Sirk's Notebook: Trillium Cup Edition

Welcome Higuain, Martino eye gouge & Where is the Trillium Cup?

Celebration

Photo Credit: 
Jamie Sabau - Getty Images

The Crew beat Toronto 2-1 on Wednesday to clinch the 2012 Trillium Cup. Due to a tragically rescheduled game that did not exactly fit into other existing obligations, here is a hastily-assembled Notebook for you before we all head to the stadium for Saturday’s game against New England. Apart from a brief look at Federico Higuain, this Notebook is mostly silliness. Let’s get to it…

FEDERICO!

The Crew’s new Designated Player, Federico Higuain, continued to make an instant impact. After picking up an assist in a 45-minute shift on Sunday in Houston, Higuain tallied a goal and an assist in his home debut. The goal was a fun sequence that saw a cross from Emilio Renteria, a knock-down header from Eddie Gaven, a fortuitously muffed shot from Higuain, a return pass from Jairo Arrieta, and then a calm finish from Higuain.

“It was a great combination for the team,” Higuain said through translator Ricardo Iribarren.  “The ball came to my left foot and I could not kick it the way I wanted. Fortunately the ball went to Jairo, and  Jairo very generously passed the ball back to me and I was able to score. I was in a situation where I got to watch the goalie and then finish.”

Higuain celebrated by repeatedly pointing at Arrieta. He has come in with a team-oriented focus.

“It was very special,” he said of his first goal in a Crew shirt. “I am very excited and very happy because it allowed the team to win. The last two games, we let some points go. The team was focused on winning this game. It was a very important game for us. We did it, so I am happy for the goal, but more happy that the team got the three points.”

When asked if having such a productive home debut would take some of the pressure of him as the new high-priced player, Higuain said it did not.

“The pressure is always on,” he said. “That’s the way I am. The Columbus Crew brought me here to score goals and to help the team win games. That’s what I need to do. The only thing I can promise is a lot of work and a lot of effort. I think the whole organization, the coaching staff, and my teammates, with the way they have been treating me, has made the adaptation faster. The players still need to know me better, and I still need to know them better, and I need to know the league a little bit better, but like I said before, work work work is the only way I am going to keep improving.”

TEAMMATE IMPRESSIONS

Higuain has already set the tone in his first two Crew appearances. His teammates have taken notice, especially of the instantly-blossoming partnership between Higuain and Arrieta.

“That guy, he’s class,” Josh Williams said of Higuain. “His touch and his feel for the game, it’s like he’s on another level. It’s great to have him out there. You can play him any type of ball. And then you’ve got Jairo chasing everything down out there. He’s chasing down 30/70 balls and winning them, and that stuff’s contagious. When you see someone working like that, you just want to work for them. Those guys work well together. It’s going to be exciting to watch those guys.”

“He’s going to be a huge asset for us,” said Gaven. “He has a very good understanding of the game. He reads the game very well. He’s a good passer of the ball, and he can also put the ball in the net, which is what we need. So far, it’s been very good, and as we play more together, in training and the games. hopefully we will get better and better. That is very exciting moving forward.”

“He’s great,” said Chad Marshall. “He’s very dynamic. He really changed the game when he came in at Houston down there, and he was a sparkplug for us tonight. He makes great runs.”

Marshall joked that the Higuian-Arrieta partnership is going to be an adjustment for him.

“It’s not the easiest when you look up and see two 5’4” guys,” Marshall said. “It’s not easy to launch a long ball at them, but when you play the ball to their feet, Federico and Jairo can do some amazing things.”

HIGUAIN AND GUILLE

There are inevitably going to be comparisons between the Crew’s two high-priced Argentinean imports, Higuain and the great Guillermo Barros Schelotto. In fact, Guille had a small ambassador role during the Crew’s pursuit of Higuain. Schelotto spoke highly of Higuain to the Crew’s management, and likewise, he also spoke highly of Columbus and the Crew to Higuain.

It seems inevitable that Higuain will always be compared to Schelotto, just because of who they are, what they are, and where they came from. In some ways, it won’t be fair, because Schelotto is an indisputable legend in Crew history. His accomplishments in Columbus are unassailable. Then again, Higuain wants to replicate that success. Still, Higauin has already been able to differentiate himself in at least one favorable way.

“From day one, he came in and looked hungry and was battling in training,” said Andy Gruenebaum. “You don’t expect that.”

The expectation was undoubtedly set by Guillermo’s, um, less than intense practice style. There have been enough big-named international busts in this league over the years that one can become instantly skeptical when a high-priced import doesn’t seem eager to impress upon arrival.

“Guillermo was obviously incredible for us,” Gurenebaum said. “He did some amazing things for us. But when he first got here, we were like, ‘Are you KIDDING me?’ Guille was one of the worst practice players. He didn’t care (about practice.) Federico came in and battled. I’m not comparing the two, but it was nice to see that right off the bat. Guillermo obviously performed in the games, just like Federico has.”

It took a little bit of time for everyone to figure out how Guille operated. His lack of practice intensity wasn’t the result of indifference or an indication of a lazy playing style. It was the action of an older player and perpetual champion knowing how best to prepare himself for games. It just took time.

“When Guille first got here, we didn’t really understand that he was like, ‘I’ll see you guys Saturday,’: Gruenebaum said. “And then he’d show up on Saturday and the guy was unreal. He was amazing.”

Players and coaches quickly came to see that Guille cared about winning, cared about his teammates, cared about the club, and cared about the city of Columbus. In retrospect, it seems ludicrous that anyone ever could have doubted it for even a second. But in the immortal words of Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls, “In hindsight, retrospect is always 20/20, isn’t it?”

A much younger player at the time of his arrival, Higuain has gotten after it since day one, leaving no room for such doubts.

TUCKER, JAIRO, AND FEDERICO

Higuain seems to be fitting in well with his teammates. There do not appear to be any superstar pretensions. For example, I stumbled upon a conversation about Federico ironing his own clothes. Crew team operations man Tucker Walther was busting Fedrico’s chops about his clothes, which was even more entertaining due to the language barrier.

Higuian gestured down his wardrobe, saying, “Tucker! Good! Good!”

Tucker went on to explain, with much pantomiming for the benefit of Higuain and Arrieta, “What happens is Federico’s clothes are all balled up in the drawer. Then he takes them out and irons them so that they are smooth. Then, once he’s done ironing, he balls up the clothes and stuffs them back in the drawer. Then he wears them.”

Federico and Jairo cracked up laughing.

“No! Tucker! Good!” Higauin protested, once again gesturing to his clothes.

To be fair, his clothes were not wrinkled at all, so I have no idea how the conversation started. But it definitely seems that Higuain is a good sport who will fit right in with the existing locker room culture.

 
MR. NUMBERS NERD: GAVEN GOALS EDITION

Eddie Gaven scored on Wednesday. The Crew won on Wednesday. That’s how it almost always works. The Crew are now unbeaten in 23 consecutive games in which Gaven has scored. They are 19-0-4 since October of 2007. All-time, they are 22-1-7 when Gaven has scored.

“I didn’t know that was the case,” Gaven said. “I think it’s just dumb luck more than anything. I don’t think there’s anything to it. It could be the beard, but I didn’t always have the beard. I don’t know if, four or five years ago, I was sporting the beard.”

Given the Crew’s success when Gaven scores, I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s 6-2 loss in Seattle. Maybe the Crew would have won if only Gaven had scored a goal.

“I can think of A LOT of games where I can think that,” Gaven said. “‘If I had only scored a goal…’”

But that Seattle game really stands out to me. Perhaps they would have won 7-6 if only he had scored. The numbers don’t lie. His lack of scoring was the difference.

“That’s true,” Gaven said. “I can say that about a lot of games. Maybe I need to start scoring more.”

Exactly. From now on, we can attribute every single loss exclusively to Eddie Gaven.  
 
On a related note, while Gaven’s treak is at 23 games, the Crew are unbeaten in one consecutive game when Federico Higuain scores a goal, moving him into a tie on the active-streak list with William Hesmer.

The Crew remain 0-0-0 all-time in games in which Danny O’Rourke has scored a goal.

TRILLI…..UM, WHERE’S THE CUP, EH?

Before the game kicked off, word spread that Toronto FC failed to bring the Trillium Cup with them to Columbus, even though the Crew could clinch the trophy with a victory. Whether it was a psychological ploy to tell their players that they would not lose, or whether it was a simple desire not to lug around the shockingly heavy prize, the Crew were left empty handed after their trophy-clinching win.

“That’s pretty bold,” Williams said of TFC’s decision to leave the cup in Canada. “I didn’t know that. I was wondering where it was.”

“It would have been nice if we’d had it for our fans so we could celebrate with them after the win,” said Gaven. “Oh well. At the end of the day, we still won it.”

The plan is for TFC to bring the Trillium Cup to Columbus when they return for the regular season finale on October 28. However, a bolder plan gained traction as the night wore on. How about sending Frankie Hejduk to Toronto to repo the Trillium Cup on behalf of the property’s rightful owner?

“Ooh, I don’t know,” laughed Gruenebaum. “I mean, it’s a good idea, but I feel like we can probably send somebody who’s a little more responsible.”

“I definitely think a videographer would need to go on that trip,” added Marshall.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHAD

Earlier on Wednesday, Marshall tweeted that the only thing he wanted for his birthday was three points. Mission accomplished.

“It was the best gift I got today, for sure,” Marshall said. “It was a grind, but I’ll take it.”

Gruenebaum said getting Chad three points for his birthday was the plan. Or at least it was once his wife told him about it.

“On the way here, I was talking to Lacey on the phone,” Gruenebaum explained. “She said it was Chad’s birthday, and I was like, ‘It is?’ So I’m a great friend. But yeah, that’s good that we could get him the three points.”

 
NOT SO HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDY

Gruenebaum’s birthday is December 30, so it would seem impossible for him to have a Crew-related birthday wish, but he does. On that date, William Hesmer and his fiancé Tacey will be tying the knot in Columbus. For months now, the choice of wedding date has been a source of mock friction between the two close friends.

“All I want for my birthday is to not be in Columbus for Will’s wedding,” Gruenebaum deadpanned.”I beg you, wedding gods. I just don’t think these two were meant for each other. I’m going to keep going with that angle and see if I can break them up before they have a wedding on my birthday. That’s my goal.”

The subject came up a few weeks ago during a conversation I had with the groom-to-be.

“Yeah, Andy gives me grief about that,” Hesmer said. “He also reminds me that it’s also LeBron James’ and Tiger Woods’ birthday. I don’t know how I feel about that, so I don’t know if I’m going to give him a pass for that birthday or not. “

OLD GBAUM INTERVIEW

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for Fox Sports Ohio about Hesmer being Gruenebaum’s biggest fan in 2012. [Link: http://www.foxsportsohio.com/07/31/12/Injured-Hesmer-is-a-fan-of-Crews-G... ] Circumstances, in the form of Hesmer’s season-ending hip surgery, dictated that it was a slightly different version of a story I started back in March, which was going to be about the Hesmer-Gruenebaum dynamic.

For fun, since Andy brought up Will’s wedding again, here was the preliminary interview with Gruenebaum from March 31 in Toronto….

So this is the sixth season that you and Will have been together in Columbus…

It’s in our contract that we have to play together.

I guess that explains your joint longevity.

I will say this. He’s starting to annoy me a little bit. He’s getting married. On my birthday. And he didn’t ask. That makes me very upset. I am probably going to have to spend my birthday in Columbus when I want to be home with my friends and family. But Will is not making that possible. So thanks a lot, Will. But other than that, we get along great and we push each other and we’re very supportive either way.

Supportive in what way?

I’ve learned a lot from him. You can sit behind a lot worse guys over the years than him. I’ve learned a lot from him.

Like what?

Don’t get married on your friend’s birthday. That’s one.

Anything else?

Yeah, I’ve learned a lot positionally and just reading the game. He sees the game so well. We each do our thing better than the other, and I think he reads the game a lot better than I do, so I’ve tried to learn from through that. Being able to train with him every day, he’s taught me a lot about that.

If Will’s strength is reading the game, what do you feel your strength is?

I’d say looking really good. I feel like I look good.

Anything else apart from the obvious?

I’d say reaction saves. Shot stopping. I’ve always prided myself on that a little bit. It’s just fun to dive around a little bit. I mean, my hips aren’t what they used to be, but it’s still fun. I like to dive around and come up with a huge reaction save off of a cross or a header or whatever. You know, just fly through the air. So yeah, I think we both bring some similar things to the table, and we both bring some different things to the table. That’s good. It’s been fun. Who knows that’s going to happen? You never know what’s going to happen. To be honest, for us to be together this long is a testament to loyalty and the ability to overcome injuries and succeed when we play.

I’ve noticed over the years that you guys are always the first person in the other’s ear. I can think of times when Will was out injured, and he would always greet you in the tunnel to offer congratulations or support. And the reverse has also been true. It seems that competition hasn’t impacted your relationship as friends or teammates.

Absolutely. For us, and for anybody actually, you have to be able to handle competition. Only one of us can play. There’s no point in…life’s too short to sit here and be, excuse my word, an ass. Life’s too short for that. Especially if you really get along with the guy, like Will and I do. If the decision’s made that he’s playing, like has been the case many times, then I’m going to support him and do whatever I can for the team. I don’t care who plays if we win a championship. I couldn’t care less. In 2008, I played in one game, but I got a ring and it was awesome. Let’s do it again. I mean, obviously I would love to be a part of that on the field. That’s every player’s dream, to be able to contribute on the field. If I’m called upon to do that, then that’s great. Hopefully I’ll be called upon a few more times.

Yeah, that’s the sucky thing about goalkeeping. There are no two goalkeeper formations, so only one of you can play.

We’re both really good in the field, so maybe we can both play. [Laughs.] You have to be able to handle that, though. We both have that burning desire to play. We both want to be the guy. But both of us know that we’re not going to treat each other with disrespect or anything like that because we get along and the relationship is good. We’ve been together a long time. There’s no point. It’s out of our hands. All we can do is show up and train to the best of our abilities and make each other better. If your name is called, then your name is called. So the key, like I said, is don’t be an ass.

SPEAKING OF GOALKEEPERS LOOKING GOOD…

Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson has taken to a new fashion style. He is wearing a hat. Not a ballcap, but a real old fashioned fedora-type hat.

“My favorite movie is The Sting,” Lampson explained. “That era, I’m trying to bring it back. It’s not working. “

But the important thing is that he looks good, right?

“I didn’t say that,” he admonished. “I didn’t say I looked good. Eddie and I, every day we do our best not to look homeless. It’s not working out. This is the greatest attempt I’ve had, and it’s still not cutting it.”

At that moment, we were interrupted by Danny O’Rourke.

“Sirk, I’d like to introduce you to our new goalie, Kevin Federline.”

And with that, the ex-Mr. Britney Spears, er, I mean the current Matt Lampson, walked out the door.

ANOTHER LAMPSON MOMENT

One of the more entertaining aspects of standing in the tunnel after the game is listening to the fans ask the players for stuff as they walk off the field. Jerseys, shorts, shin guards, shoes, you name it. After a recent game, the fans bombarded Lampson with the usual requests for his jersey, his goalie gloves, and so on.  Lampson walked over to me with a bemused smile on his face, marveling at the glamorous life of the backup goalkeeper.

“Every game, they ask me for my stuff,” he said. “I don’t know why. I don’t even DO anything!”

ON THE DISASTROUS MOFFAT ROCKET…

The Crew dropped two points in Houston on August 19 when Gruenebaum dropped a shot from former Crew midfielder Adam Moffat into the net in the 82nd minute. Gruenebaum is a stand-up guy, and he of course took blame for the goal. But maybe not in the way you’d assume. It wasn’t his action on the goal, but rather his inaction prior to the goal, that taught him a hard lesson.

“It was just one of those things where, as hot as it was, I was sweating through everything, including my gloves,” he explained. “I kept trying to dry my gloves off, and every time the ball boy threw me the ball, I had no grip. In hindsight, I should have changed gloves. I was prepared to do that tonight. It wasn’t necessary tonight, but now I know to think things through at halftime every game now.”

 
MOFFAT ROCKETS AND BABIES

Immediately after the goal, I emailed Moffat the following note: “Since when do you have a left foot? I had no idea that the Moffat Rocket launcher was double-barreled!”

“That was a surprise for me also,” he wrote back. “I have a new weapon I never knew existed. Was a nice baby gift from Andy, though. He’s a nice guy.”

Moffat and his wife Jennifer welcomed their daughter, Evelyn, into the world on May 14. However, it turns out that Moffat wasn’t the only one due for a baby gift.

“I have a baby now too,” Gruenebaum said. “We have a baby girl rabbit. Her name is Roo because she hops up like a kangaroo. She is the greatest thing that we have ever purchased. She’s amazing. Her ears are just hanging on the ground and she hops everywhere. She shakes her butt, which I guess means that she is happy. She’s a licker. She thinks she’s a dog. She will come up to you, sniff you, and then lick your face. She’s the cutest thing in the world. I’m expecting a baby gift from Moffat if we ever play them again.”

So it was rude of Moffat not give Gruenebaum a baby gift. He should have scored a stoppage-time own-goal or something to even things out, right?

“Well, he didn’t know we had the baby,” Gruenebaum said. “And at least our baby, she poops solid. It’s easy to clean up. I can’t complain there. And she doesn’t cry or anything, so we’re good.”

Having a rabbit for a baby also has entertainment advantages.

“She was in her cage, and Lacey was like, ‘I think she’s gonna do it.’ And I’m like, ‘Do what?’ And she says, ‘Just watch.’ So she starts sprinting around in her cage and then she jumps out, full speed, and she slides out across the kitchen floor, which is hardwood, and slides right into the door. It was incredible. It was the funniest thing ever.

“Now we let her roam around the living room, which is carpeted. She is the fastest thing ever. Now she’s like, ‘Oh, I have traction! There’s more to life than this hardwood floor!’ She does laps around the dining room table. We think our bunny is a little bit special, but we love her.”

The Gruenebaums are taking their bunny parenting very seriously. They’re already making big parenting decisions.

“We’re going to home school her, I think.”

GREAT MOMENTS IN CREW HISTORY: MARTINO’S EYE GOUGE

Actually, the great moment in Crew history was winning the U.S. Open Cup on October 24, 2002. A not-so-great moment happened in the aftermath. As the team posed for their championship photo, Crew defender Mike Clark jammed his fingers into midfielder Kyle Martino’s left eye. The gouging is commemorated on a mural in the hallway leading to the Crew’s locker room.  Martino, now an analyst for NBC Sports Network, agreed to look at the mural during his recent visit to Columbus on August 15.

“I remember it so well,” Martino said. “We’re having a blast, and then all of a sudden Clarkie just murders me from behind. You can tell by his face that he planned to gouge me in the eye. Ever since then I’ve had a glass eyeball.”

He was just joking about the glass eyeball. I then showed Martino another part of the mural where you can see that his eye is totally red.

“Unbelievable,” Martino said. “He almost killed me. But I’m going to let it go. I still love you, Clarkie. I don’t hold any grudges.”

Questions? Comments? Know of a good multi-national trophy repo company? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk