Sirk's Notebook: Chad's a Nice Guy

Sanchez on the board, Grand Theft Oduro and Dom wants to decorate his locker with pizza

Season ending ACL injuries to Eddie Gaven and Glauber got you down? Does a 3-0 loss in Philadelphia have you feeling blue? Does a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss in Chicago have you moping under a dark cloud of gloom and doom? How about a late-night college-style interstate bus trip because of weather delays at the airport? Does that you have your cursing your luck and wondering what else could possibly go wrong?  All of that sounds pretty bad, but the good news is that it’s nothing an evening with Canada can’t fix.

The Crew continued their lifelong mastery of all things Canadian, earning a much needed 2-0 victory over the first-place Montreal Impact on Saturday night in front of a season-high crowd of 18,320 at Crew Stadium. Apart from ACL surgeries, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Or at least that’s what I would have thought.

“Our confidence wasn’t down,” said Crew speedster Dominic Oduro. “We’ve been playing fairly well. We were tying games and losing games that we were dominating. This was a step up in the right direction. We feel good right now because we know we played well and we deserved this win. It’s a positive, and now we need to do this at a consistent level. We need to finish games at this level. We know it’s not always going to be smooth sailing, and bad times come and go, but at the end of the day, if we can be consistent, we can go places. It’s a matter of can we mentally focus and do that every game? It’s up to us.”

Whatever the case may be, Saturday was unquestionably a good step in the right direction.

SANCHEZ ON THE BOARD

The Crew took the lead in the 6th minute when Matias Sanchez scored his first Crew goal. Sanchez is traditionally more defensive-minded, but he was quick to join the Crew’s attack on Saturday. The goal was the result of a won challenge, a brave pass in the face of an impending wipeout, and a deflected shot. Federico Higuain won a 50/50 ball, knocking it to Oduro, who turned on the jets and dribbled up the heart of the Montreal defense. As he was about to be cleaned out by an attempted tackle, Oduro didn’t bail on the play. A split second before impact, he tapped the ball to Sanchez, whose shot from 18 yards picked up a deflection and hit the back of the net.

“We talked about it (Friday),” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “We did some patterns and then asked one of the midfielders to join the attack and be closer to the forwards. Sanchez was first and did very well. He took the shot and luck was on our side.”

“I was trying to beat the guy one on one,” Oduro said. “I don’t want to say it was an excellent tackle, but he hit me a little bit and I got the ball to Matias and he hit the ball in.”

“The team was standing well defensively and Pipa recovers it, kicks it to Oduro, and then Oduro gives it to me,” Sanchez said through a translator. “Then I see that Bernardo is dragging away the defender with his run, so I hit it and I score. Then I celebrate.”

Upon speaking that last sentence, Sanchez raised both fists in the air and let loose an “Ahhhhhhh” that was meant to approximate the roar of the cheering crowd. Awesome.

GRAND THEFT ODURO

In the 22nd minute, the Crew doubled their lead when Oduro pickpocketed Montreal defender Collen Warner, then converted his breakaway by opening his hips and tucking a right-footed shot inside the right post.

According to Warzycha, the goal was the result of his team’s tactical awareness of how the Impact “sometimes abuse possession.”

“The goal that Dominic scored, he got the ball from the guy who was facing his own goal. He was trying to make another pass, and (Oduro) took it and he scored,” Warzycha said.

“I’m fast!” Oduro said with a laugh. “That’s what I do! If you slip for one second, I’m right there. I’m happy I was able to use my ability and my speed to steal the ball. Thank God for my speed because I was able to run up there and slip one in behind.”

TWEAKS ON OFFENSE

Warzycha made a few tactical tweeks heading into the game. Oduro remained up top, while Bernardo Anor and Ben Speas manned the flanks. The idea was to keep Higuain as centrally-located as possible. Anor was placed at right mid and Speas on the left so that each winger could cut in on his dominant foot.

“We talked with Federico before the game and we want him to be more central,” Warzycha said. ‘That's where he's more dangerous. I think teams want him to drift left or drift right and not be able to be dangerous. Today he stood more between the (outside edges of the) penalty boxes and that's why he was so successful. He was picking up the second ball and also Bernardo was tucking in and so was Speas. Bernardo was going with his left foot, which we wanted because the left back is a left footed player, so I think it was easier for him to penetrate the inside. And that gives (right back) Chad Barson the space on the right side to go forward.”

“It was a little bit of a change of formation,” Oduro said. “As you could see, I was a little bit deeper this time and then running at defenders once Pipa got the ball. Bernardo did well with Ben Speas in attacking forward.”

“Federico played tactically well today and that's why he was more effective,” Warzycha said. “He always talks about the touches and having as many as he can. But staying inside he had a lot of touches today especially between Bernardo, him, Sanchez, and O'Rourke. I think Oduro and him was a very good combination.”

Warzycha was pleased by the execution on the field, joking, “At times we looked a little like Barcelona.”

DANNY AND MATIAS

It wasn’t all pretty stuff. A shutout means gritty stuff. The Crew’s central midfield tandem of Matias Sanchez and Danny O’Rourke played a large role in disrupting the Montreal offense.

“It was two little pit bulls in there, causing havoc,” Chad Marshall said. “They don’t shy away from tackles, so it was nice having them in there and breaking stuff up.”

“That’s huge for us,” said Josh Williams. “That’s the most important part of the field, and if you lock that down, stuff starts to fall your way. I think Matias getting a goal early got us going, and then Danny was his usual beast self, always disrupting stuff.”

“The idea that we had going into the game was that Danny would be a little bit more recovery,” Sanchez said. “That means I had the freedom to go forward, attack more, and to create more chances with Pipa. That frees me so I can interact a little more with Pipa. Bernardo, and Oduro. I definitely felt very comfortable playing with Danny. Hopefully we can continue to play next to each other and continue on the path to the wins.”

OH, DID YOU OVERHEAR THAT?

One of the tried and true locker room pranks is to give an interview answer that mocks a teammate at the precise moment that the teammate in question walks by and is within earshot. I asked Gruenebaum about the O’Rourke / Sanchez midfield pairing just as O’Rourke walked by the goalkeeper’s locker.

“I mean, we all know what Danny can do,” Gruenebaum said. “Let’s not blow it out of proportion. I don’t want his head to explode or anything. Players like Danny are a dime a dozen. Skinny ties and sweater vests aside, it’s obviously great to have him back, but we don’t really need him.”
 
“That’s basically true,” O’Rourke said as he continued on his way.

CHAD AND JOSH

The Crew’s central defense partied like it was 2012. The season-ending injury to Glauber and the simultaneous return to health of Marshall, Williams, and Barson meant that Marshall and Williams were reunited at center back. It was Marshall’s first game since May 11 and Williams’ first since May 28. It was the first time the two of them lined up as center back partners since July 8 of last year.

“We needed it,” O’Rourke said of their performance. “Losing Eddie and Glauber, you can’t really replace those two guys, but we got Josh and Chad back and we got 90 minutes out of those two guys. It’s not easy to do that in the first game back, so credit to them. I don’t want to say it was makeshift, because they’ve played together before, but obviously it wasn’t Chad and Glauber, which is what we’ve been used to this year. I thought the entire back line was fantastic.”

“Those guys bring a lot to the game,” Gruenebaum said. “They are a very calming presence back there. Chad’s been around a long time and there’s a reason why he is one of the best defenders in the league. Josh is solid as well. I feel that that’s a position where we always have a lot of depth at, whether it be Gehrig or Kevan too, we can just plug guys in there. But it’s good to have Chad back because you always want to have your best guys out there and Chad is obviously a huge part of what we’re trying to do here. Josh is NOT.”

(Like O’Rourke before, Williams happened to be walking by as Gruenebaum spoke.)

As for the center backs themselves, they survived their 90 minutes and helped keep a clean sheet.

“It felt alright,” Marshall said. “I’m tired now, that’s for sure.”
 
As for reuniting with Williams, Marshall said, “I think we have a good understanding of what the other likes to do in certain situations. We talk to each other a lot on the field, so it was good. I don’t think they had much.”

Williams, meanwhile, was thankful that his first game back was with Marshall, whom Williams has previously referred to as a superhero that comes to the rescue any time he screws up.

“It was a little fast and I was little rusty, but playing next to the big guy means you can make some mistakes and he’s always got your back,” Williams said. “It felt good to be back in the middle. That’s my preferred position.”

With Glauber out for the year and Barson making a strong case for himself at right back, Williams may get his preference for the foreseeable future.

“That's a position he likes and hopefully he is going to bond with Chad and they are going to be good center backs,” Warzycha said. “If we keep a clean sheet every game there's no reason to put him on the right side or the left side.”

DI VAIO’S LEISURELY STROLL

The 85th minute saw one of the odder plays of the evening. At 84:02, Montreal lumped a long ball into the Crew’s penalty area. The ball skimmed off of Montreal star Marco Di Vaio’s chest at 84:04 and rolled to Crew goalkeeper Gruenebaum, who dribbled it near the end line to the right of the Crew’s goal. With the Crew comfortably in front by two goals, Gruenebaum did what all goalkeepers do in that situation—he stood there until an opponent got near enough to force him to pick up the ball with his hands. It milks the clock and forces a tired opponent to sprint in vain, so it’s a win-win for the goalkeeper.

What made this situation different was Di Vaio’s utter indifference. He finally managed to take a leisurely stroll toward Gruenebaum, rather than running the 20 yards necessary to quickly force Gruenebaum’s hand. So Gruenebaum stood with the ball at his feet for what felt like an awkward eternity. Di Vaio eventually wandered close enough to make Gruenebaum pick up the ball at 84:28. A full NBA possession of 24 seconds had run off the clock since Di Vaio had originally chested the ball to Gruenebaum.

“I’ll tell you what, I was waiting as long as I could,” Gruenebaum said. “I don’t know if he was trying to prove a point or what. Like, was he trying to prove that I was wasting time? The ball was in play, and clearly most goalkeepers are going to do the same thing, so whatever. Maybe I should have dribbled to the other side and see if he would have followed me. Maybe I could have killed a few minutes by just dribbling around the box. But whatever.”

If you are like Marco Di Vaio during a late-game deficit and therefore have ample time to fritter away doing nothing, then ease back from the edge of your seat and behold the most anti-action un-packed non-highlight ever!

LOPSIDED GOAL FEUD

One of the fun fake feuds this year has been the goalscoring rivalry between Oduro and Williams. With his 7th goal of the season, Oduro has now more than doubled Josh’s year-to-date total of three. Back when the race was closer, Oduro insisted that Williams had no chance. He reiterated that point on Saturday.

“Never!” Oduro said of Williams’ odds of surpassing Oduro to win the Golden Boot. “I told you! Never!”

According to Williams, there is a perfectly logical explanation for the growing goal disparity.

“He’s hogging the ball a little bit,” Williams said. “He’s being very selfish. I went streaking down the field and I called for the ball, but he looked up at me and mouthed the words, ‘Not a chance.’ Then he shot a ridiculous shot. I think it’s getting to his head and he’s just hogging the ball now.”

Williams stressed that he was obviously kidding. Still, another Viking Volley or two might be needed to keep this fake goalscoring feud alive. For now, Oduro is pulling away as if Josh’s goal total were the entire Chivas USA lineup in stoppage time of the season opener.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: TIDBITS EDITION

* With the win over the Impact, the Crew are now 14-4-8 all-time against Canadian teams. Like I said, Canada traditionally fixes a lot of things in the Crew universe.

* According to Elias Sports Bureau, Saturday marked the first time the Crew attained a shutout victory over a team in sole possession of first place since beating the Chicago Fire, 3-0, on August 1, 2001. Digging a little deeper, the Crew’s goal scorers that day evening at Crew Stadium were Jeff Cunningham in the 65th, John Wilmar Perez in the 69th, and Brian Maisonneuve in the 83rd.

* Not only did first-place Montreal lose to the Crew 2-0, but Western-leading Dallas fell 1-0 at Portland. According to Elias, it was the first time that both teams in sole possession of first place suffered shutout losses on the same day since August 30, 2009. On that day, the Crew lost 1-0 in New York, while the Houston Dynamo lost 1-0 in Colorado.

MR. NUMBERS NERD: WEIRD TRADE EDITION

Last week, the Crew traded an international roster slot to FC Dallas for a 4th round supplemental draft pick. The international roster slot reverts back to the Crew on December 31, 2013, so it’s more of a short-term loan. Some tidbits…

* While you can get a steal like a Kirk Urso or an Andy Gruenebaum in the early stages of the supplemental draft, only two players have ever made the Crew’s roster after being selected in the 4th round of the college-based supplemental draft as we know it. One of them, Shawn Sloan, is currently on the team. The other was midfielder Kevin Burns, who appeared in 50 games spanning all competitions from 2008-2011, and famously scored his only Crew goal at a perfect time, giving Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final in Seattle.

* This is the third time the Crew have ever traded an international roster slot, and all three times the Crew have traded it to Dallas. In 2005, the Crew coupled an international slot and a 2nd round SuperDraft pick to acquire Cornell Glen from Dallas. Glen would score four goals in his only season in Columbus. Then in 2008, the Crew sent an international roster slot to Dallas in exchange for a first-round supplemental draft pick in 2009. The 2009 supplemental draft was subsequently canceled, so the Crew actually got nothing in the deal.

DOM’S PIZZA AND EDDIE’S LOCKER
 
After previous victories, Oduro was excited to collect his bonus win bonus, which is 25% off of Papa John’s Pizza the day after a Crew win. Now that he is doing promotional work for Papa John’s, he gets free pizza like other players get free shoes.

“I’m not even getting them cheap; I’m getting them free,” Oduro said. “Put that in there: ‘Dominic Oduro doesn’t need to buy Papa John’s no more.’ It’s a full commitment, so I get pizza all the time.”

It’s one of the perks of being a Papa John’s delivery man, I guess.

Craig Merz wandered by our conversation and asked Oduro if he would be taking over Eddie Gaven’s locker now that Gaven is out for the year. Running with the idea, I suggested that Dom could keep his original locker for his stuff and then use Eddie’s locker for pizza storage.

“Yeah, Eddie’s out, so I get to extend my locker,” Oduro said. “I definitely need one for my pizza. I’m going to call Papa John’s right now and see if they can make that happen.”

In order to help Dom, I took a blurry/crappy photo of an empty Crew locker and described a prototype of remodeled locker to Sam Fahmi so that Sam could make a conceptual mock-up incorporating the features that would be necessary to make Dom’s dream a reality.

 

Hastily-constructed Photoshop of the ridiculous Gaven locker-remodeling concept generously mocked up by Sam Fahmi.

Upon approving the proposed designs, Oduro issued the following statement: "Eating Papa John's makes me really fast, as well as helps me to score goals. Since Eddie is unfortunately out this season, I have made it a point to remodel his locker, which is next to mine, as my new storage for my pregame food--  Papa John's Pizza. I hope Eddie is okay with it!"

After reviewing the proposed remodel via email, Gaven has consented to a short-term rezoning of his locker space through the end of the 2013 season. He replied, “Dom can use my locker for his pizza storage as long as he gives me a slice occasionally!”

A KID AND A GROWNUP

Last Thursday, Crew defender Eric Gehrig tweeted the following photograph of his young self with Crew legend Frankie Hejduk. Frankie looks like Frankie, but Gehrig is just a kid. It’s kind of a mind warp.

“It’s amazing, dude,” Hejduk said. “It made me feel very, very old. It’s so weird. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like, ‘I still feel like I’m your age, dude.’ But you look at that picture, and now he’s a grown dude and I’m a kid.”

APOLOGIES TO THE PIPAS

In the last Notebook, I noted that at least four children of pro athletes were at the Crew-Houston match, citing Andrew Luck, Tyler Tettleton, Danny O’Rourke, and Konrad Warzycha. I failed to mention Federico Higuain, whose father, Jorge, played for Boca Juniors and River Plate, among others. It’s not even that I didn’t know. After all, Pipa inherited the nickname from his father. I just totally spaced on it while writing.

I guess I covered my bases by writing “at least” four, but still, the Higuains were a glaring omission on my part. My apologies and much respect to the Pipas!

BUS TRIP

After the Crew’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss to the Fire last Wednesday, their day wasn’t destined to get better. The team was scheduled to fly out of Chicago at 9:50 that night, but it quickly became apparent that those plans might fall apart.

“I kinda felt it coming,” said Gruenebaum. “I talked to (his wife) Lacey earlier and she said, ‘Are you on the 9:50 flight?’ This was right after the game and she said, ‘It’s delayed until 11:30.’ I was like, ‘We’ll probably just bus back.’ But then we hung out at the hotel and I kept thinking, ‘Are we really doing this?’ because the flight kept saying delayed.”

The players boarded the bus at the hotel as if they were going to the airport, but once they boarded, they were informed that the bus would be taking them all the way back to Columbus. Part way through Indiana, things got interesting.

“The bus driver gets pulled over,” Gruenebaum said. “He was speeding in a construction zone and didn’t fill out his log book or whatever. The cop had a real attitude going on.”

“He got pulled over straight Super Troopers style,” said O’Rourke. “I wanted to take a piece of paper and write ‘RAMROD’ and stick it up against the window, but I had a feeling that might get us stuck there for a while. The guy just sped up and then reversed it on the highway, like it was the movie ‘Speed’ and our bus was trying to run away. We weren’t trying to run away.”

Crew team ops man Tucker Walter looked on in horror as the bus driver and the police officer had a spirited conversation. Based on those heated discussions, there was the very real possibility that a replacement driver would need to be summoned. The nearest replacement driver was three hours away.

“All I could think was ‘What else could go (bleeping) wrong right now?’” Walther said.

“We thought that we were going to have to wait for another bus driver out of Chicago to come out and meet us,” Gruenebaum said. “Luckily, we are able to keep our driver.”

So how did the players pass the time during this unexpected bus trip?

“We did a little bit of reading and the guys playing on their devices didn’t lose their batteries,” Gruenebaum said. “There was a lot of good banter and an interesting truck stop to get some food.”

Interesting in what way?

“We just watched some truckers getting ready to shower and whatever they do,” Gruenebaum deadpanned. “It was buzzing in there with guys getting Subway and beef jerky and popcorn and candy. It was very interesting.”

The Hebrew Hammer and company also engaged their competitive side while on the bus.
 
“We played some euchre,” he said. “We had two strong games going on with some guys who like to play euchre. Danny and I were partnered up. It kills a little bit of time. We beat Schoenfeld, but that’s not saying something. He’s a nervous kid anyway, but get him in a euchre game and watch his hands shake. When he shuffles, his hands are trembling. Whenever it’s his turn to play a card, he’s trembling. Sometimes he forgets to play a card, or he forgets what card was led…he just struggles with it sometimes.
 
“We had an epic series with Ethan (Finlay) and Justin (Meram.) Those guys were on fire. Justin must have a golden horseshoe up his butt or something. He was just getting good cards. When all you see are nines and tens in your hand, there’s nothing you can do.”

The team got back to Columbus at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning. That morning’s training session was canceled, but the players had to come in at 6:15 that evening for a regen session, which Gruenebaum said was, “just to get a little sweat on and to make sure the guys remained focused. We got to sleep in and stuff.”

So, after all that, did the bus trip harken back to college days?

“That’s exactly what it felt like,” Gruenebaum said. “It felt like I was in college. It was pizza and kickers. We had a good time. It wasn’t ideal, but the guys made the most of it.”

“It was even worse than in college,” said O’Rourke. “All of our Indiana trips were much better than that. But we took a (crappy) situation and made the best of it.”

CHAD’S A NICE GUY

A month or so ago, two Crew veterans had an amusing conversation whereby Chad Marshall kept antagonizing Danny O’Rourke, resulting in Danny calling Chad “mean.” This prompted Chad to declare that he is a mean guy and that the title of my Notebook that week should be “Chad’s a Mean Guy.”

After talking with Marshall on Saturday, our interview ended with an impromptu hug from the big defender.

“See, I’m not a mean guy,” Marshall said. “I’m a nice guy.”

So let the record now show that Chad is a nice guy. He was certainly a nice guy to have back in the lineup on Saturday.

 
Questions? Comments? Now totally confused about whether Chad is a mean guy or a nice guy or what? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahioo.com or via twitter @stevesirk