Sirk's Notebook: Beat New York Edition

Oduro's fro-hawk, Trapp talents and Urso memories are captured in this installment

Oduro Hair

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I don’t know if Saturday night was a trap game for the New York Red Bulls, but it was definitely a Trapp Game for the Columbus Crew. After Julia Trapp’s rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, Wil Trapp and the beleaguered Black & Gold confidently crushed the first-place New Yorkers as if they were made of silver and blue aluminum.

The Crew’s 2-0 win was about more than the Trapps, of course. It featured the brilliance of Federico Higuain, the flipper-flapping of Matt Lampson, the patriotic fro-hawk of Dominic Oduro, the presence of Anthony Precourt, the energy of a big crowd, and the spirit of Kirk Urso.

Plus, fun. It was a whole lot of fun. So here’s a look back at all of that and more…

PIPA PIPA

Crew captain Federico Higuain scored both goals for Columbus. The first was a 62nd minute penalty kick, after Chad Marshall took a shove in the box. There was a lot of confusion as to what exactly happened. The official ruling was that the penalty was on Markus Holgersson, but it appears that Jamison Olave may have been the culprit. It was a massive tangle of bodies, and Marshall gets mugged far worst on most days, so the penalty call was disorienting at the time. Higuain slammed the spot kick high and up the middle for his sixth goal of the season.

The goal that everyone is buzzing about, however, occurred in the 76th minute. Higuain helped win a ball near midfield in the Crew’s defensive half. He laid the ball of to Bernardo Anor, who squared the ball to Wil Trapp. As Higuain sprinted up the left side of the field, Trapp split three New York defenders with a perfectly weighted pass that hit Higuain in stride. The rest was magic.

In full stride, Higuain gently lofted a chip shot over New York goalkeeper Robles and into the far side of the goal. It’s one of those plays like almost always works better in theory than it does in reality. On this night, Pipa’s execution was flawless.

Trapp downplayed his first MLS assist, even though it was a picture-perfect through ball.

“The finish was better than my pass,” he said, which is indeed true in a comparative sense. “My pass was a simple one since he was wide open. It was pretty awesome to see. I was wondering what he was going to do, and then he chipped it and I was just like, ‘Wow. This is unbelievable.’ It feels great to get an assist, but it feels great to get the win most importantly.”

Crew coach Robert Warzycha offered a rare display of press conference giddiness when recounting the goal. With a huge smile, he laughingly walked the media through his thoughts as the play unfolded.

“He’s a special player,” Warzycha said of Higuian. “To be honest with you, when he took that shot I was like ‘Oh, don’t do it.’ Then I looked at the goalkeeper and he was a good seven or eight yards in front of the line and I was like ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right now.’ Probably he had this in mind way before I looked at the goal. We had Guillermo [Barros Schelotto] a few years ago who was capable of scoring goals like this too. It’s nice to watch.”

Putting the game away with a second goal was certainly nice to watch for Pipa’s tired teammates. They could all breathe a little easier with a 2-0 lead,

“I was praying, ‘Go in and don’t go over,’” said Justin Meram. “I was more tired than a camel going through the Sahara Desert, so I needed that relief. It was a first-class goal.”

LAMPSON SAVES THE DAY AND/OR TWO GOOD SHOTS

Starting in place of the injured Andy Gruenebaum, second-year goalkeeper Matt Lampson recorded his second shutout in three starts this year. He wasn’t busy for much of the night, but he answered the call on two difficult shots.

The first came in the 60th minute when Johnny Steele unleashed a wicked toe poke in traffic from outside of the 18-yard box. Lampson got a touch on the ball to flick it up to the crossbar.

“The credit for that is so Eddie Gaven,” Lampson said. “In practice, Eddie does that all the time. Any time you have a toe poke, it’s a very quick release and you can’t read it off their foot. You’re caught completely off guard and it knuckles like the old (adidas) Jubalani balls. That’s exactly what happened. But Eddie prepared me for that. I was like, ‘It’s nothing I haven’t seen in practice.’ But let’s be honest—Steele did really well with that. To get that quick of a release and to get it on frame, he almost caught me off guard. I was lucky enough to flop my flipper at it and it hit off the crossbar.”

The Crew would take the lead just two minutes later.

“Whenever you have a big save like that, I think it gives the team confidence,” Lampson said. “My job is to make the saves I’m supposed to and to make the big saves to keep the team in the game. That’s what happened.”

Then, in the 74th minute, Lampson preserved the 1-0 lead with a diving goalmouth parry of a Fabian Espindola header. The Crew would again score two minutes later.

“My hip’s feeling that right now,” he said. “Espindola did well to get in front of his mark and he put in the corner, but like I said, I want to make the big saves to keep us in the game.”

“When he made that save on Espindola, I was the one who lost the mark,” said an appreciate Josh Williams. “I went up to him and said thank you. It was a great save. He kept his feet moving and then slid over to parry it away. I’m happy for him. As a backup, you have to stay ready, and it’s not always easy. It was a hell of a match from him, and it always gives us confidence because we’re not going to be able to defend a team for 90 minutes. They are always going to be able to get some shots, but he was there all night tonight. I was happy for him.”

As if the praise were a soccer ball, Lampson deflected it to his defense.

“My back four was unreal today,” he said. “They were positive with me the whole game, even though I got jacked a few times when coming out for crosses. They kept telling me to be aggressive, and that’s exactly what I wanted to hear, so that fueled me for the rest of the game.”

Wait, define getting jacked on crosses.

“(New York) did really well setting picks,” he explained. “When I would go for a ball, there would be a guy behind me just waiting to give me a shove. I’m a Dolphins fan, so it was like Ryan Tannenhill getting drilled from the back side while dropping back to pass. It wasn’t fun, but I think the referee addressed it at halftime and it sorted itself out.”

Lampson said it sorted itself out, but Crew skipper Robert Warzycha had a different take on the events.

“We asked him at halftime to be more vocal and to have more presence in the box and maybe scare some of the guys going for the goal.” Warzycha said.

I like the “scary Matt Lampson” version better, so let’s all agree that the flipper-flapping Dolphins fan cowed the Red Bulls into timid submission.

TRAPP IMPRESSES AGAIN

Wil Trapp played as the sole holding midfielder in Saturday’s lineup, and the results were impressive. For example, he completed 61 of 65 passes, for a mind-blowing 93.8% accuracy rate. It’s not like Trapp inflated those numbers by being a back-pass machine. Only about a fifth of his passes went backward, and he played some incisive forward passes, such as the assist on Higuain’s goal. Of Trapp’s four missed passes, two were free kicks and one was a header near the New York box. That means there was only one missed pass from Trapp’s feet in the run of play over the course of 90 minutes. Plus, he always seems to be available for the ball.

“Wil is a very good player,” Warzycha said. “It’s one thing to use space but you have to find space. He’s finding that space very well. He’s complementing Chad [Marshall] and Josh [Williams] and he’s creating that triangle which is always valuable. He’s keeping the ball for us.”

Williams, for one, appreciates Trapp’s smooth and calming presence in the middle of the field.

“That kid is well beyond his years,” he said of the 20-year-old Homegrown Player. “When you’re in trouble, you can find him. You can’t really give him a hospital ball because you can’t give him anything he can’t deal with. In tonight’s game, I wanted to challenge him a little bit, so I was trying to make him mess up by giving him some bad passes, but he wasn’t messing up. I was trying to make him look bad tonight, but I couldn’t. I’m just kidding (about deliberately playing bad passes), but he played really well and I think he was the difference tonight.”

CACKLE-WORTHY CAUTION

In the 55th minute, Trapp received a yellow card after challenging New York’s Johnny Steele for the ball, falling to the ground, grabbing hold of Steele’s jersey, and then having Steele drag him for a few yards like an NFL football player in training camp who is forced to run while yoked to a heavy sled.

Not only was it hilarious that Wil took a floundering rodeo ride on a Red Bull, but so was his reaction afterward. He patted the ref on the back after accepting his booking, then gave Steele a laughing hug while they had a brief chat.

“It was a funny one,” Trapp admitted. “I had to find a way to stop the play, so I hung on to his jersey so he couldn’t get away. It just so happened that he dragged me for a little.”

Which, again, was hilarious.

“Yeah, hilarious is a good word for it,” Trapp agreed. “Johnny just laughed and said, ‘Smart play.’ It was all pretty comical, apart from being issued an actual yellow card. The ref had a chuckle at it as well.”

THE GHANAIAN FROHAWK

A few weeks ago, Dominic Oduro cut his hair into a Mohawk. On Saturday, he took it to a whole new level. Walking into the stadium with a hat on his head, he entered the locker room and unveiled what can only be described as The Ghanaian Frohawk. In honor of his native Ghana and its flag, he painted his hair into equal bands of red, yellow, and green, with a black star in the middle of the yellow section. (Photo by Sam Fahmi).

It was just…incredible.

“Incredible beautiful?” he asked. “Or incredible bad?”

Just…incredible.

“When I started the Mohawk, me and the guys were just trying to brainstorm what color to do to it,” Oduro explained. “We thought about blonde, but everybody kept doing blonde, so we decided to take it off the track and we decided to do the Ghana flag.”

The Ghanaian Frohawk matches the wristbands he wears every game. Here’s a photo of those wristbands as laid out in the Toronto locker room a few weeks ago. (Photo by Steve Sirk).

So it seems that Oduro is accessorizing his hair to match his accessories.

“Exactly,” he said. “I’m just trying to match it. I think it looks good.”

The unveiling caused quite a pregame stir in the Crew locker room.

“I had to cover it up because I wanted the element of surprise,” he said. “It did work. Literally everybody starting taking pictures of me. I felt like I was a celebrity once I got inside the locker room. Cameras were flashing up and down. But everybody loves it, so I will keep it for next weekend as well.”

The postgame reaction to the Ghanaian Frohawk was a little more mixed, as one might expect.

“Whatever he wants to do is fine by me,” said a laughing Wil Trapp. “If it makes him happy, I’m alright with it. I thought it was cool. If he wants to do that while he’s got the Mr. T thing going, I’m cool with it.”

Chad Marshall and Andy Gruenebaum, on the other hand, had some reservations.

“He needs, like, an assistant or some kind of authority figure in his life to say, ‘No, don’t do that,’” Marshall said. “He needs someone he can call so they can say, ‘In your best interests, no. Don’t do it.’”

“Maybe Papa John’s,” Gruenebaum offered. “Maybe Papa John himself can be like, ‘Dude, I’m no longer sponsoring you because your hair is terrible.’” 

“Exactly,” Marshall said. “That’s what I’m talking about. He just needs somebody.”

Meanwhile, Matt Lampson appeared to view Oduro’s hair as a challenge.

“Honestly, that one’s okay,” the goalkeeper said, “but I told him I am planning on having an American flag on my head for our next game. I mean, we’ve got 50 stars, and they only have one.”

Josh Williams liked Lampson’s idea so much that he had an even grander vision.

“After a 2-0 win, I think it’s a great look.” Williams said. “If we win, I don’t care what he does. I told Tony (Tchani) that he needs to get the Cameroon flag on his head. Kevan should get the Trinidad flag, Lampson should get the American flag, Pipa should get the wherever he’s from. Argentina. I say everybody should do it. We should be the first team to have everyone in the lineup with Mohawk flags. If you’re in the starting eleven, you should have to have a flag Mohawk.”

Well then. Everyone should buy tickets for Saturday, just in case.

JULIA SINGS THE ANTHEM

With new Crew chairman Anthony Precourt and Crew legend Frankie Hejduk looking on, and with her brother Wil in the starting lineup behind her, Gahanna’s Julia Trapp grabbed the mic and absolutely crushed the national anthem. Julia is a music education major at Miami of Ohio and brought over 15 years of singing experience to the field for her big moment. (Photo by Sam Fahmi).

“You could say it was a MASSIVE day for the Trapp family!” Wil said with a laugh, regarding Julia’s vocal performance and his first career MLS assist. “She was awesome. I was pretty emotional about it, to see her out there and to see her do as well as she did. It was just amazing. My parents were extremely proud. I knew she was going to do well, but when she stepped out there, the anthem is a little different when you’re hearing it from a family member.”

I noticed a few non-verbal exchanges between the two siblings during the performance. Apparently, there was also one missed connection.

“She kept looking back and I guess there was one time where she waved and I didn’t see her, but whatever.”

JUSTIN AND MILTON

Back on August 2, Justin Meram tweeted “Feel right at home” along this awesome picture (Photo courtesy of Justin Meram):

Wow. There’s got to be a story there. Of course there is.

“We’ve got a camel named Milton,” Meram deadpanned. “My family’s from Iraq, so that was a little bit of a joke. My brother named him and I’m carrying on the tradition. Milton came to Columbus and I got to see my long lost little son. He missed me and I missed him too. He posed for the camera like I taught him back in the day.”

So, um, did Milton come from Iraq or Michigan to visit Justin?

“He was in Dubai,” Meram said. “Then he actually had to go back to Turkey. Iraq is not a safe place so I didn’t want to keep him there. But yeah, he got to come to visit me in America and I took him to the state fair. He couldn’t stay long, though. He’s a busy guy. He’s got an agent and he’s got his events here and there, so I didn’t want to tie him down, you know?”

My first thought when I saw the photo was, “Pro athletes and their fancy cars….”  Apparently I was on to something.

“In college, I actually had him for a week, which was nice because I didn’t have to put money in the meters,” Meram said. “He just chilled on the grass while I went to biology class. He’s well respected. Ladies love him.”

SLOAN AND THE KEEPERS IN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

The greatest acoustic parody band in Crew locker room history, Sloan and Keepers, got featured in this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated. The band couldn’t be happier about their mainstream exposure.

“Appearing in Sports Illustrated, I can check that off of my list,” said Andy Gruenebaum, one of the group’s goalkeepers. “Next is getting into Sports Illustrated for actually playing soccer. That’s never going to happen.”

Shawn Sloan feels that Sloan and Keepers’ SI appearance was a landmark achievement on multiple fronts, since he and goalkeeper Dan Withrow have only appeared in reserve games as rookies.

“Dan and I may be two of the first professional athletes to not register a single minute of professional time and still make it into Sports Illustrated,” he noted.

“Yeah,” Withrow agreed. “That has to be a first!”

Who knows where Sloan and the Keepers’ skyrocketing fame will take them. Could they record a platinum-selling album? Could they perform a sold-out week of shows at Madison Square Garden? Could they appear in a small Rolling Stone article about their soccer skills? The sky is the limit for this band.
 

KIRK

August 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic passing of Crew midfielder Kirk Urso, who died of a congenital heart defect. Saturday was the first Crew home game since that awful anniversary, and Kirk was definitely there in spirit. You may have participated in the moment of silence or heard the chants in the 15th minute. You may have noticed the circle 15 insignia on the playing field (photo by Steve Sirk)…

You may have noticed the flowers in front of Kirk’s memorial in Founder’s Park (Photo by Steve Sirk)…

But what would have been impossible to notice is a special tribute that happens each and every game. When I got to the stadium, a Crew staffer alerted me to an interesting tidbit I had never heard before.  When Tucker Walther, the Crew’s Director of Team Operations, fills out the lineup sheet before every game, he makes interesting use of the black ribbon at the top of the page. The top of the official lineup sheet contains white lettering on a black ribbon, and at the top of the Crew’s lineup, Tucker always puts a circle 15 so that Kirk is with the team, looking down over that night’s roster.

When the Crew’s PR staff emerged with the official lineup sheet en route to the referee’s room, I asked to see it for a second. Sure enough, there was a circle 15 on that black ribbon. It’s obviously a hard thing to photograph, but I did my best (Photo by Steve Sirk)…

It’s been over a year now, and I am amazed by the little things I still discover regarding Kirk Urso’s continuing impact on this club. As I announced on twitter and then discussed on the radio on Inside the Crew last week, my second book is going to be called “Kirk Urso: Forever Massive.” (The title comes directly from one of the many memorable Nordecke tifo displays last August.) Since last fall, I have been working with the Crew’s players, coaches, and staff, the Urso family, and several others to compile dozens of stories that illustrate why Kirk became such a beloved figure in his short time in Columbus. It’s a celebration of his life and legacy, and since Kirk is at the center of all these stories, most of them will surely put a smile on your face.

“Kirk Urso: Forever Massive” will be available later this year. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund so that promising heart defect research can be conducted in Kirk’s name. The book will be available exclusively through TheCrew.com and the Crew Gear store, ensuring the largest possible donation to the Urso Fund. More details will be available from the Columbus Crew in the coming weeks, but I wanted to start getting rhe word out while Kirk is at the forefront of everybody’s minds. If your experience reading the book is anything like mine while putting it together, you will really enjoy getting to know Kirk better.

CHAMPAGNE –SOAKED BOBCAT HAT

With the Crew on a long skid, with it being the first home game under Anthony Precourt’s ownership, and with the opponent being the New York Red Bulls, I felt some special mojo was in order. To that end, I wore the champagne-soaked Ohio Bobcats hat that I wore when the Crew defeated the Red Bulls 3-1 to win MLS Cup on November 23, 2008 (Photo by Steve Sirk).

The hat has some funk, and it has major historical significance to me, so I only break it out on occasion. It definitely came through on Saturday.

“Why haven’t you been wearing that hat every week?” wondered Massive Champion Andy Gruenebaum. “What I’m hearing is that you’ve been holding out on us. I blame every loss this season on you.”

I guess I have no choice but to wear it on Saturday. The Trillium Cup is at stake, and after last month’s last-minute miracle win, the Hosers need to re-learn their role.

WELCOME TO COLUMBUS, ANTHONY. GET BACK SOON.

The Crew’s new investor-operator and chairman, Anthony Precourt, couldn’t have asked for a better first home game under his stewardship. There was a crowd of 19,080 on hand, the Crew looked as good as they have all season, and the entire night at the stadium was just a whole lot of fun.

“I’m sure he’s happy,” Justin Meram said. “We’re all happy today.”

“The energy was good,” said Dominic Oduro. “We filled up the crowd really well. With the new owner here, I hope he got excited.”

“We came out firing on all cylinders,” said Josh Williams. “We came out with an attitude. I can’t really speak for everybody, but there was definitely a buzz in the air. There was a great turnout by the fans, who gave us a great environment to play in. Maybe it was because he’s here.”

Precourt may have a growing adopted Crew family here in Columbus, but he has a real family that needs his time back home in San Francisco. Every indication is that he is going to be an active and involved owner, but family obligations will prevent him from being in Columbus all the time. Williams, though, has a solution.

“He’s not going to be here next week,” Josh said, “but maybe we need to fly his family in or something since he brought us good luck.”

That would be the strangest locker room collection ever. But hey, like Crash Davis said in Bull Durham, “Never (bleep) with a winning streak.”

Okay, I know one game isn’t technically a streak, but whatever. After the last two months, a one-game winning “streak” feels glorious. And fun. Most of all, fun.

Questions? Comments? Did every Steele-Trapp interaction on the field make you think of a steel trap and ponder how both players have an extraneous letter at the end of their name, preventing it from being so, or was it just me? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk