Sirk's Notebook: Vancouver Edition
Saturday’s Columbus-Vancouver match was brought to you by the word “cruelty.” The Columbus Crew had two goals disallowed, hit the crossbar on another shot, carried 63.5 percent of the possession, completed 78 percent of their passes, recorded nearly twice as many attempts at goal, earned more than four times the number of corner kicks, and limited the visitors to one legit scoring opportunity… and lost 1-0 on a fluke goal on an errant cross.
One week after being denied three points on a crazy last-minute goalmouth scramble that featured three improbable saves and a goal-line clearance, the Crew came away with zero points in a game that many players called their best performance of the season.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Crew forward Aaron Schoenfeld. “Soccer is a weird sport. It’s probably the only sport where this sort of thing can happen. You can virtually dominate and not come out with a goal.”
Schoenfeld, on crutches due to a first-half heel injury that may keep him out for a month, contemplated soccer’s cruelty.
“We feel as if we have been on the short end of some results lately,” he said. “We’ve played really well in the last two games, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve only come out with one point in those two matches. I still can’t believe we didn’t get three points tonight, let alone not getting any points. It’s a hard loss to take.”
JOSH WILLIAMS AND THE CRUEL WHISTLE
In the third minute, the Crew appeared to jump out to a crucial early lead. With northeast Ohio friends and family in the stands, Josh Williams appeared to score a storybook goal when he made a far post run on a corner kick and expertly buried a flying right-footed volley from six yards out.
The only problem was that the referee whistled Chad Marshall for some sort of foul on Vancouver’s Jay DeMerit. The two players had a run-of-the-mill corner kick tussle, but DeMerit’s feet naturally slipped out from under him as he moved toward the near post. The ball sailed well over the box scrum’s heads before finding the foot of Williams at the far post. Williams’ elation would be short-lived.
“I was getting ready to celebrate and everyone was looking at the ref, so I kinda figured something was wrong there,” he said. “We watched the replay and I didn’t see much wrong as far as a foul goes. I’m not sure what he was calling, but there’s not much to say.”
But in that split second between hitting the ball and seeing his crestfallen teammates, Williams cruelly experienced the mirage of the first goal of his career in just his second MLS start.
“It felt excellent. In my view, I should have had one last week. Ricky (Iribarren, assistant coach) said that today was going to be the day and it didn’t take long for me to get a good opportunity there. I saw the ball hit the back of the net and I was ready to celebrate. It was a good feeling, but it was quickly erased.”
Eddie Gaven would also have euphoria quickly erased. His sixth minute tally would be negated by a close, but correct, offside call. By that point, the Crew were 0-for-2 in goals scored.
JOSH WILLIAMS AND THE CRUEL CROSSBAR
In the 16th minute, Williams would be cruelly denied a second spectacular goal. Marshall made the far-post run on a Crew corner kick and headed the ball back into the center of the box. Williams broke back for the ball and turned himself upside-down at the six-yard box, cracking a close-range bicycle kick off of the crossbar.
“I’ve been practicing that,” he said. “No, I knew Chad was going to win it back post. My back was to the goal, so I figured the only way I was going to get a shot off was to go for a bicycle kick. I got good contact. As soon as I hit it, I thought it was in. Then I heard the ball hit the post.”
The bicycle kick was an unexpected weapon in Williams’ arsenal. He had only deployed it one other time in his career, during a college exhibition game while at Cleveland State.
“That one hit the post too,” he said. “Maybe I should try something else in those situations. This one felt good, but it didn’t go in, unfortunately. The soccer gods aren’t with us, or something, because we aren’t getting bounces right now.”
THE COLUMBUS CREW AND THE CRUEL SPORT
The longer the Crew controlled every facet of the game, yet remained tied 0-0, the more ominous the mood at Crew Stadium. Time and time again, soccer teams who dominate and do everything but score are victimized by a fluke goal at the other end. My joke in the press box was that the Crew were destined to lose 1-0 on a Josh Williams own-goal. Being a lifelong Cleveland fan, and having learned from years of experience, my imagination is a master architect of cruel sports scenarios. I could think of nothing more anguishing than the thought of Williams having a fantastic goal taken away by a soft call, then having an eye-popping bicycle kick clang off the crossbar… and then somehow scoring an own-goal to lose the game. Thankfully, soccer was not THAT cruel on Saturday.
Still, the Crew gave up the bad goal that these sadistic soccer games sometimes require. In the 74th minute, Vancouver’s Y.P. Lee sent a free kick into the Crew penalty area. Instead of a curling cross, as anticipated, the ball straightened out. Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum took a step off of his line, saw the ball straighten out, and was unable to get his fingertips as the ball flew over his head and hit the net inches inside the far post.
“Unfortunately, I got caught taking a step forward and then couldn’t get my body back,” Gruenebaum said. “I was just stuck jumping straight up. I don’t know if he hits that a few more times that even comes close to that. I don’t think he meant to do that.”
Lee confirmed it.
“My goal was lucky,” he said. “It was a lucky goal for me and for our team. I went to try a strong cross, but it scored.”
Not only that, but according to Vancouver coach Martine Rennie, it wasn’t even supposed to happen that way.
“We had a set piece lined up that we were looking to play and it got blocked off at the last minute,” Rennie said, “so you look to get the ball into the danger area and it went right into the top corner.”
Gruenebaum replayed the fateful moment over and over at his locker, calmly answering question after question about it.
“I was anticipating cross, but I wasn’t cheating on my positioning,” he said. “It’s where I would probably play it again. I don’t think I could be any deeper and give up the near post, so it’s a difficult area. It’s just really unfortunate because the guys played really hard and that killed the momentum. There’s nothing you can do about it now. It’s a mistake.
“There’s nothing really to say. Guys say keep your head up and this and that. I’ve had worse. When you play in goal, one little mistake can cost the whole game, and it’s something you realize going in. I apologize to the guys, and it obviously wasn’t my intention. I never want to give up a goal, but it happens. I’m not going to let it get to me. I’m still very confident in myself and I always will be.
“Soccer’s a weird little sport like that. You can dominate that entire game, and then one fluke goal or one mistake can cost you. I can’t let it get to me. I just have to come out and perform on Saturday (in Portland.)”
Josh Williams offered his support.
“Andy’s a good goalie,” he said. “We trust him back there. Unfortunately, that happened, but you can’t blame him. It was just a wild cross. Things go that way sometimes.”
And while Gruenebaum played despite suffering from a stomach virus going around the locker room, he refused to use illness as an excuse, under the premise that once a player commits to play, nothing else matters.
“I was on the field and it’s my responsibility for everything that goes down,” he said.
MILO TRIES IN VAIN TO BREAK IT DOWN
Like many in the stadium, Milovan Mirosevic felt flummoxed by the result.
“It is very difficult to analyze this game,” he said, “because I think it was our best game during the season, and incredibly we lose it. So it is difficult to make an analysis of it. I feel very frustrated because I feel like we had the ball the whole time and we created opportunities. We made a goal that the referee, I don’t know what he whistled. Football is like this. They had only one chance, if we can call that a chance since they had a little bit of luck, but football is like that. We have to continue working. My feeling is that we made the game that we have to make today. For sure we deserved to win, but football is like this. To deserve, you have to make goals. That is it.
“It is difficult. When you lose and the other team is better, like the first half against New York, you can say nothing. You have to improve and that’s it. But today, I think we were better during the whole game, and even when that happens, we lose anyway. It’s difficult.”
MESSAGE TO THE TEAM
Between the final whistle and the team’s disappointing march to the locker room, a teammate not in the 18 came down and wrote the following message on the white board:
The players took it to heart.
“We can’t pout about it and we can’t hang our heads,” said Eddie Gaven. “We just need to keep working to make it better. A loss always hurts no matter which way it happens. The good thing is that we can take things away from this that we did well, like hanging on to the ball, creating some good changes, playing good defense. Those are things that we did well, but we still need to be much, much, much sharper when we get into the other team’s final third. That last pass and that last shot just seem to not be there. We just need to work at it.”
“I think guys are just kinda stunned right now,” said Williams. “We had a good week of practice, we played well….I think we’re just stunned right now. But we’ll be back to work on Monday. If we keep our head up, we’ll get a game to turn in our favor. We can’t get too down.”
“You’d think that if we keep playing like this,” Gaven said, “if we keep going at teams, if we keep putting them under pressure, that the ball is going to bounce our way at some point. Maybe it will happen when we go on the road in May. We have three games on the west coast, so hopefully that’s what’s going to happen. But you never know in soccer, so you have to take your points when you can, and tonight was a night that we should have taken three points.”
One thing is certain— no matter how cruel the results have been the last two weeks, the Crew must make up the lost points.
“I think if you lose a game at home, you have to win away from home - it is as simple as that,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “You saw Vancouver today - it was a perfect example. Go, try to play good defense, try to disrupt the rhythm, and maybe there's a chance; that's a way to win a game on the road on a lucky goal. That's a way to win a game on the road, and we want to do that. But we are going to go to Portland and other away games, and we want to play soccer. We want to play. We want to go and win. But sometimes the game pushes you back and you're going to have to defend in your own box. But not because you are bad, or not good - but because the game goes like that.”
The Crew are optimistic that fortune will smile upon them soon.
“If (Vancouver) can do that tonight,” said Tony Tchani, “then why not the Crew?”
RELENTLESS QUEST FOR USEFUL KNOWLEDGE
At halftime, Columbus Dispatch beat reporter Adam Jardy declined a hotdog because it was not on his “marathon diet.”
“When’s the marathon?” I asked.
Jardy replied that it was May 20 in Cleveland.
Lori Schmidt, of 97.1 The Fan, felt that I had asked the entirely wrong question. “Why do you care where?” she wondered. “The real question is WHY. WHY is he running a marathon?”
That’s a valid point, and demonstrates why Lori is an excellent reporter. Alas, I was more concerned about the timeframe because I thought maybe hot dogs were a banned substance for marathoners and Jardy had to make sure they were entirely out of his system, lest a blood test determine the presence of, say, skunk spleens.
This prompted a conversation, in the interest of hot dog ingredients, about whether or not skunks even HAVE spleens. Thanks to the wonder of Google and smart phones, I was able to verify that skunks do indeed have spleens. I even found pictures of dissected skunks in all of their gory spleen-revealing glory.
I can only hope that your halftime was even half as educational as mine.
Saturday marked Crew head athletic trainer Dave Lagow’s fifth wedding anniversary. After the game, there were plenty of comments in support of his wife, Alison, and all that she has undoubtedly endured from being married to Dave.
“Hey,” Lagow said, “I proposed at the end of a pier. She had the option to jump, but she didn’t.”
Lest this be construed as evidence that marrying Lagow is only a slightly better alternative to drowning, he clarified that a boat was waiting at the end of the pier. Team operations man Tucker Walther speculated that there were in fact two boats waiting.
“One was a love boat, with swans and flowers and all that (crap),” Tucker said. “If she said yes, then her and Dave would get on that boat. The other one was a speed boat from Miami Vice. If she said no, that was her get-me-the-(bleep)-out-of-here boat.”
Lagow clarified that there was only one boat. He even emailed me a picture.
“A pic of the getaway boat,” he wrote. “As you can see, it was plenty fast enough for Alison to bolt if she wanted; thankfully she stayed!!”
Congrats to Dave and Alison on five years of marriage. Mostly congrats to Dave, though. He’s the real winner there.
LAMPSON AND COZIER
I touched on this in training camp, but there’s now more to the story. Back in January, I asked homegrown signing Matt Lampson to name his favorite Crew player from when he was a little kid.
“You’re going to have to think back with me here,” he said, “but back in the day, since I was easily impressed, the guy who had THE hair was Mac Cozier. He rarely saw the field, but his hair was awesome. I was like 6 or 7 years old. I have no idea what he’s doing now, but back when the Crew played at the Horseshoe, that’s what it was all about for me: Mac Cozier’s hair.”
The dreadlocked Cozier played 155 minutes in 13 appearances, all as a substitute, during the inaugural 1996 season.
I tracked down Cozier and sent him Lampson’s comments and asked for comments for my story, hoping to surprise Lampson in the training camp Notebook. Cozier eventually replied, but it was after my story had already been published. While I sent the Mac’s message to Matt, I now have occasion to share Mac’s comments in the Notebook, as originally intended.
“What a great memory and time it was to fulfill a lifelong dream and be a part of something special,” Cozier wrote. “I guess you never really know those little images that you leave with people while you are playing, so thank you for that.
“I would tell Matt, congrats on all of his hard work, dedication to the game and work ethic that has propelled him to a very great level of soccer. Also, always to keep working hard and enjoy it. He may be that person that someone remembers!! I hope so. I think more so than me because he is homegrown. I can only imagine that there are hundreds of kids and teenagers that are looking up to him. I wish him continued success on his journey and I will continue to root for the CREW!!”
And for those wondering, Cozier has cut off all his dreadlocks and is now a math professor.
So with that back story out of the way, on Saturday night Lampson asked me if I had seen “the picture.” I had no clue what he was talking about. Then he told me that the Crew’s Facebook page had a picture of him and Mac Cozier.
“When you were a kid?” I asked, before catching the stupidity of the question and sarcastically covering for myself. “I mean, I’m sure you guys were hanging out last week.”
“I wish we were hanging out last week!” Lampson said. “No, it’s from when I was a kid. Check it out.”
So for those who missed it on Facebook, and those who have been with the league since the beginning and can appreciate the magnitude of such a photo, here is young Matt Lampson with his favorite Crew player, Mac Cozier.
Questions? Comments? Want the link to some skunk spleen photos? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twiter @stevesirk