Sirk's Notebook: Revs at Crew
Whether you consider it a punch to the gut or a kick that landed just to the anatomical south, the Columbus Crew’s 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution left one feeling hollow afterward. In a hard-fought game full of fizzled build-ups and not many scoring chances, the Crew seemed destined for a disappointing one-point result in a game they had called a must-win. To have even THAT snatched away at the last minute was a bitter pill to swallow, even if it was washed down with $1 beers.
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The Crew lost the game on a 91st minute goal by Jose Goncalves. As a corner kick swerved into the box, Goncalves jumped behind Josh Williams. When Williams didn’t get a head on the ball, Goncalves sent a weak header directly at Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. At that precise moment, New England’s A.J. Soares flashed in front of Gruenebaum, but never touched the ball, which leaked under Gruenebaum’s arm as he awkwardly lunged and fell.
“The ball just came over,” Williams said. “I had my man, it went over my head, and then he got a head on it. Somebody ran in front of Andy. My guy put it on goal and at the end of the day, that’s my man and I can’t let him do that, so that’s on me. That first goal, I take responsibility for it.”
Gruenebaum overheard Williams’ comments and interrupted to tell me to make sure to ask him about the goal once I was done talking to Josh. Moments later, Gruenebaum exonerated Williams and put the blame on himself for getting distracted by the runner in front of the goal.
“Josh did what he’s supposed to do,” Gruenebaum said. “He matched up on a bigger guy and didn’t let him get a lot of power on it. That’s all you can ask sometimes. It was a good service. The run in front froze me. I got caught trying to maybe beat the guy to it, then realizing it wasn’t going to happen, and then he didn’t actually touch it. That’s why you make those runs and get traffic in front in front of the goalkeeper. The simplest of balls can be so dangerous. It’s frustrating, but that’s why you make good runs like that.
“It’s a simple header,” he continued. “If no one’s there, I can bring it down with my feet, even. That’s why it was a brilliant run. It freezes me, and then I try to beat him to it, but if I hold my ground and make myself as big as possible, maybe it hits me.”
Since, in the broadest sense, the goal wouldn’t have happened if Williams had won the header, he placed the blame on himself, thereby deflecting blame from Gruenebaum. Then Gruenebaum overheard the comment and wouldn’t let Williams take the blame. That right there is just a couple of guys being good teammates to each other.
The Crew surrendered the clincher three minutes later when Chad Marshall’s attempted square pass to Federico Higuain along the Crew’s back line went behind the advancing Higuain, Lee Nguyen collected the loose ball and fed Diego Fagundez, who finished the breakaway to ice the game in the closing seconds. Gruenebaum wasn’t in the mood to point fingers on that play either.
“Chad tried to lay it off to Pipa and he lost his footing and it was a little bit behind him,” Gruenebaum said. “Sometimes that happens. We were pressing and it is what it is at that point.”
For the Hebrew Hammer, the late-game disappointment came with a sense of déjà vu.
“Last time I played, we gave up two late goals to LA,” he said. “It’s frustrating because to do anything in this league, you have to be able to close out games, and we’re not doing it.”
In the 89th minute, Ben Speas appeared to find a late winner. After Ryan Finley’s shot got blocked and popped high into the air toward the edge of the penalty area, Speas brough it down to the left of the goal and unleashed a right-footed strike that looked destined for the upper-90 until it veered right and whistled past the far post.
“Yeah, it would have been nice,” Speas said. “I thought it was going in. It just bent right at the last second. I hit it with my laces, so it bent out, instead of hitting it with the inside so it would have bent in. It was unfortunate. I thought I took it well. I wish it would have gone in.”
Despite there not being many truly great goal scoring changes during the bulk of the game, things really opened up in the final minutes of regulation and into stoppage time. The teams traded some end to end rushes in pursuit of the three points. New England wasn’t content to take the air out of the ball and sit on their road point, and the Crew obviously wanted and needed three points at home.
“The game kinda opened and went back and forth,” said Crew defender Chad Barson. “You kind of expect that when teams are pushing. At times, it becomes a transition game. I feel like when it does get into that transition game, it’s us showing that we really want to win this game. We’re going to put anything and everything into it. That being said, I think our defense did well to deal with their counterattacks all game. We held strong. That’s not just our back four; that’s team defense. I thought overall, we’ve done a good job with that the last few games.”
Playing their third game in eight days, the Revs rested some key contributors, then brought them off the bench to make a late push. The moves paid off as Lee Nguyen entered in the 58th minute assisted on both goals, while Diego Fagundez entered in the 69th minute and scored the second goal on a breakaway.
“When they bring on the fresh legs that they did, those guys can really make a difference,” Gruenebaum said. “They brought a lot of energy to the game. Obviously, we’re at home and we’re pressing for a goal, so on our end, that’s what that is, and on their end, it’s those fresh legs. A young player like Fagundez is active all the time and Lee Nguyen is their engine and he usually starts for them, so they can come on and make a difference. For them, I think that was the difference.”
BUMMED OUT PLAYERS
A sampling of comments from bummed out players…
Ben Speas: “It’s tough. It is not easy to take. This one hurts. We were pushing, felt like we had a good rhythm. Felt like the ones that thought that we were going to get that [goal], and then at the end, they end up sneaking it in. It is very frustrating. We will do everything that we can to fix it, but we have got keep attacking, creating those chances, and putting them away.”
Wil Trapp: “You can see the disappointment on the guys’ faces, to give away that game when it was a must-win, really, when you think about it. It’s just disappointing. We need to have a good week of training and hopefully it will give us a good kick in the (butt) to get ready for next week.”
Chad Barson: “We can’t always say, ‘Oh, it was disappointing.’ We need to start being more focused for the entire game and get results. It’s crunch time. This was an important game for us and get could have jumped them in the standings. I think if we play to our potential and everyone puts their best foot forward, we’ll put ourselves in a good situation at the end of the year.”
Saturday’s game featured the second-highest crowd of the year at 19,323, meaning the Crew have averaged 18,080 fans over their last four home games. According to Massive Data cruncher Matt Bernhardt, the Crew have now averaged 18,000+ over four consecutive home games for the first time since averaging 19,959 over the final four home games of 2007. Unfortunately, because of the shutout loss, the huge crowd never had a chance to roar. The players appreciated the turnout and regretted that the result didn’t match the support.
“It was a great crowd,” Speas said. “We would have loved nothing else than to get them the three points. To come out of here with none, it’s not good enough. They’re all here to support us. We feel bad. We’re going to do everything we can to fix it so we close out games and get those points.”
It’s no secret that the Crew have struggled at home this season, with a 3-4-3 record after ten home games. I decided to do some digging through the first ten home games year-by-year to see how this stretch ranked in the annals of Crew history. (NOTE: For the purposes of this discussion, records from 1996-99 are regulation time records, thereby keeping an apples-to-apples comparison. All shootout games are considered one-point ties, not one-point wins or zero-point losses as they were at the time. After all, from 2000 on, there were no postgame shootouts to strip the team of its point after a tie. So the 1996-99 records mentioned here are functionally accurate in a soccer sense, but not record book accurate.)
Here are some findings….
* Only once have the Crew had a worse home record after ten home games. That was in the godawful 2006 season, when the Crew started 1-4-5 at home, for just eight points.
* The Crew had 12 points after ten home games on four other occasions: They were 4-6-0 in 2005, then had identical 3-4-3 records in 1996, 2000, and 2002.
* In addition to the seasons listed in the above, the only other season the Crew did not win at least four of their first ten home games was 2003, when they started 3-3-4. So this is only the sixth time in 18 seasons the Crew did not win at least four of their first ten home games.
* The Crew’s ten home goals scored are the third-fewest in club history through ten home games. Only 2005 (nine) and 2006 (six) were worse.
* Conversely, their ten goals allowed are in a five-way tie for fourth-best in club history after ten home games. Only 2010 (six) and 2011 & 2007 (eight apiece) were better.
* The 2013 team’s zero goal differential is sixth-worst. The all-time worst was a minus-6 mark in 2005.
* The Crew’s best record after ten home games took place in 2010, at 8-2-0 for 24 points.
* The only time the Crew went undefeated in their first ten home games was in 2009, at 6-0-4, for 22 points.
* The most amazing first ten home games occurred in 1998, when the Crew won seven games, scored 31 goals, and had a +15 goal differential. 31 goals! Mind-boggling. The next closest total in any of the 17 other season was the 20 scored in 1996. That means those 31 goals were 55% better than the next-best result. Absolutely ridiculous. That team was loaded with offensive talent: Brian McBride, Stern John, Jeff Cunningham, Robert Warzycha, pre-injury Brian Maisonneuve, and so on. Anyway, yeah. 31 freakin’ goals in the first ten home games that year. Yowzers.
Here’s the full chart for all 18 seasons, showing the Crew’s record after their first ten home games:
* For comparative purposes, postgame shootouts are not treated as wins and losses, but as the ties that they were.
After the Biblical rain showers that saturated Columbus on Saturday afternoon, I thought it was funny to see the Crew’s Director of Stadium Grounds, Weston Appelfeller, watering the field an hour or so before kickoff. Didn’t it get wet enough already? Well, it turns out that the standard procedure is to water the field so that the field plays right.
“You’re not going to be able to harden or soften the field at this point,” Appelfeller said. “You just have to make sure the blades are wet.”
Of course, Mother Nature took care of that a little while later with one last bit of rain. It’s been a crazy several weeks for the Crew Stadium field with concerts, training sessions, games, torrential downpours, and withering heat.
“This has been the worst grass growing weather,” Appelfeller said. “I think I have said the phrase ‘It is what it is’ more in the last six weeks than I have in my entire life.”
Appelfeller replaced the sod in front of the north goal and is hoping that the three-week break will allow the field to recover from the recent run of events and unfriendly weather. Not that the field looked anything less than awesome anyway. I think turf management people see grass differently than normal humans. But whatever. It is what it is.
As a Stage IV Lymphoma survivor, Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson now serves as a spokesman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Central Ohio. As part of the role, Lampson and the Crew have created the LLS Hero program, where a child battling one of these blood cancers gets the opportunity to attend a Crew game, go down to the field afterward, and meet Lampson. Saturday’s LLS Hero, Lucas Swanson, got an extra bonus. He and Lampson were joined by New England defender Kevin Alston, who recently returned to the club after receiving treatment for a rare but treatable form of Leukemia.
After seeing the photo, I emailed Lampson to ask about his LLS work, his postgame visits with the LLS Hero each week, and the ability bring Alston into the mix on Saturday. I expected maybe a paragraph, but the ever-thoughtful Lampson elaborated in much more detail. Here’s what he wrote:
“When a person is forced, particularly at a young age, to fight for their life, there are particular changes that inevitably occur within them. Not only will that person begin to realize what is truly important to them in their life, but also there becomes a much greater respect and appreciation for the second chance at life that they are given. There are certain personality traits that become noticeable, and also become an important standard that the individual finds very important to set themselves to. Due to my medical history, I have been able to live on both sides of this existence. I distinctly recall how incredibly exciting and meaningful the seemingly frivolous ‘community service’ visits that various groups organized were to me. They provided a hope, a happiness, and a way to escape the mostly daunting tasks that I was forced to endure in order to save my own life during treatment.
“One of the paramount goals of mine at this stage in my life is to make my second chance count. I was fortunate enough to strike a fantastic relationship with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Columbus, and we began to discuss various ways that my presence and position as a professional athlete could positively impact the lives of thousands and profoundly raise awareness for blood cancers. I have been extraordinarily passionate to show what current and former cancer patients can accomplish as long as they take that same drive and desire shown in the fight for their life, and implement it in their everyday lives. One of the amazing ways that LLS, myself, and the Community Relations staff with the Crew have done this is by choosing an ‘LLS Hero’ (and their family) to come out to a game, come out on the field postgame, and give them a moment they will never forget. We have been fortunate enough to have four or five of these events already, and I hope to continue this with every home contest.
“This past weekend proved to be a remarkable twist in fate, as Kevin Alston was removed from the disabled list and made the trip to Columbus. We knew this would be a fantastic chance to have players from both sides, each with a very personal connection to cancer, come together for the common good. Contact was made back and forth and it was arranged to have Kevin and I both meet the LLS Hero postgame. Kevin is a fantastic, strong, and resilient guy and I am so glad he was able to be a part of something so special. I hope this spurs Kevin on to continue to motivate others and provide a long lasting message of awareness for blood cancers. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting each and every Hero, and I cannot wait to meet even more. I am very excited to think about not only what the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, myself, or Kevin can accomplish for cancer awareness and research, but also what Crew Soccer Nation can do. This is the start of something wonderful, and I will not stop, I will not give up, until there is a cure. We, as a Crew Soccer Nation, can make a ‘someday’ cancer cure today.”
Actual conversation I had upon seeing the huge watch Crew Director of Team Ops Tucker Walther wore on his wrist…
SS: “What the (bleep) is that? Did you take that off the neck of Flava Flav?”
TW: “No. This is much bigger.”
For the second consecutive game, the Crew had six Ohioans and three Homegrowns on the field at the same time. There were five repeats from the week before—Josh Williams (Copley), Danny O’Rourke (Worthington), Chad Barson (Lewis Center), Konrad Warzycha (Dublin), and Wil Trapp (Gahanna)-- but this time, the sixth was Ben Speas (Stow) instead of Matt Lampson (Hilliard.)
The greatest band to ever feature a rookie and three goalkeepers—Sloan and the Keepers—released a new song on Monday to commemorate the Crew’s recent on-field Ohio flavoring. So let’s end on an awesome note, with Dan Withrow belting out an anthem called “Born Near Ohio State.”