Sirk's Notebook: Orange Edition
Playing Teams That Wear Orange Week was a mixed bag for the Columbus Crew. On Wednesday, the Crew defeated the Dayton Dutch Lions, 2-1, in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. On Saturday, they tied the Houston Dynamo, 1-1, in MLS play. Columbus nearly frittered away the first game and should have won the second game, so being the everything-is-opposite 2013 Crew, they did the reverse.
Saturday’s draw dropped the Crew to 1-2-3 at Crew Stadium, which feels weird for a team that had gone 52-13-16 at home in regular season play over the previous five years. But being the everything-is-opposite 2013 Crew, they are counteracting their all-time club-worst 1.00 points per game at home with an all-time club-best 1.57 points per game on the road. What the…. ?
“It’s difficult because we are doing well away, but we are not at home,” said forward Jairo Arrieta. “We need to be strong at home. We need to pinpoint what we are doing wrong at home so we can change it and get the same results that we are getting on the road.”
“Thankfully, we’re winning road games and getting results on the road,” said defender Eric Gehrig. “I think if that continues, it’s got to carry over to our home games. The crowd was great tonight and we love playing in front of our fans. It’s our stadium and we really try to take it to our opponents, and that’s what we did tonight, but it’s unfortunate. It’s got to change and I think it will.”
“I think it’s fluky because I can’t really explain it,” said goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. “We can’t even think about it because once you start to think about it, it starts to creep into your head. We just need to stay positive. Our fans are great and they are always behind us, so we just need to go out and win next time.”
There will be more home vs. road befuddlement in a Mr. Numbers Nerd segment later in the Notebook. For now, on to the usual random tidbits…
Against the run of play, the Dynamo grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute. The play came almost out of nowhere. With one burst near midfield along the right sideline, Kofi Sarkodie zipped past Justin Meram and into the space vacated by Tyson Wahl. He then carried the ball into the edge of the Crew box and played a perfect cross into the path of an unmarked Warren Creavalle, who expertly volleyed the ball into the Crew goal.
“It was a good individual effort,” Gruenebaum said. “Their midfielder made a late run and found himself free. It’s something we can’t have from our end. Sarkodie touches it by Justin and Tyson and is able to send a great ball in, and then it was a good finish. Obviously, it was a miscommunication, but that guy can’t be wide open in the middle of our box. It’s something where we’ll have to look at the video and make sure we learn from it.”
The Crew almost equalized twice courtesy of Jairo Arrieta, but each time he was stymied by Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
“I had a couple of chances, but I am left without much flavor.” Arrieta said.
Hall made a terrific reaction save on an Arrieta rebound attempt in the 42nd minute, after Hall had parried aside a Fedrico Higuain blast, but it was Hall’s save four minutes earlier that left everyone speechless. Arrieta ran under a 40-yard aerial pass and redirected it with a spinning volley. The ball bounced toward the far side netting, but did so just slowly enough that Hall was able to rush back and slap the ball wide of the post at the last instant.
“I wish I could have hit it a little more solid,” Arrieta said. “If it would have come off my foot a little better, then the goalie would not have had a chance. He made a tremendous effort. I tried, and I thought it was going in, but that’s soccer.”
The tied the game in the 69th minute on a Federico Higuain penalty kick. Higuian nutmegged his defender to find Matias Sanchez, who then played the ball to Dominic Oduro’s head just inside the box. Orduro nodded a ball across to right back Chard Barson, who was then clipped by Houston’s Andrew Driver.
“I just tried to step to the ball and beat the guy to it,” Barson said. “Luckily, I got a touch and he took me down and Pipa was there to deliver a penalty kick.”
Higuian smashed his penalty kick right up the middle to knot the score. Earning a penalty kick was a nice addition to Barson’s first career start.
“I think maybe it was a little bit of destiny because my grandparents came to town and my whole family was able to come today, so it was definitely something exciting,” he said.
The Crew nearly won the game in the 74th minute when Higuain curled a shot that hit the inside of the right post. A fraction of an inch would have meant a goal. The rebound caromed to a wide open Justin Meram at the six yard box, but the ball bounced wide off of his foot. When it rains, it pours. That applies to the late second-half rain showers and the Crew’s excruciating near-misses.
“That ball that Pipa hit off the post, it slips out,” Meram said. “I mean, it was a reaction to hit it. Wet surface, but you know for me, and for my teammates, I have to do better.”
Meram’s miss was one in a long line of almost-goals on the night,
“I think we all have to go church,” he said. “Or I’ve got to go to church or something to figure out how to get that ball in the back of the net like in the Open Cup.”
In the 52nd minute, Gruenebaum once again did a fine imitation of his goaltending idol, New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur. Whereas earlier this year, Gruenebaum flashed some hockey-styled kick saves, on Saturday he went down and made three successive saves through a tangle bodies as the ball was loose inside the six yard box. It was just like in hockey where the goalie holds his ground and hopes the ref will blow his whistle because he lost sight of the puck. Only that didn’t happen for Gruenebaum, so he tried a different tact.
“It was a scrum,” Gruenebaum said. “It was chaos. And by the way, that State Farm commercial is crap. When that happened, I sang, ‘Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there’ and nobody showed up. That commercial is bull(poop.) It doesn’t really work like that, but what are you going to do? It was just chaos, so you just try to keep your body in front of the ball. We withstood it.”
The 2013 Crew are 1-2-3 at home, averaging 1.00 points per game. On the road, the Crew are 3-2-2, averaging 1.57 points per game. The 1.00 home points per game is (for now) the worst in club history, coming in below the 1.13 home points per game earned by the 2006 Crew, who went 4-6-6 at Crew Stadium.
Fewest points per home game:
Conversely, the 2013 Crew’s 1.57 points per road game currently tops the previous record of 1.47 points per road game set in 2008, when the Massive Champions went 6-5-4.
Most points per road game:
And here’s where it gets really bizarre. Considering the 2013 team is on the top of both of those charts, they obviously hold the club record for fewest home points per road point. It’s not even close. The combination of road success and home frustration displayed thus far in 2013 is thoroughly unprecedented in Crew history.
This is a ratio of home points divided by road points, so it’s not a measure of quality. The 2008 Crew rank 10th at 1.59 home points per road point. Rather, it just measures the disparity between home and road performance… and the 2013 Crew is off-the-charts unique. (Please note that 2013 was calculated on points per game since the number of home and road games aren’t currently equal.)
Fewest home points per road point:
Most home points per road point:
So the two years leading up to 2013 were two of the most lopsided in favor of home results, and now the 2013 team has “overcorrected” in the most perplexing way imaginable. It’s a long season, and there is still more than half of the home and road schedules to play, so a lot can change before the end of the season. But without a doubt, the home-road reversal has been a noticeably odd development so far.
Wednesday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match took place one year to the day that the Crew lost to the third-division Dayton Dutch Lions in the 2012 tourney. Last year, the Crew held a 1-0 lead and then gave up counterattack goals in the 79th and 81st minutes to suffer a stunning defeat.
On Wednesday, the Crew held a 1-0 lead thanks to an Eddie Gaven goal, but then gave up a counterattack goal to Dayton’s Shane Smith in the…um…78th minute. Uh-oh. And then in the…um…82nd minute, Dayton’s Brandon Swartzendruber had a counterattack breakaway against Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson. In that moment, history was poised to repeat itself. But then Lampson came up with a huge save, only to see the rebound go to Swartzendruber, who knocked the ball toward the empty net. It appeared that Dayton would replicate last year’s 79th and 81st minute tallies with 78th and 82nd minute tallies in 2013, but a recovering Eric Gehrig somehow managed to clear the ball away before it completely crossed the line.
“I was frustrated at that point because, like you, I was having flashbacks to last year,” Gehrig said of his last-moment clearance. “We’re too good a team for that. I can’t say that was what made me clear it off the line, but I’ve had enough of that. I’ve had enough of losing in the first round of the Open Cup. I was determined to do all I can so we wouldn’t lose that game.
“I’ve watched the play a couple of times,” he continued. “The guy had a one-on-one with Matt, and Chad (Barson) did a good job recovering. As defenders, we’re taught to cover the goal. Matt made a good first save, but unluckily, the rebound went right back to the guy. I busted to get back and did all I could to get to the ball.”
Two minutes after Lampson’s save and Gehrig’s clearance, Justin Meram smacked home the winning goal for Columbus. I just couldn’t help but marvel that a fraction of an inch reversed the score and separated the fates of May 29, 2012, and May 29, 2013.
Saturday’s crowd of 11,040 wasn’t lacking in the quarterback department, that’s for sure. Number one overall NFL draft pick and Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck was in attendance, as was his father, former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck. They were cheering for the Dynamo, as Andrew grew up in Houston and Oliver used to serve as the Dynamo’s president.
On the flip side, the Crew were supported Ohio Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who attended his very first Crew game.
— Tyler Tettleton (@Tyler_Tettleton) June 2, 2013
In addition to being a big day for quarterbacks, there were at least four sons of pro athletes in the stadium. Andrew Luck, as noted above, is one of them. Tettleton is the son of former big league catcher Mickey Tettleton. And then the Crew have two such players. Danny O’Rourke is the son of former Houston Oilers wide receiver Dan O’Rourke, while Konrad Warzycha is the son of former Crew, Everton, and Poland National Team midfielder Robert Warzycha.
Speaking of Dan O’Rourke, he came to Sunday’s reserve match to watch Danny play, but he also brought a special guest. Sitting at field level, Mr. O’Rourke was accompanied by his daughter’s dog, Harley, who is a Chihuahua / whippet mix. Noting that Harley was actively following the ball, Mr. O’Rourke joked that Harley wanted to get out there and play. This prompted Crew equipment manager Rusty Wummel to take action.
Rusty decided that Harley needed a jersey, and he was convinced that he could make one of a Crew sock. He went back to the locker room and returned with a damaged sock and a little tool kit. He then used a scalpel to surgically cut leg holes out of the sock.
“I didn’t see you take any measurements,” I said. “How do you know it’s even going to fit? How do you know you’re even cutting the leg holes in the right spot? What if they’re too close or too far apart?”
Rusty had no patience or desire to answer such questions. He was on a mission. Crew team ops guru Tucker Walther suggested that we get a Sharpie so we could write Harley’s name and number on the back of the jersey. Mr. O’Rourke suggested that Harley wear number 5 ½.
Before we got to personalizing the jersey, there was a jersey fitting. It did not go well. While the sock jersey fit over Harley’s head, the sock was nowhere near wide enough to fit Harley’s body. It was so obvious that, for Harley’s sake, Mr. O’Rourke didn’t even try. And let’s be real, there’s no way Rusty’s leg holes would have matched up anyway. I’m just bummed we didn’t get to prove it.
“The sad part is that Rusty spent more time on the dog’s jersey than he does on our actual uniforms,” Tucker said.
During the New York game on May 29, television viewers saw a lengthy shot of Danny O’Rourke waiting to check into the game. While waiting, Danny punched his right hip a few times, and also dug his knuckle into his hip, as seen in this screen capture:
This prompted former Crew defender and presently ubiquitous MLS broadcaster Brian Dunseth to tweet me the following request:
From personal experience, Dunny knows where to go to get randomly weird and pointless questions answered. So after Saturday’s game, I asked O’Rourke what was up with the knuckle-digging and hip punches.
“I don’t know,” he said while appearing to be genuinely befuddled by what I was even talking about. “I really don’t even know.”
Not wanting to let Dunny down, I had to move on in an effort to find an answer. Then it dawned on me—who better to consult about punishing a hip than Andy Gruenebaum? He’s had hip surgery and probably knows a lot about alternative hip self-therapy. It turns out that I went to the right back-up source.
“He’s told me before that when he pounds on his hips, it’s supposed to….what’s it supposed to be for?” Gruenebaum said, turning his attention to the Crew’s head athletic rrainer, Dave Lagow.
“It’s supposed to make his gluts relax,” Lagow said, earning an oh-yeah-nod from Gruenebaum.
“I’ve tried doing it and it just hurts,” Gruenebaum said. “And I feel ridiculous hitting myself over and over. I guess it does kinda feel good in a ‘good pain’ sort of way. But I guess when you’re 30, and Danny and I are both 30, but I’m a young 30 and he’s wearing sweater vests, so you can take from that what you want. I guess Danny’s really feeling it. I can get by, but he’s really old.”
Sloan and Keepers (@yellowswagband) is a musical collaboration between rookie Shawn Sloan and goalkeepers Andy Gruenebaum, Dan Withrow, and Matt Lampson. (Lampson hasn’t appeared in the videos, but I heard that he played Gatorade-bottle-percussion during a live performance, and I assume he is also involved in the songwriting.)
The group has released two songs so far. The first was a fresh take on James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, adapted to extol the visual virtues of Crew defender Tyson Wahl, who they sing is “on his sixth team in two years.”
And their second song is the instant classic “Don’t Worry, Pipa’s Happy”, featuring a guest vocal appearance by Federico Higuain on the Pipa-centric adaptation of the Bobby McFerrin hit.
As Withrow sings lines like, “Half the team don’t understand, but still he will wear the captain’s band,” Pipa gleefully joins in to sing the song’s catchphrase.
“He was on board,” Gruenebaum said of the Argentine guest vocalist. “He’s got a great sense of humor, so we knew that we could take advantage of that. He’s a great guy, so that was fun, and we look forward to providing the fans with more shenanigans. Our plan is to touch on every player in here. It’s just about having fun, and each song is either going to be about someone or featuring someone.”
After Wendesday’s U.S. Open Cup win over Dayton, I hung around to watch the conclusion of the do-or-die NHL playoff game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Amongst the Crew, Gehrig and Rusty Wummel are Chicago fans, while Meram, Sloan, Withrow, and Tucker root for the Red Wings. A lot was at stake, and the Blackhawks prevailed in overtime, 2-1, capping a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
“Justin’s not a fan all year and then come playoff time, he’s the biggest Red Wings fan I’ve ever seen,” said Gehrig, “When the Blackhawks went down three games to one, I’m not gonna lie, I was really, really upset. But if you noticed my tweet, I said it’s not over until the fat lady sings. I just knew there was too much talent on this Blackhawks team. We’ve been there before and there’s a reason we had the best team in the NHL during the regular season. But when they were down 3-1, it was tough with Tucker and Justin around hear running their frickin’ mouths. Sloan was a good sport about it, and so was Dan. But game by game, the boys pulled it out. That’s the epitome of a Red Wings - Blackhawks series. I guess it was great that it went to game seven, but I wish it wouldn’t have. At least we won.”
While I stayed behind to watch with Rusty, Gehrig left with Chad Marshall to watch at a bar. Gehrig wasn’t shy about displaying his allegiance.
“I started a ‘Detroit sucks’ chant at the bar and a bunch of neutral Columbus fans hopped on board,” he said. “I was jumping around and clapping and getting people into it. Chad was like, ‘You’re really into this!’ But he knows. He knows. But it was a good night. We won our first U.S. Open Cup game in three years and then I was able to watch the Blackhawks win game seven in overtime.”
One of the more comical scenes came when the Blackhawks scored the apparent game-winner with about a minute to play, only to have the goal waved off due to a penalty whistled a split second before the shot was fired. Rusty went from delirious celebration to being the surly target of mocking scorn from Tucker. He was crushed.
“I had the same reaction,” Gehrig said. “I about tore the bar down. If we would have lost that game, the United Center would have imploded. But justice was served. The better team won.”
Without a doubt, the absolute worst part of Playing Teams That Wear Orange Week was losing Eddie Gaven for the season when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the 85th minute of the Dayton match. It’s obviously a loss on the field, plus it’s always a drag when bad things happen to good people.
At the reserve game, I noticed that the torn ACL didn’t prevent Gaven from making his way to and from the bleachers from field level. Not that it’s a knee-intensive process, but he was still nimble enough to navigate the railing in either direction.
“You don’t actually NEED an ACL,” he told me. “It’s just that you need one if you want to play soccer, which I do.”
Everyone in Crewville is looking forward to that day.
Questions? Comments? Agree with Charles Boehm that the yellow vs. orange match on Saturday evoked visions of candy corn? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk