Sirk's Notebook: Ohio Edition

Ohio debuts, Flying Hejduk, Lampson's save and Mascot Soccer recap

Celebration

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports

O-H! 1-0!

With six Ohioans in the starting lineup, the Columbus Crew snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating the Portland Timbers, 1-0. The Timbers came into the game on a 15-game unbeaten streak, but as Frankie Hejduk told me about 90 minutes before kickoff, “The theme for the day is ‘let’s get weird.’ It’s going to be a weird day, dude.’”

So here’s a look back at home-state home win and other assorted weirdness…

AIRBORN ANOR

“Bernardo Anor” is apparently the Venezuelan name for “Chad Marshall.” The Crew took a 1-0 lead in the 5th minute when Anor scored on a set-piece header for the second consecutive game. Anor is not a conventional aerial threat, but he’s suddenly become the Crew’s secret set-piece weapon.

“I’ve been making the right runs and the ball has been served pretty well,” Anor said. “I’ve been watching Pipa serving the ball on replays, so I am trying to make that run and it happened in this game. Fortunately we got the result.”

“I know him very well,” said Crew captain Federico Higuain, who has assisted on both of Anor’s set piece headers this past week. “He is a player who has great timing and great positioning. The dead ball situation is one of our weapons and it is getting results.”

SCHOENFELD EARNS PK, PIPA MISSES

The Crew looked to double their advantage in the 11th minute when Aaron Schoenfeld did his best Grand Theft Oduro impersonation. On an aerial challenge off of a Dominic Oduro header, Schoenfeld forced a misplay out of Portland defender Pa-Modou Kah and followed the bouncing ball toward the goal. Just as he was about to shoot, Kah hit Schoenfeld from behind while making a desperate lunge for the ball. Kah’s attempt to kick the ball resulted in a boot to Schoenfeld’s face. The play warranted a penalty kick and a red card. Afterward, Schoenfeld’s mug bore the lumps of the encounter.

“I just tried to anticipate the bounce,” Schoenfeld said. “I think I read it a little better than the defender. If he didn’t take me down, I was dying to get the shot off. But as you can see, my head’s all jacked up and my nose is a little swollen. I wish he hadn’t taken me down because I wanted the chance.”

Higuain stepped up to the penalty spot and rifled a low show just wide of the left post. No goal. Higuain offered no excuses. When asked about the miss, he made eye contact and matter-of-factly declared, “I missed it.” End of story.

Well, except for the idea of maybe having famously-goalless Danny O’Rourke take the Crew’s next penalty kick.

“I told Pipa, ‘At least I’d put it on target,’” O’Rourke joked.

Okay, but seriously, would Danny REALLY put it on target?

“Probably not,” he said. “(Bleep) off.”

LAMPSON’S SAVE

Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson didn’t have much to do all day, but in the 87th minute, he was forced to confront a shot by Portland’s Darlington Nagbe, who rarely scores a goal that isn’t Goal of the Week quality. In this instance, Nagbe slalomed in from the left flank and ripped a low line-drive that was destined for the far side netting until an outstretched Lampson parried it wide. Lampson credited O’Rourke’s defensive positioning on the play.

“Honestly, that’s a save that I should make, and Danny did very well to make the shot predictable for me,” he said. “He does his job and I do my job and that’s what ends up happening. I think in terms of psyche, when the goalkeeper makes a save like that it fills the entire team with confidence. We knew we were going to get out of here with a win. I was confident from the moment we scored. The way we played today, you can play like that every day and get away with a 1-0 win.”

As one might expect, Lampson was pleased that his day was so uneventful.

“I think we played extremely well from start to finish,” he said. “That was a hell of a team effort. The guys in front of me made my job incredibly easy. I only had to make one or two saves, which is a credit to Danny, the Chads, and The Body Josh. And we have a lot of guys where this was the first big minutes they played this year, and every single one of them stepped up. Coach said before the game that he wanted to be able to give all eleven guys man of the match, and I think he could have today. Everybody played extremely well.”

RICKETTS ROBS FINLAY

Ethan Finlay appeared to score his first career goal in the 75th minute when he sprawled out for a diving, short-hop header off a cross from Higuain. Finlay’s header was destined for the roof of the net until Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts somehow reached back and got a paw on the ball while leaping the opposite way. It was kind of a (jerk) move to dramatically rob a young player of his first career goal like that, but Finlay knows that excellent goalkeeping is just part of the professional game.

“All I can say is it was a spectacular save,” Finlay said. “I watched the replay and I still can’t believe it. It’s encouraging that it’s coming. I was able to create some chances and to be in those positions, so it’s definitely a base to start from.”

Schoenfeld, who got kicked in the face during his own golden chance at a first career goal, felt for Finlay.

“That was unbelievable,” Schoenfeld said. “That HAS to be save of the week. That was unreal.”

NO FAKE OUT FOR TRAPP

Back on May 18, Wil Trapp was seconds away from making his MLS debut in Toronto. Then Matias Sanchez was healthy enough to continue, so Trapp left the scorer’s table and never entered the game. I wrote all about the “The Big Fake Out” for Fox Sports Ohio.

After that game, Trapp departed for the U20 World Cup. On Sunday, a month and a half after the cruel tease on the Toronto sideline, Trapp found himself in the starting lineup. It was for real this time. Trapp  played all 90 minutes, completed 94% of his passes, and frequently played the smart angles to break up Portland attacks.

“Unbelievable,” Trapp said of his debut. “It feels great. It’s hard to put into words, in all honesty. I thought I’d be able to handle it, but then I was on the field and I heard my friends yelling and my family yelling, so it was pretty amazing.”

OHIO

Sunday’s game featured a historic milestone as over half of the Crew’s lineup had Ohio roots. In a cool nod to the nature of the lineup, the Crew announced the hometowns of the Ohio players during the opening introductions. I hope they keep the tradition going forward.

Not only did the Crew start a half-dozen buckeyes, but two Ohioans started for the Timbers and a third came on as a sub. That meant nine Ohioans in all.

For the Crew, the Ohioans were Matt Lampson (Hilliard), Danny O’Rourke (Worthington), Chad Barson (Lewis Center), Josh Williams (Copley), Wil Trapp (Gahanna), and Konrad Warzycha (Dublin.) For Portland, the Ohioans were Darlington Nagbe (Lakewood), Ben Zemanski (Akron), and Michael Nanchoff (North Royalton.) Eight of the Ohioans played collegiately in the state, with five Akron Zips, two Ohio State Buckeyes, and a Cleveland State Viking.

“They don’t call it the best state in the union for nothing, do they?” mused O’Rourke. “I love Ohio!”

“I think it just goes to show that Ohio has a lot of talent,” Barson said. “We mostly hear about California and places like that, but Ohio has definitely produced a lot of talent. And not just the Ohio people, but also the people who have come in and played at Akron and Ohio State. I think it goes to show the quality of the college programs that we have in the area.”

“It’s always good to see how Ohio cultivates players that can go on to the next level and play at a high level,” said Trapp. “Obviously, Darlington Nagbe is a great player, and so is Zemanski and all the guys from our team. It was really great to see.”

“It’s funny because I train with all of those guys in the offseason,” Williams said of Portland’s trio of fellow Northeast Ohioans. “We always go up to Akron or Cleveland to train, so it’s always fun playing against those guys since we played club, and I played against a lot of them in high school, so it was definitely a game I will put in the memory bank and remember for a long time.”

Matt Lampson took his Ohio pride to the next level.

“I’m very proud that Ohio was so well represented, but I’m kind of pissed that other states were represented,” Lampson said. “I’d look around and think, ‘Does this guy not get it that only Ohio should be represented right now?’ I mean, like, Ethan Finlay. What’s Ethan doing out there? I get that his family even moved to Findlay, Ohio, to try to be a part of Ohio now, but it’s stuff like that. I mean, where’s Pipa from? Who knows? Not Ohio.”

And for the all of the Ohio pride, there was a subset of Homegrown Player pride. With Lampson, Barson, and Trapp in the game, it marked the first time that the Crew started a trio of Homegrown Players. Ben Speas, who is the most-played Homegrown in Crew history, ironically found himself on the bench and did not appear in the game. If he had, it would have been four Homegrowns and ten Ohioans.

“We actually talked about that pregame,” Lampson remarked. “I said it’s an HG day out there. But Ben Speas really ruined that. We actually quarantined him away from us. He’s on probation right now. I think he understands and he’s okay with that. He knows he can come back from this and play with us next time.”

I spent the second half of the match hoping for Speas to get into the game to increase the Ohio count, and it seems that at least one player was doing so too, even if belatedly.
 
“I was yelling toward Bobby at the end to put him in,” Williams said. “It was at the end because I actually thought Ben started, so that shows you my mental state.”

TOUGH BATTLE

Williams joked about his mental state, but it wasn’t much of a joke. As the Crew walked off the field, many of the guys looked absolutely drained. After Thursday’s controversial loss in Los Angeles, the Crew spent the entire day Friday traveling back to Ohio. After a short training on Saturday, they had to turn around and play an afternoon game on one of the hottest days of the year. Not only that, the starting goalkeeper situation wasn’t settled until an hour before kickoff, one of the central midfielders (Trapp) was making his MLS debut while the other (Warzycha) was making his first career start, and one of the forwards (Schoenfeld) was making his first start in over a year.

“I’ll tell you what, we didn’t want to make any excuses,” O’Rourke said. “We kind of had this before when the Open Cup got rained out in Chicago. We knew it was going to be difficult and we did everything we could to try to get out legs back underneath us, but I can speak from my own experience and from talking to Chad, that a lot of guys were just totally zapped of energy before the game. Everyone had to dig down deep. It wasn’t the prettiest, and we had some new players and a new formation, and so to mix all of that adversity together and to come out with a 1-0 victory, we can all be proud of the way we fought, even if we were up a man and it wasn’t pretty.”

“The Portland style is all about possession, and even with ten men, they still kept the ball,” Schoenfeld said. “It was one of the hottest days of the year and we had that long travel. A lot of the guys’ sleep schedules are still messed up. I’m sure Portland’s the same way. There were definitely some factors for both teams.”

PORTER’S FINGERPRINTS

Trapp, Barson, Nagbe, Zemanski, and Nanchoff all played for Timbers coach Caleb Porter at Akron, but Porter’s influence on Sunday’s game extends even further. Danny O’Rourke benefited from Porter’s tutelage during the latter’s stint as an assistant coach at Indiana University.

“I think today’s a big testament to Caleb because he got a lot of those guys to go to Akron, which was huge,” O’Rourke said. “I’ve had so much success because he was a big part of my career, helping me transition to playing defensive midfield in college. I’d never played it before and he kind of sparked the attitude that I have now, so it was great to see him out here. Granted, he probably wasn’t happy with the result, but it was good to see him have a 15-game unbeaten streak before he came in here. Some people said he was just a good recruiter, but I knew he would be a good coach in this league. I’m happy to see it.”

LAST-MINUTE LAMPS

In 2012, Matt Lampson made three appearances, two of which were unplanned mid-game substitutions after starter Andy Gruenebaum got injured. This led to playful accusations that Gruenebaum was trying to mentally destroy Lampson. So did Lamps get some advance notice from Gruenebaum before Sunday’s start?

Lampson said he sort of did. “After the game in LA, he tells me, ‘I don’t mean to pull a Hesmer, but be ready. Be ready. Hesmer always used to tell me that.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, so you’re going to take some Celebrex and you’ll be fine.’ He took it easy yesterday at training and then today he was going out early to see how it goes. I think what they told me was that if he wasn’t a hundred percent, then I’d go. He was about 80%, so I got the opportunity and hopefully I made sure that they can be confident if this ever happens again.”

But that makes it seem like Gruenebaum could have intentionally planted the seed on Thursday for the sole purpose of leaving Lampson twisting in the wind for three days.
 
“He definitely did it on purpose,” Lampson said. “[Unprintable analogy]? Because that’s what it feels like. I don’t know if we can print that or not. But I was getting really excited and really nervous, and then it’s, ‘Oh, I don’t know yet.’ So then you have to wait and wait. We had to get here two hours early today, and I didn’t find out until about an hour before, so for an hour I just sat there. Not fun.”

From his nearby locker, Josh Williams said, “He was throwing up and (pooping) his pants.”

Rookie goalkeeper Dan Withrow pointed into Lampson’s locker and said, “You can see the (poop)-stained sliders right over there.”

Lampson shrugged it all off.

“They’re making jokes,” he said, “but Andy is very malicious. I have a theory that maybe this isn’t even a real injury and that it was a grand scheme just to pull a prank on me. It’s very possible he was just trying to destroy my psyche. It’s very possible, but you’ll have to ask him that.”
 
If this was all a nefarious plot to destroy Lampson’s psyche, then perhaps he could have passed the buck and pretended he was hurt so that Withrow would think he’d have to play.

“You’d really see some poopy pants then!” Withrow interjected.
 
Lampson would have none of it.

“Unlike Andy, I have a conscience and I have a soul,” Lampson said. “I would never think of doing that to one of my counterparts and one of my best friends ever. I would never do that to Dan, ever.”

GBAUM RESPONDS

After being apprised of the above conversation, Gruenebaum shared his side of the story.

“Anyone in a backup role has to face this challenge from time to time,” Gruenebaum said. “Saying I ‘pulled a Hesmer’ only translates from my personal experience of dealing with game-time decisions as a backup. The name is interchangeable. I just wanted to make Matt aware of the real possibility that I would not be able to play on such a short turnaround. A lot of people take for granted the mental challenges that athletes face, especially when their name is not called upon consistently. The preparation, both mentally and physically, that one must endure throughout the course of a strenuous season is often overlooked.  Anything can happen, to anybody, and if your chance to play comes around, you have to make the most of it.  In a professional environment, depending on the situation, you may only get one chance to prove your worth. That chance may manufacture itself in the most inconvenient of ways, such as pregame, during the game, etc. I know what it's like to churn out worthy appearances in inconvenient ways. Matt has two starts to his young career. Both starts have come in difficult situations. His performances speak volumes to his abilities. I know that everyone expects something witty and humorous from me, but there are two things in my career that I take to heart, and one of those is empathizing with the role of the backup goalkeeper position.  The other facet of life that I don't find humorous: IBS.”

Wait, what? Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

“IBS is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. Up to 20 percent of U.S. adults have IBS symptoms.  Matt is a victim, and should be applauded for not giving up (on Sunday) despite this setback. Did I fake an injury? No. Am I trying to manipulate Matt's psyche?  No. Can you print [unprintable analogy] in your article? Probably not. But when you spend 48 hours straight with an ice bag on your shoulder and (head athletic trainer) Dave Lagow sleeping next to you just in case, and then you have a needle full of anti-inflammatory in your (butt) pregame, it means you want to play.”

MASCOT SOCCER

Now it’s time for the annual Notebook tradition whereby I sit with my good buddies Flick and Zman and we completely overanalyze the Crew’s annual mascot soccer game.

The teams…

TEAM CREW CAT: Chomps (a dawg representing the Cleveland Browns), Biscuit and Gravy (dogs representing Bob Evans), Rooster (Rooster’s), Penguin (Kona Ice), Honey Bee (Lifeline of Ohio), and Cozy Cat (Columbia Gas.)

TEAM BRUTUS: Sub Dude and Sub Guy (Subway), Max and Erma (Max & Erma’s), Pepe the Penguin (Kroger), and Slice (Papa John’s.) and Patriot (eagle representing the Columbus Zoo.)

This year’s game was a lopsided affair that saw Brutus the Buckeye’s team throttle Crew Cat’s team, 2-0, in a game that was nowhere near as close as the score. Crew Cat’s team barely crossed midfield, while Brutus’ team bombarded the east goal with a barrage of shots. Brutus put his team ahead in the third minute with an unassisted goal, then assisted on a fifth minute tally by Max of Max & Erma’s fame. The score would have been much worse if not for the goalkeeping heroics of Gravy, a dog representing Bob Evans. He made approximately ten saves and received serious MVP consideration in a losing effort.

Random notes, quotes, and comments…

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Flick: “This is weird because competing restaurants are on the same team.”
Me: “It’s just like playing club ball with high school rivals.”

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Flick: “What the hell is that candy corn thing?”
Me: “That’s Slice.”
Flick: “Oh, it’s a piece of pizza.”

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Flick: “That bee just lost an entire wing and played on. If every bee was as tough as him, our bee population wouldn’t be declining.”

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The one time Crew Cat’s team crossed midfield, Chomp had the ball in the open field. Naturally, since the Browns were involved, the attack fizzled into nothing. As Chomp broke free, I said, “I think the Browns’ team is going to score, but Chomp is going to rip off his helmet in celebration right before the ball crosses the line and then the goal isn’t going to count.” (A Dwayne Rudd joke!)

I also thought Chomp should have been the goalie since the one thing the Browns are good at is punting.

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Flick: “Max & Erma are working the couples game. That’s some mixed doubles action.”

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(After Chomp made a dodgy tackle.)

Me: “That’s the hardest hit a Cleveland Brown has made in forever.”
Flick: “Let’s face it, in any situation, the Browns suck. I would rather have that clown, Moondog.”

(Moondog is the Cleveland Cavaliers mascot who assaulted a little Boba Fett during a previous mascot game.)

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On the glaring absences of Mascot Soccer stalwarts Stinger, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Krash the parrot & Lou Seal, both of the Columbus Clippers…

Flick: “Stinger was busy signing the next big free agent. They’re not done. Stinger’s out there trying to make a deal. Krash and Lou Seal, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Maybe they’re at a museum in Pittsburgh. Maybe they’re at the John Heinz History Museum because those are the prizes that they give away at Clippers games. They send you to Pittsburgh. So maybe Krash and Lou Seal are in Pennsylvania. Or maybe they got called up to the Indians because the Indians have played so terribly against the Tigers this weekend.”

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For the post game analysis, we were joined by Flick’s sister, Kyle, who was disappointed that Crew Cat did not assert his dominance as he has in years past.

Kyle: “Was Crew Cat reffing? That’s kind of what it seemed like. He wasn’t playing, was he?”

Me: “Even in a losing effort, I think whichever Bob Evans dog was in the goal had a great game.”

Kyle: “Judging by the color, I’m assuming the goalie was Gravy. It was almost like his head was on backwards.”

Me: “But he still made a lot of saves.”

Flick: “They don’t ask how, they just ask how many.”

Kyle: “His team sucked.”

Zman: “I hate to say it, and I hate to always come back to it, but it always comes down to footwear. The winning team had more mascots with a smaller shoe and therefore dominated the middle of the park and was able to accurately finish its chances.”

Flick: “I thought it was weird with the penguins. I didn’t even know if the penguins were on the same team or on different teams, which is kind of weird. It’s too hot for a penguin to just be walking around. And the Browns dog was an idiot. Any mascot from Cleveland that comes down here just sucks. Whether they tackle people needlessly like that Browns dog or beat up little kids like Moondawg on little Boba Fett a couple of years ago, Cleveland mascots suck.”

Zman: “The Max & Erma midfield had a lot of familiarity, whereas the Crew Cat midfield had no familiarity. Max & Erma supported each other like a good couple should, and it showed in the midfield play.”

Kyle: “I thought Erma, despite her giant boobs, played really well. She could have used a couple of sports bras.”

FLYING FRANKIE

During Flogging Molly’s postgame concert, Frankie Hejduk joined the band onstage to dance around like his usual over-caffeinated self. He also took a stage dive.

“I had my first stage dive ever and it went perfectly as planned,” Hejduk said. “Some guys stage dive and get kicked in the nose or the face or whatever, but they were ready for me. They’re Crew fans, so that’s what they are—they’re ready.”

It was the perfect capper to a day that Hejduk hoped would result in a good, weird vibe.

“Weirdness factor is up there,” he said. “The weirdness factor is really cool. Some people might have called it a weird lineup. I don’t think it was. Some people might have called it a weird day, which it is. And it might be even weirder once the storm hits in a half hour. And Flogging Molly’s here, and I got a little weird with them. But by no means was the game a weird result. The guys brought it.”

O-H! 1-0!

Questions? Comments? Agree with Arin that Crew Cat & Friends was better soccer than Messi & Friends? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk