning goal.

“I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best,” Gaven said with his typical humility. “Credit to Aaron as well for battling and chesting the ball down perfectly for me to shoot.”

Schoenfeld and Vukovic each picked up their first career MLS assist on the play. Schoenfeld shrugged off the plaudits.

“It was a cross that came in at chest level,” he explained, “and I saw Eddie streaking in and he had a clear shot, so I laid it down to him. The layoff was the simple part, man. That was an unbelievable finish by Eddie. I can’t believe it. That’s going to be one of the easiest points I ever get in MLS.”

Milovan Mirosevic marveled at the shot after the game, laughing about his own reaction as it happened.

“Great strike,” Milo said. “I was like, ‘No, no, no don’t do it…GOAL!’ His left foot was great.”

HOUSTON EQUALIZES

Unfortunately for the Crew, the lead did not last long. In the 81st minute, the Crew lost focus in their box. A Chad Marshall clearance eluded Josh Williams and went to Bruin. The Dynamo forward then beat Williams off the dribble and played a low pass across the six yard box. Brian Ching found the space between Marshall and Sebastian Miranda, and he had himself an easy knock-in to knot the score at 2.

“There was a lot of traffic in front and I was looking for the ball,” Gruenebaum said. “By the time I saw it, Chad was right there so I yelled ‘away’ because their guy was closing in and I didn’t think I could get to it. Chad’s header went over Josh’s head, and then they took a touch by Josh. Then they sent it across and Ching does what he does.”

NEAR MISSES

In a mindboggling 88th minute sequence, the Crew had four rapid-fire chances to snatch a late winner, but came up empty. Miranda served a great in-swinging cross into the box. Olman Vargas headed a shot that hit Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall in the chest. The rebound fell to Vargas’ foot, and his second attempt hit Hall in the forehead. That rebound popped high into the air, where Schoenfeld attempted a header that Hall batted into the air again. Schoenfeld got off a second header a split second before Hall punched him in the face, but the header was saved on the goal line by defender Andre Hainault’s thigh. Hainault then cleared the ball out of danger. Four good attempts by the Crew were negated by four good defensive efforts from the Dynamo.

“I still feel a bit unfortunate not to get a goal right there,” Schoenfeld said. “I had two looks at it as it got cleared off the line. There wasn’t really time to do much with it or get it down. All I could do is a get a heard to it, and I still feel a bit unfortunate not to score. But that’s how the game goes. Hopefully I will get my first MLS goal next week.”

Mirosevic was philosophical about the seemingly impossible sequence.

“In soccer, you have to work and do all of the little things, but sometimes you also need some luck,” he said. “We didn’t have it today, but next week we will have it for sure.”

DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE RESULT

A sampling of quotes of disappointment:

Warzycha: “Obviously, we gave up that last goal so we are disappointed with the result. There were a couple more chances that really, with some luck probably we would win this game, but we just got a point. Coming back from 1-0 down I think showed a little character. We scored those two goals and I think we played pretty good soccer today.”

Mirosevic: “We are very sad because we are playing here and when we play here we need to win all of the games. I feel comfortable with the way of playing and the start of the game and all the time going forward looking for goals. In that way, I think we are going to win more games.”

Gruenebaum: “It feels like a loss a little bit. We came out of the gates pretty strong, and I feel that we were the better team, but at the same time, they finished their chances. When you get two goals at home, you have to make it stick. Eddie’s finish especially; we need to make that hold up as the game winner because that was a fantastic hit. I don’t know how he did that.”

GAVEN BREAKS OUT

Gaven broke out of his early season slump in a big way. In addition to his two goals, he was active on both sides of the ball.

“Eddie’s class,” said Danny O’Rourke. “He’s one of those guys that we need to get on a hot streak. He’s always such a tentative guy, but if we can get him scoring and being active…it wasn’t just the goals. He was active. He was making good runs, and getting back, and finding pockets and stuff. When he’s on his game, we’re a good team.”

“One thing you always have from Eddie is that he's a very busy player,” Warzycha said. “He leaves everything he has on the field. You can see him in our box and you see him in the other box, running back and forth. That's what you want. Before, maybe he should have sometimes been in a different spot, yes, but I think today he was in the right spot and his finish was very good.”

RETURN OF DANNY O

After missing three games with an ankle injury, Danny O’Rourke returned to the starting lineup against the Dynamo. Replacing rookie Kirk Urso at defensive midfield, O’Rourke allowed the Crew to push Milovan Mirosevic higher into the attack. Mirosevic appreciated the freedom that O’Rourke’s presence allowed.

“I think, first of all, that Eddie Gaven played a great game and got the goals for us,” Mirosevic said, “but I think Danny was the man of the match for me because of all of the things he has been through, and when he is in the middle in his natural position, it is something different.  I feel different because I have a lot of confidence in my back because he was playing there. That doesn’t mean Kirk did it in a bad way. Kirk is just starting his career, but Danny has something different, so I am happy for him.”

It’s oddly poetic that a man notorious for his goal-scoring futility was an integral catalyst in getting the offense back on track. Soccer is a team game, and O’Rourke’s offensive contributions are rarely attributed to his individual stat line. But winning the ball higher up the field and advancing the ball to the playmakers can have a profound impact on the scoreboard.

“Everyone has their own job on the field,” O’Rourke said. “Mine’s to be disruptive. Chad and Josh did a good job tonight against two big boys, winning head balls, so it’s up to us in the midfield to win those second balls. The more dirty work we can do frees up guys like Milo and Eddie, who don’t have to track back as much, and the better off our team will be.”

Although he started the first two games of the season at center back, O’Rourke remains most comfortable at his natural d-mid position. Now the key is staying healthy.

“I love playing there,” he said. “Bobby knows that. I’m excited to be back. I’m one step closer. I just have to keep working hard. I can’t say that there won’t be other setbacks, but I hope not. I’m going to keep working hard and staying faithful.”

WILLIAMS AND VUKOVIC MAKE FIRST STARTS

Josh Williams and Nemanja Vukovic made their first career MLS starts on Saturday. Williams replaced Eric Gehrig at center back, while Vukovic replaced Shaun Francis at left back.

“For the most part, they were solid,” said Warzycha. “Obviously, their experience and their lack of games showed in the end. But I think overall they had a decent game.”

Gruenebaum felt comfortable with the new faces.

“Josh is solid,” Gruenebaum said. “I played a lot with him in reserve games. Either Josh or Gehrig do a good job back there. Netzo likes to get forward. He’s got a deadly cross. In training, he makes it interesting for us goalkeepers. He’s very calm on the ball. He’s another weapon.”

So, wait. I think I’ve heard Nedzo, Nestzo, and now Netzo as Vukovic’s nickname. Which is it?

“I think it’s Netzo,” Gruenebaum said. “That’s what I’m calling him, anyway. Netzo. He responds.”

Meanwhile, Williams, an Akron native and Cleveland State alum, recovered from a midweek illness to make his start in front of friends and family.

“It was my birthday Wednesday,” Williams said, “so I had friends fly in and friends from Cleveland and Akron come down. It was fun playing in front of them again.”

In the 72nd minute, Williams nearly gave his friends something to remember. His far post run on a corner kick resulted in a header that he drilled wide of the mark. He expressed his frustration by booting the sign boards.

“Looking back on that, I’m going to look at that header for days, man,” Williams said. “I should have buried that. Looking back, I shouldn’t have kicked the signboard like that. But I wanted to bury that for my teammates and the fans.”

As if the Houston game weren’t exciting enough, the upcoming Vancouver game will reunite Williams with his club teammate, Michael Nanchoff. The two played together with the Cleveland Internationals, and I-71 is expected to get a workout.

“That’s going to be fun,” Williams said. “I haven’t seen him in a long time. I had 30 people at this game, but I heard 500 people are coming from Cleveland for the next game. I can’t wait for that. It’s going to be really fun.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: THROW-IN EDITION

After spending some time with the Crew Academy lately, a set of statistics from Saturday’s Crew game made me think of a recent halftime talk that Crew Academy U18 coach Frank Speth gave to his team. Speth felt that his players were needlessly surrendering possession with sloppy throw-ins. He noted that the throwers weren’t throwing balls in good positions and that potential receivers weren’t doing enough work to make themselves available. Then he gave a quick demonstration of what he wanted to see from the thrower and the receiver.

Saturday night, right back Sebastian Miranda completed 18 of 20 throw-ins for a 90 percent success rate. Left back Nemanja Vukovic, meanwhile, completed just one of eight throw-ins for a 13 percent success rate. This could be that Miranda is a much better thrower, placing his throws away from the defender marking his receiver. It could be that the players on Vukovic’s side didn’t do nearly as good a job of making themselves available to him. It could be a mixture of those two items, plus several other variables. Either way, it was a stat that jumped out to me since Speth’s talk was still fresh in my mind.

Out of curiosity, I looked at all of Miranda’s games. In 2012, he has completed 58 of 71 throw-ins for an 82 percent success rate. I imagine that Coach Speth would approve.

DYNAMO ROAD TRIP

The Dynamo are in the midst of a seven-game road trip as they await the debut of their new downtown stadium on May 12. The draw moved their record to 2-1-2. The Crew also had a seven-game road trip before Crew Stadium opened on May 15, 1999, and they went 5-2 for 11 points. (That was in the shootout era. Their “real” record was 3-2-2, also for 11 points.)

“We’re 2-1-2,” said Moffat. “We’re not going to complain about that. At the same time, there are opportunities in games and we feel that we can better than that. But for being on the road, hopefully we can continue this for the next two road games so that when we begin the homestand, we’ll be in a pretty good spot.”

With stadium anticipation nearing its apex, Moffat has resisted any recent urges to check out the new building now that it’s almost completed.

“A few guys have been there more than others,” he said. “Some guys are waiting for that first week once it’s completely finished. I got a tour right before Christmas, and I was really looking forward to it, but there was nothing to be seen. But I’ve seen pictures now and it looks fantastic. It’s going to be a place that people enjoy playing at. We’ll get a good crowd there, and it’s going to be a pretty intimidating place to play.”

The Crew will make their first visit to the new place on Aug. 19.
 
“August is perfect,” Moffat said. “You’ll be coming at a lovely time of year. The heat will have gone by then.”

DUNC & ADAM

As I chatted with Moffat an hour before kickoff, former teammate Duncan Oughton approached him from behind, pretended to pinch off a patch of Moffat’s beard, and then stuck it in his jacket pocket, saying, “I’ll just keep some of that for later.”

I suggested that it would be handy for determining the strength and direction of the wind, should the need arise.

“It wouldn’t work,” Oughton said. “It’s so heavy that it would just drop straight down and stick into the ground. And then people would trip over it.”

As he spoke, Oughton mimed the ‘blades of grass wind test’, except with his head jerking straight down as if he had dropped an anvil. Then he demonstrated someone jogging, tripping over the tiny tuft of heavy beard hair, and then looking back in bewilderment.

SCARING CHILDREN

Before warm-ups, Moffat talked to a few Crew fans in the crowd. He saw a toddler in full Crew gear and offered to give the child a fist bump.

“Here you go, can I get a bump?” he asked.

The child cautiously held its ground.

“Come on, it’s OK,” Moffat assured.

Still, the silent toddler refused to step forward.

“Oh, I get it,” Moffat said. “It’s because I’m wearing orange. You’ve got yellow, but I’ve got orange.”

Yes, that’s exactly it. The toddler’s reticence had everything to do with Dynamo colors and nothing whatsoever to do with staring down the fist of a 6-foot tall Shrek-talking beard monster.

URGENT BUSINESS

A half hour before kickoff, I saw Crew technical director Brian Bliss and team physician Dr. Johnson burst out of the locker room, walking at a brisk pace. When I commented on their purposeful strides, Dr. J shouted back, “Buck-a-Brat!”

I thought he was joking until he and Bliss returned a few minutes later, munching on bratwursts.
“What can I say? We were hungry, and it’s a good deal,” Dr. J said.

“I don’t even like brats, but they’re only a buck!” Bliss added with paradoxical enthusiasm.

A mystified Chad Marshall walked past at that exact moment, shook his head, and wondered how anyone could not like bratwurst. It’s a fair question that was running through my own mind.

PRESS BOX VISITORS

Injured Crew defender Julius James briefly visited the press box, sitting down on my stoop. As he watched the game, he nodded to the left and asked if those were the stat guys.

“Yes,” I told him. “When you’re playing, those are the guys who count up all your fouls.”

He cracked a smile just thinking about it.

In the second half, Crew legend Frankie Hejduk also came by for a visit. He walked in literally seconds after Houston took a 1-0 lead. During his stay, the Crew took a 2-1 lead. Then he left to go dance and lead cheers in the Nordecke, and Houston scored their equalizer immediately after he walked out the door.  Next week, in the interest of getting three points, the Crew’s media relations staff should tie Frankie to a press box chair so he can’t escape.

BARBASOL COMMERCIALS

Gruenebaum is upset that Gaven has not done any Barbasol commercials. Given that Gaven has an iconic beard, Barbasol may find it hard to work around that. But there are ways.

I suggested that Gaven appear on camera in all his bearded glory. Then he could say, “Instead of using Barbasol, I tried shaving with a competing brand. [Rubs hand through beard.] It was NOT a close and smooth shave. I should have used Barbasol.”

Gruenebaum said he had been working on an idea of his own.

“You focus on the chest down with a guy in a towel,” he said, “and there are just piles of hair falling down. Just piles and piles of it. There’s a lot of hair falling. And then you pan up and it’s just from Eddie’s neck. All he wants is a clean-shaven neck. He still has his beard, and all that hair was from his neck. It’s pretty brilliant. I’m working on my second career in advertising.”

Eager to turn our concepts into reality, I ran our commercial ideas by Gaven.

“Not to rain on Andy's parade,” he said, “but I like your idea better.”

ZACH’S BIRTHDAY

At the end of the night, in a nearly empty locker room, O’Rourke dropped this nugget into the official record.

“Eddie Gaven’s little man is turning one year old tomorrow,” he said, referring to Eddie’s son Zach. “There’s a birthday party, so Eddie will probably let us come over for 20 minutes and then kick us out. That’ll be fun.”

Gruenebaum then chimed in with the gift that he and his wife were bringing to that Sunday’s party.

“For Zach’s first birthday, Lacey and I got him a piano,” he said. “It’s a little toy piano that I think is going to drive Eddie and Paula crazy because it makes a lot of noise. We’re looking forward to seeing if they throw it out. I think Zach is going to love it. If I know Zach, and I do because I’m his godfather, he’s going to love it.

“Zach is the perfect child,” Gruenebaum went on. “He doesn’t cry. He sleeps through the night. He doesn’t get sick. From what I understand, he has non-smelling bowel movements. They actually smell like roses. It’s really incredible. Only Eddie Gaven could produce a kid as perfect as that. I’ve personally seen and can verify everything, except for the bowel movement thing, which is speculation. I’m just assuming that based on all of Zach’s other perfections.”

Being the perfect child, I wondered if Zach would immediately start banging out actual tunes on the little piano, as if he were Schroeder.

“He’s going to pick it up and play something difficult right away,” Gruenebaum confirmed. “He’ll probably sing, as well. He’s probably got a great singing voice too. We’ll see. The kid’s perfect. It kinda makes you not want to try having kids of your own.”
 
After learning of his teammates’ comments, Gaven emailed a few clarifications relating to Zach’s birthday party.

“The party was great,” he wrote. “My wife and I had both of our families in town and we had a nice celebration. It did last longer than 20 minutes and I didn't throw Danny out. I may have glanced at the time on my phone a few times while near him, to put the pressure on for him to leave. But I can neither confirm nor deny that.

“Andy and Lacey got Zach an awesome little toy piano. Andy thinks it'll be annoying, but I think it's great to expose him to musical instruments while he's young since that's the best time to learn. Plus, it has a volume control switch on it if needed. Zach however, does not have a volume control switch, and contrary to Andy's belief that Zach never cries and all that, I can assure you that he does and very loudly, as well. He is generally a very good baby, though, especially in public with other people around, which is probably why Andy thinks that. He's usually pretty quiet and shy around other people. He definitely takes after his dad in that regard.”

CARLOS MENDES…IF THAT’S HIS REAL NAME

The locker room name plate for Carlos Mendes had been altered in the following manner:

The tilde over the E was a nice touch. When I asked locker neighbor O’Rourke who had made the alteration, he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Who do you think?”

So I asked Gruenebaum why he altered Mendes’ locker nameplate.

“I noticed that our equipment manager, Rusty Wummel, had messed up the spelling of a great and honorable man's name,” Gruenebaum explained. “I took the liberty of fixing this problem.  Carlito is very appreciative of our friendship and everything I bring to it.”

This thoughtful explanation is a touching demonstration of Gbaum’s devotion to his great and honorable friend and— hey, wait a minute….

If Gruenebaum was correcting Rusty’s error, then why did I receive a picture of Mendes’ nameplate from Obetz, which has been “corrected” in a different way from the “corrected” one at Crew Stadium?

Questions? Comments? Know how many Frankie Hejduk clones the Crew created and sent forth to mingle at Crew Stadium? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk