Sirk's Notebook: Toronto Roadtrip Edition

TheCrew.com's Steve Sirk traveled with the team to Toronto

Lost in the tired old story of the Crew’s ongoing dominance over all things Canada is that it had in fact been a while since the Crew had beaten Toronto FC on the shores of Lake Ontario. So long, in fact, that after Saturday’s 1-0 victory, old man Eddie Gaven struggled to recall a prior instance.

“It feels good,” Gaven said from the winning locker room. “It’s the first time we won here, right?”

Wrong! The Crew won during their first visit to BMO Field in 2007. It had been five consecutive draws since then.

“Oh,” he said. “But it’s been a while. It feels good though, and hopefully we can get the Trillium Cup back on our turf. We lost it last year, so this was a good start toward that goal.”

Having avenged last year’s first and only loss to TFC, the Crew improved to 6-1-7 all-time against the Hosers, including 2-0-5 at BMO Field. They did it with an impenetrable defense, good goalkeeping, a successful counterattack, and resilience in the face of potential despair.

Here’s a collection of news, quotes, anecdotes, and lots and lots of photos from the trip to Toronto.

POTENTIAL TURNING POINT

Milovan Mirosevic had a chance to stake the Crew to a 1-0 lead in the final minutes of the first half. After Olman Vargas was brought down in the box, Milo stepped to the spot to take the ensuing penalty kick. One week after successfully converting high and to the left against Montreal, Mirosevic went low and to the left against Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic. Coming off his line early (like just about every goalkeeper in the world does in that situation), Kocic went down and parried Mirosevic’s shot wide. What could have been a huge momentum shift in the Crew’s favor suddenly reversed itself into Toronto’s favor.

“It got their whole crowd into it,” said Gaven.

Energized by the heroic stop, Toronto pressed the issue on either end of the halftime interval. This was the riskiest time of the game for the Crew, as the emotional swing was huge for both teams. The Crew successfully weathered the storm.

“We knew that once Milo missed the PK, getting to the half was the most important part of the game,” said defender Eric Gehrig. “And we knew that they were going to come out after the half. You have to find a way to dig through it and survive it, and we did.”

“Especially on the road,” added goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. “The home goalkeeper makes a great save off the penalty, and ideally, after you make a big save, you come back down and score a goal. And that’s what we had to battle was that momentum swing. I think we did a great job of battling through that. It just goes to show how hard we are working for each other.”

Mirosevic praised Kocic for his save, but also felt he could have unleashed a better strike.

“He did a great job, but it was my mistake,” Milo said. “I am still thinking about it and I will probably think all night, but it’s not the first penalty I have ever missed. Soccer is like that. I will go back to practicing and this will not change my way of thinking.”

ACTUAL TURNING POINT

It did not take Mirosevic long to atone for the penalty miss. In the 56th minute, he hustled back to pick Julian de Guzman’s pocket on a slide tackle, knocking the ball directly to Bernardo Anor. With the ball at his feet, Anor then dribbled 50 yards right up the gut of the Toronto defense. Near the top of the box, he laid the ball off for Vargas, who quickly returned the pass. Anor’s first touch let him down, but a botched clearance have him the opportunity to win the ball back. Anor made did not squander his second opportunity, rifling the ball into the roof of the net.

“We knew that more in the second half, our approach was going to be counter attack,” Mirosevic said. “On that play, I saw the ball over there and so I tackle that guy and I saw Bernardo in the middle and the ball went to him with luck, and then it was a goal. That was a great moment for us.”

“When you win the ball, you need to go forward right away,” said Anor. “The goal came from a counterattack. We created a chance and it ended up in the goal.”

“That’s the idea,” Milo said of Anor’s bursting attacking run. “On a counter attack, there is no waiting. You have to go. His control was not as clean as he would like, but the ball was still there, so when he kicked it with his right foot, it was a goal.”

MILO’S REDEMPTION AND THETEAM’S RESILIANCE

The goal was tangible proof that Mirosevic did not let the penalty save get him down. Rather than hanging his head or going into a funk, he continued to do the little things to help the Crew win. As demonstrated, those little things can lead to big things.

"He is a great professional,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said, “because he knows the last thing that you want is for the missed penalty kick to affect the game. For a lot of players it's difficult to overcome. His game didn't change. He was the same Milo as he was in the first minute. Because he won that ball, I am not surprised. That is what he does on the field, and that is why he is here."

“Milo is an experienced guy,” said Anor. “You can see that after he missed the PK, his reaction was not to get down on himself. He kept his head up and kept working hard. You can see how many tackles he recorded for us. He helps everybody out, so having him on the field is a big help for us. Everybody listens to him. We have to give him a lot of credit too. And if you give him the PK again, he doesn’t miss. That’s just soccer.”

“He didn’t let it get in his head,” Gaven said. “He kept working for us and it was really great to see because it was his play 75 yards from goal that ended in us scoring a goal at the other end.”

Mirosevic deflected such praise. Instead, he focused on the team’s resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances.

“Of course, it was very difficult for us to overcome losing a penalty,” he said. “In that case, maybe a team can go down, but we didn’t. For sure I think the team is starting to grow up a little bit. It is getting more confidence and becoming more mature. We can receive those things that can happen in a game and instead of letting us down, it’s the opposite way, and we say let’s handle this difficult moment and then we can have our chance. That’s what happened today and I am very happy because of that.

“It was a very difficult game,” he continued. “But I think that even though we would like to play better soccer in terms of keeping the ball a little bit more, this was a great victory in the way that all of the team was committed to the cause. The twenty last minutes were very difficult for us, but it was great how we could handle the pressure from them. It was a great result for us and it was what we came here to do.”

GEHRIG FILLS IN BRILLIANTLY

Danny O’Rourke was a late scratch due to an ankle injury. At 10:00am, during the team’s morning walk, Warzycha pulled Eric Gehrig aside and informed him that we would be starting at center back alongside Chad Marshall. The results were spectacular. Gehrig and Marshall were practically unbeatable in the center of the Crew’s defense. Gehrig tossed in a diving header clearance and a ridiculous field-switching laser pass for flair.

“Obviously, he's a great professional,” Warzycha said. “It's very encouraging that we have players like this on the bench that can step in anytime and have a great performance.”

It’s amazing to think that even with center backs O’Rourke, Julius James, and Carlos Mendes out injured, Warzycha still had multiple quality options at his disposal.

“We have so much depth at that position,” said Gruenebaum. “Gehrig can play there, Josh (Williams) can play there, I can play there. Wait, no, I was just kidding about me. But Gehrig did an unbelievable job out there. I expect nothing less from him. He’s fearless. He’s a worker who will do whatever it takes.”

Gehrig noticed a recurring pattern with his first 2011 start (at Vancouver) and his first 2012 start.

“Both times, I found out about four hours before kickoff, and it was in Canada, and Danny was my roommate,” he said. “I guess if Danny is my roommate in Canada, I need to be on my toes.”

DEFENSE PRAISED

Gehrig may have been the noticeable story because of his last-minute insertion into the lineup, but the team had high praise for the defense as a whole. Sebastian Miranda had four clearances, Shaun Francis blocked four crosses, and Chad Marshall was his usual dominant self, racking up six interceptions and 15 clearances. Andy Gruenebaum recorded his second consecutive shutout in goal.

“Those guys were all great,” said Gaven. “They probably dealt with like a hundred and fifty crosses, it seemed like. They cleared pretty much every single one. Those guys were definitely awesome today.”

“In my opinion, I give all of the credit to our defenders,” said Anor. “They did a great job of staying compact and winning the 50-50 balls. That’s a big thing when you play in Toronto or anywhere else. Our defenders did their job and they deserve all of the credit.”

“The four guys in the back did a great job today,” said Mirosevic. “I think we maybe lost only one header to them toward the goal. The four defenders and Andy did a great job for sure. I think Andy did a great job of going out to catch those crosses that are difficult, so I am happy for him also.”

HEBREW HAMMER HAMMERED

On three separate occasions, Andy Gruenebaum found himself knocked to the turf after getting clobbered while trying to haul in a cross.

“Andy was getting killed back there,” said Gaven.

“That was really starting to tick us off,” said Gehrig. “We try to protect our goalie. Andy did a great job of coming out and standing his ground. I have to be there until I hear his voice, and then I need to clear out. I tried to get the bodies out of the way, but they were taking their shots at him. But he did a great job, just as we expected.”

Gruenebaum didn’t let the punishment disrupt his concentration or throw off his game. Not the first time, the second time, or the third time.

“I’m coming out full speed and concentrating on the ball and then the next thing I know, I’m doing triple-axel, double-toe up in the air. I don’t think on the first couple, there was any ill intent, but I don’t know because I was concentrating on the ball. The third one, Chad got pushed into me pretty good before I could even punch the ball. Any way you look at it, it’s a foul. They were yelling and screaming, but it’s a foul. But you know, whatever. I guess cross-fit’s paying off.”

GBAUM ON RISING TO THE CHALLENGE…AND THE GOALIE KITS

For the second consecutive week, Gruenebaum had to watch the opposing goalie do something spectacular at the other end of the field. Against Montreal, Donovan Ricketts was a human highlight reel in keeping Montreal in the game. In Toronto, Kocic made a crucial, potentially game-altering penalty kick save. One has to think that a goalkeeper feels the pressure to match his counterpart when things like that happen.

“You want to feed off that,” Gruenebaum said. “You wouldn’t be human if you said you didn’t want to be better than the guy at the other end. Watching Ricketts and Kocic, you definitely feel that. But yeah, really, I think this year is more of a battle of whose jersey is the brightest. Thank you, adidas.”

After that typical Gbaum conversational paradigm shift, the Hammer said that he was glad he got to wear blue for Saturday’s match and green the week before, not the obnoxiously fluorescent orange he wore in the opener. (Fellow goalkeeper Matt Lampson has noted that the orange turns a salmon pink if the light hits it the right way, which I have noticed once it was brought to my attention.) Anyway, it seems that the goalkeepers have found a way to circumvent the fluorescent orange/salmon problem.

“Orange is our last choice,” Gruenebaum said. “Will already gave all of his away.—the jersey, the shorts, and the socks. I’m planning on doing the same, so some lucky fan will get a full orange kit.”

After all, the goalkeepers can’t wear what they don’t have.

EMILIO RENTER…SEE YA!

In the 13th minute, Crew striker Emilio Renteria chased a loose ball with such single-minded purpose that he accidentally flipped over the electronic sign boards on the far sideline. Radio man Neil Sika described Renteria as flipping over the wall like a minor-league centerfielder in pursuit of a fly ball.

“I was going with a lot of speed and I couldn’t stop myself, so I jumped,” Renteria explained. “I flipped over and I couldn’t get my hands out to land level, so I landed on my stomach.”

He then lifted his shirt to reveal a shallow cut across his stomach. Such is the one and only peril to being all ab and no flab—no soft landings.

“That wasn’t a typical thing that happens in a game, huh?” Mirosevic said. “He was okay. That was a picture of the game. He was running hard to get the ball because we didn’t have it so much. But when you win, if you get hurt, the pain isn’t so much.”

True enough. The next morning at the airport, I pointed to Emilio’s stomach with a quizzical and concerned look on my face. He flashed a big smile, gave a thumbs up, and said, “Good!”

On a similar note, Anor didn’t seem any worse for wear on Sunday, despite visibly bleeding gashes on his left calf and just below his left knee from the tackle that knocked him out of the match in the 85th minute.

HAMMER HAT

After the game, Gruenebaum stood at his locker, wearing what appeared to be a Columbus Crew yarmulke. Chad Marshall shook his head and smirked as he walked past. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “Are you getting this?”

Of course. Behold the Hebrew Hammer’s Massive Yarmulke:

Gruenebaum said it was given to him by assistant athletic trainer Phil Watson. It turns out that Watson was not the creator.

“Emilio took one of the winter hats and cut the top out so he could wear the bottom part as a neck warmer,” Watson explained. “I saw what was left and thought it would be perfect for Andy, so I gave it to him.”

BORING QUOTE

“Yes! I am the most boring interview ever!” – Chad Marshall, arms triumphantly raised in the air, upon being told that Gol TV had no further questions after a very brief (and presumably boring) interview.

RESERVES MAKE IT A SWEEP

I didn’t get to see the reserve game, but they made it a clean sweep with a 1-0 victory. The decisive tally came from first round draft pick Ethan Finlay, who added goal scorer to his weekend duties, which also included baggage claim ticket collector and luggage cart loader/pusher. On and off the field, Finlay performs his rookie duties with relentless enthusiasm, so I’m glad he got rewarded with a goal on Saturday. Besides, it’s never too early to get impressionable rookies in the habit of beating Toronto.

EVIL QUOTE

“Next trip, we should just fill one of these with bricks.” – Danny O’Rourke, regarding Rusty Wummel’s team equipment bags, which fall under the rookies’ toting duties.

MEDICAL OPINION

After the game, Crew team physician Dr. Johnson dropped some mathematical knowledge on me.

“We have six points in three games,” he said. “That’s two points per game. If we keep up that pace, we’re going to do alright.”

Was that an official medical opinion?

“Yes it was,” Dr. J said. “And you can quote me on that.”

SCOOP

Scoop Stanisic, the Crew’s new goalkeeper coach, came to America at pretty much the worst time for a professional soccer player. He arrived from Serbia to play for the vaunted New York Cosmos, just as the NASL and the team were going under. Thus began the dozen-year dark ages for outdoor soccer in this country. Instead, Stanisic carved out a long and successful career in indoor soccer, including a championship in 1993 with the NPSL’s Kansas City Attack.

In my teens through my twenties, I saw Scoop play many times against my beloved Cleveland Crunch. Crew strength coach Brook Hamilton remembers watching Scoop as a member of the Harrisburg Heat. And one of Scoop’s current pupils, Gruenebaum, recalls Scoop’s tenure in Kansas City.

“I remember going to Kemper Arena as a kid and watching Scoop play,” Gruenebaum said, while Scoop was within earshot. “I remember learning how NOT to play goalkeeper.”

Not taking the bait, Scoop nodded his head with Miyagi-like stoicism, and then serenely retorted, “That is still teaching.”

Well-played joke aside, the 18-year-old Crunch fan in me wished Scoop would have had more “teachable moments” in the 1993 NPSL Finals against Cleveland. Or in the 1995 playoffs when Scoop and the Harrisburg Heat stunningly swept the heavily favored defending champion Crunch out of the playoffs.

BEAUTIFUL VIEW

BMO Field has one of the most beautiful views of any stadium I have ever visited:

In fact, that view is second only to this one, as demonstrated by a photo I took at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park:

Yes, I realize I just complimented TFC and Pittsburgh in the span of two sentences. I would normally have nothing positive to say about either, so that’s how strongly I feel about each of these beautiful views.

DUGOUTS

BMO Field has dugouts. Yes, baseball-style dugouts. Of course, during the game, the players and coaches take the chairs out of the dugout and place them at field level, defeating the purpose of the dugout, but they still exist. Here’s what it would be like to look at the field while seated in the Crew’s dugout:

LOCKER ROOM SET UP

2011 MLS Equipment Manager of the Year Rusty Wummel and his assistants did a fine job of setting up the locker room on Saturday. Check this out:

The Crew’s fan development coordinator, Dan Lolli, took great care to get the jerseys just right, as seen in this photo:

“This is the marketing person in me,” Lolli said. “Patches are visible, everything’s straight, and it’s ready to photograph.”

Lolli had to do further touch-ups when our game of garbage can soccer-basketball led to some wayward touches.

HEAD GAMES IN BATHROOM

TFC kindly provided the Crew with some bathroom supplies. Got gobs of earwax? There’s some Q-tips. Got breath that smells like hot garbage? There’s some Scope. Need to shave? There’s some razors and some…..HEY THAT’S NOT BARBASOL!!! THEY WANT CREW PLAYERS TO CUT THEMSELVES FROM A NON-SMOOTH SHAVE!!!

And as if the sponsor diss and potential throat slittings weren’t enough, the psychological warfare continued into the urinal area, where the Crew were subliminally encouraged to piss away their goal scoring opportunities.

CAPTAIN RON BITTEN?

Wummel’s assistant, Captain Ron, let out a yelp while shoving bags under on the of the locker room’s tables.

“Did the table bite you?” Wummel asked with mock concern.

“No, it was a staple,” Captain Ron said. “For some reason, their Velcro table has staples.”

Most locker room tables are ringed with a Velcro curtain so one can hide bags underneath the table. Toronto’s curtains were indeed stapled to the table. I took a staple photo so Captain Ron could use it if he opted to file a billion dollar lawsuit.

Captain Ron indicated that he was “fine” and had no plans to file a billion dollar lawsuit. I’m not so sure, though. He did lose a lot of blood. That table curtain used to be white until he snagged his finger on a staple.

MAPLE LEAFS

One of the dominant stories during our time in Canada was the inescapable loathing for anyone and anything associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who entered the weekend with the 26th best record in the NHL. The Leafs were the talk of the town, but not in a good way.

Neil and I saw one TV analyst, when asked about the firing of head coach Ron Wilson, respond by shouting, “I’m glad they fired him! He’s a dink!”

We saw another TV analyst assess the prospects of new coach Randy Carlyle by declaring, “Cesar the Dog Whisperer couldn’t fix this team! It’s been four years of abuse! You can’t kick your dog and then expect it to do tricks!”

Later that night, our bartender asked the guy next to me how he could even leave the house wearing his Maple Leafs hat. This wasn’t lighthearted bartender banter. She was dead serious.

I was determined to go to the Leafs game Saturday night, and on the way to the arena I picked up a snippet of a cell phone conversation of a man standing outside a restaurant. All I heard, in the seconds we were within earshot, was, “The (bleepin’) Leafs, they’re so (bleepin’) bad.”

And then there was this piece of bridge graffiti, delivering some sort of message by equating the team to yummy breakfast food:

Despite scalpers repeatedly insisting that they couldn’t get anyone in the door for under $100, I eventually scored a standing room ticket for only a few bucks over face value. And my view was perfect:

Best of all, the childhood Leafs fan in me was happy to see the Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3, picking up their first home win since Feb. 6 and snapping an 11-game home losing streak. A TFC loss and a Leafs win made for a perfect Toronto sporting event attendance day for me.

MORE TORONTO SPORTS ANGST

In telling Crew midfielder Cole Grossman about some of the Leafs anger I witnessed, he told me a story of his first visit to Toronto last year. Noting his Crew gear, some TFC fans engaged Grossman on the street as he walked downtown.

“They started commenting on how pathetic TFC is,” Grossman recalled. “They were saying that TFC was the worst franchise in sports. And I've always remembered that one guy said to me. ‘Hopefully you guys beat us 10-0 and they get rid of the team all together’."

Just as Grossman started saying that Toronto is the most downtrodden sports city, I cut him off to remind him that I am from Cleveland and that I didn’t want to hear it. Akron native Josh Williams backed me up.

CONVERSATIONAL SNIPPET

Once the topic of Cleveland sports arose, the following conversational snippet involving Grossman, Williams, and Julius James took place.

Grossman: “Josh and I talk about LeBron a lot. We probably talk about LeBron more than most married couples talk about everything.”

James: “This is true. You two talk about him more than married couples talk about finances, their children, vacation plans…”

Williams: “That’s because LeBron is pretty much the best topic for conversation.”

James: “I am out. You two can put on your boxing gloves and go at it.”

Alas, no physical combat ensued between LeBron-fan Williams and non-fan Grossman.

LIFE IN PRO SOCCER

Some of you kids out there might be wondering how best to become involved in pro soccer, even in a non-playing capacity. To that end, I will share the following two pictures.

Radio announcer’s bed:

Part-time web writer’s bed:

So my advice, if you can’t play soccer at that level, would be to focus on VERBAL eloquence. That’s where it’s at.

(To be fair, the hotel was out of double rooms. And last year, Neil crashed on the floor in my room in Seattle. Literally on the floor, since the hotel said it would have been a “fire hazard” to provide a rollaway bed.)

DECORATIVE INCONGRUITY (Part One)

Boy, for hating Crew/MLS all-time leading goal scorer Jeff Cunningham as much as our northern neighbors purport to do, it’s strange that he appears not once, but twice, on decorative murals inside the stadium:

LICENSE PLATE O’ THE DAY

Living in Columbus, we are used to every possible Buckeye license plate…. GOBUX….BUKIFAN…OSUBUCS…etc.

In Toronto, one enterprising fan used the city’s airport code to boast of his or her misguided support for Toronto’s beleaguered soccer club:

BY AIR, BY LAND, BY...WATER?

One fascinating aspect of flying into downtown Toronto is that, in very quick succession, we traveled by air, by land, and by water. Normally, this sounds like a disaster, like a plane skidding off the runway or something. Instead, after we landed, the bus had to catch a ferry across the river to leave the airport.

This is normally not a road-free, water-centric sight you like to see from the very front of a bus. But it was all good. The bus was at the front of the ferry on our trip back to the airport Sunday morning. We weren’t driving on the water.

SIGN O’ THE NIGHT

Apparently, in recognition of the Crew’s northern dominance, the city of Toronto has named a street after Mr. Crew, Duncan Oughton.

His nose isn’t actually so pointy, but whatever. Artistic license, I guess. It’s the thought that counts.

DECORATIVE INCONGRUITY (Part Two)

Sign above the field entrance at BMO Field:

Crew’s all-time undefeated streak at BMO Field: 7 games and counting.

If it’s not time to paint that sign yellow and swap out the logos, it’s at least getting close.

Questions? Comments? Know of a way the Crew can incorporate subterranean and submarine travel into their next Toronto trip? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk