Sirk's Notebook: Trillium Cup
Yeah, Crew Stadium is definitely getting warmed up for this Dos-A-Cero thing. With less than a month to go before the building’s quadrennial hosting of a 2-0 USA victory over Mexico, the home team posted its second consecutive 2-0 victory. This time, it was Crew 2, Toronto FC 0, and it meant that the Trillium Cup would not need to find its passport.
Let’s face it— all anyone wants to talk about is Federico Higuain’s chip, so let’s just go there.
In last week’s 2-0 win over New York, Higuain won Goal of the Week honors of his brilliant long-range chip of a wandering Luis Robles while on a dead run. It was a sensational goal. And it was nowhere near as good as this week’s. This time, Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik was only about three yards off of his line. Higuain was about 23 yards from the goal. Somehow, he chipped it in. Let’s all marvel together, shall we?
“I think my jaw dropped a little bit when it went in,” said Crew midfielder Wil Trapp. “He is a fantastic player. It is great to have him on our side.”
“Dude is unreal right now,” said Crew defender Chad Marshall. “I don’t know who thinks of chipping the goalkeeper right there, but that was something special. It was fun to watch. The thing is, I could see last week. He didn’t have many options and the keeper was out. But to chip one in from that close tonight? That was something special.”
Crew legend / Toronto assistant coach Duncan Oughton was also amazed. One can only imagine the “YEAAAHHH BUDDY!” he would have emitted if he were still in the Crew’s broadcast booth. Instead, he felt shock and chagrin on the TFC bench.
“Joe’s a bloody good goalie, I’ll tell you that much,” Oughton said. “That was a perfect kick. Last week, Robles was far out, but Joe was out maybe a couple of yards. It was unbelievable because it wasn’t just a chip. It had some spin, so it was like a bending chip and it dipped down with some pace. I watched it again and I was like, ‘Holy (f-bomb)!’ You feel bad for Joe because his positioning wasn’t bad at all. That just was a bit of brilliance from the man. Good for him.”
For the second straight week, Higuain’s brilliance yanked Crew coach Robert Warzycha out his normally serious gameday coaching demeanor. Last week, Warzycha was all smiles and laughter while recounting his thought process as Pipa’s chip of Robles played out. This week, Warzycha was so moved by the goal that he hopped off of the Crew bench and ran down the sideline to join in the celebration with his players.
“The second goal was an unbelievable goal,” Warzycha said. “He does something every day that people love to see at the stadiums.”
As for Higuain? His reaction seemed to be the Spanish equivalent of, “Meh.” Alas, his comment about his ridiculous goal was translated as follows: “They are all important, especially when they help the team win. I am happy with the functioning of the team right now, and hope to keep going down this path.”
And forget about painting him as some kind of hero for scoring all four goals in consecutive 2-0 victories.
“Since I have got here, I have always said the same thing,” he said before saying the same thing he has said since he got here. “Eighteen players come together the day of the game, thirty players who train during the week, eleven players who come out onto the pitch. The responsibility falls on the whole team. And it’s the whole team that gets us victories.”
Photo by Steve Sirk
With the victory, the Crew claimed the 2013 Trillium Cup, the trophy awarded annually to Columbus. By that I mean to the team that wins the season series between the Crew and Hosers. The Trillium Cup has got to be the heaviest trophy in all of MLS. I’ve lifted the MLS Cup. I’ve lifted both the old and new Supporters’ Shield. I’ve lifted that shiny Crackerjack toy that they gave to the Crew for winning the Eastern Conference in 2008. The Trillium Cup outweighs them all. After the game, it was lugged into the locker room by the Crew’s Senior Director of Communications, Alex Caulfield, who is a former college football player.
“I didn’t realize that this thing has some girth to it,” said Chad Marshall as the trophy sat in front of his locker. “I saw Alex carrying it, and he was like, ‘Ugh, I’m sweating!’ and I was like, ‘What else is new?’”
Keeping the Trillium Cup also made for a little bit of payback after the Crew let a 1-0, 87th minute lead slip away in Toronto on July 27, resulting in a shocking and dispiriting 2-1 loss.
“It’s always nice to keep this here in Columbus,” Marshall said. “We’re happy to do that and to get a little bit of revenge for last time. Plus, it’s always nice to beat Duncan.”
Since defecting for Toronto in May, Duncan Oughton has faced the Crew twice, but both meetings occurred in Toronto. Saturday’s game marked his first return to Columbus, his home for over a decade, and the place where he played his entire professional career.
“It wasn’t a very fruitful visit, was it?” he remarked during a Sunday phone conversation. “We played like poop. We’re chalking that up to one of those days. I’m taking nothing away from the Crew. You guys played really well, but we didn’t make it very hard. We didn’t step to players. If you don’t step to a player like Higuain, he can do damage.”
Putting soccer aside, Oughton wanted to deliver a message to Crew fans and the city of Columbus.
“The outcome was pretty frustrating, but as for coming back, it was different,” he said. “It was weird. It was good to see people, but I felt bad. I need to send out a tweet, and if you can put this in your writing, I feel bad that I didn’t get to see everybody. I had to get the players in after the game, really quick, without them lingering around, which is part of my job, so I didn’t get a chance to say hi to some people, and I didn’t get a chance to go over to the Nordecke and give them a wave or anything. I felt really bad about that. I just want to say that I’m sorry that I couldn’t acknowledge all of the people, but I truly respect everyone and I miss them.”
It’s because of Duncan that I only laugh at 99% of my maximum laughter capacity every time Toronto FC loses. I always feel that it’s the right thing to do to hold a little something back out of respect for him.
Just three days short of his 50th birthday, Robert Warzycha picked up his 70th career coaching victory. The win tied him with the late Tom Fitzgerald for the Crew’s all-time lead.
Like Higuain, Warzycha isn’t much for tooting his own horn. He felt that the victory was more notable for that excessively heavy trophy than any sort of personal milestone.
“I’m about winning, but winning with the club,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything to me personally, to be honest with you. It’s nice to win the games but the most important thing for me today is to win the trophy. We won the Trillium Cup, which is something that we talked about before the game. That’s the first trophy this year. You always want to win trophies. Anything for me is just winning the game and knowing that the team is playing well. It was nice to watch and I’m happy for the performance.”
After the game, the Crew’s volunteer locker room area staff surprised Warzycha with a celebratory candle-lit granola bar. Warzycha laughed, blew out the candles, and then spent several minutes chatting with the close-knit group of volunteers that he has worked with for many years.
Photo by Pat Frey
For the second consecutive game, Crew forward/winger Dominic Oduro took the field while sporting the Ghanaian Frohawk, a Mohawk dyed red, yellow, and green to mirror the national flag of Ghana. If I had one regret last week, it’s that Oughton wasn’t around to see it. That has now been rectified. Oughton followed up on some of the comments that appeared in last week’s Notebook.
“That was awful,” he said after seeing the Ghanaian Frohawk in person. “I agree with Chad that Dom needed someone to tell him ‘no.’ Or at least someone who would be willing to sneak in and shave it off of his head while he’s sleeping.”
As for Josh Williams’ idea for the entire starting lineup to take the field in flag-themed Mohawks, Oughton chuckled.
“He would love that, wouldn’t he?” Duncan said. “Josh would take it one step further. Not only would it be flag Mohawks, but sleeveless game jerseys. I don’t know if that would have been allowed. As for the Mohawks, he may have gotten some pushback. That may not have been his call.”
Right. It would have been counterproductive. It would mean relegating Federico Higuain to the bench since he can’t exactly grow a Mohawk due to some impaired follicles on the top of his head. Oughton, however, felt that it wouldn’t necessarily be an impediment.
“Pipa could do an Argentinean horseshoe,” the Kiwi said.
Ah-ha! We could just call it a sideways Mohawk!
“Exactly,” he said. “It would just be like a flag wrapped around his head instead of a flag running down from the top.”
Well, now that that’s sorted, perhaps this can happen after all. Thanks, Dunc!
Last week, everyone appeared fairly baffled by the penalty kick call awarded to the Crew against New York. Even the Crew’s players and coaches seemed to think they caught a break. The replay angles I saw didn’t appear to reveal much in the crowd of bodies in the box. As best I could tell, I thought maybe Jamison Olave undercut Chad Marshall somewhere in the clutter. It felt especially jarring to be awarded a penalty on that play considering the Marshall is routinely and blatantly mauled on set pieces.
Then, being the ace reporter that I am, I never even asked Marshall about the play, opting instead to ask him about Dominic Oduro’s hair. (I’m a shameless Pulitzer-chaser.)
When MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg did his weekly review of controversial calls, I finally saw a clear angle of what happened. It’s at 1:25 of this video:
Having since seen the revealing replay, and having no urgent hair-related questions on the front burner, I circled back and belatedly asked Marshall about the play.
“Yeah, he just threw me into the pile,” Marshall said. “Right as I was jumping, it was two hands right in the back. That usually happens on almost every corner kick, so it was nice to get my one-time-every-five-years call.”
In Toronto, Duncan Oughton has his own personal booth in the broadcasting area. The outside of the room is even marked with his name!
Photo by Steve Sirk
Head coach Ryan Nelsen often sends Duncan up there to watch the game from a higher vantage point. Here’s a picture from that booth, taken earlier this year during warmups:
Photo by Steve Sirk
This type of view if often called a “bird’s eye view.” The problem, as I see it, is that Duncan is a Kiwi. The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand. It is also flightless. To a New Zealander, a bird’s eye view should look more like this:
Photo by Steve Sirk
On Saturday, Oughton was on the Hosers’ bench, not up in a booth. Maybe they’re finally onto something. I mean, to get a New Zealand bird’s eye view, Duncan should probably lay down on the sideline. So what’s up with all of this?
“Yesterday I was on the bench for the whole game,” he said. “Some games they put me up for the first half and down for the second half. Other games, I’ve been up for the entire game. Yesterday, they wanted me down for the whole game, so that was the case yesterday.”
But how do they reconcile this bird’s eye view thing?
“The thing is, kiwis are nocturnal,” Oughton explained. “So when the game is at night, when it’s dark, we’re down on the ground, like tonight. During a day game, when the sun is shining, like when the Crew came to Toronto, it’s safer to be up, hiding in a dark room. Kiwis are nocturnal, so we don’t come out on the ground until it gets dark. We also have really long beaks, which you’ve obviously seen. The beak is good for breathing and sniffing out grubs.”
Danny O’Rourke sat down at Marshall’s locker and said, “Let’s do an interview. Nobody wants to interview us. What should we talk about?”
Marshall replied, “We can talk about sweating through a gray shirt.”
O’Rourke was wearing a gray shirt. No sweat stains were visible. Yet. Then goalkeeper Dan Withrow approached in some tight skinny jeans, giving Marshall another interview topic.
“Let’s talk about finding the rest of Dan’s pants.”
When my Slovenian brother Neil Sika and I prepared to depart Toronto on Sunday, July 28, I could not locate my house keys while packing at the hotel. (By the way, we were in room 610. Neil and I jokingly refer to the radio booth at Crew Stadium as Suite 610, but on this trip, our hotel room was literally Suite 610. Well, except it wasn’t a suite. But whatever. Our room number matched WTVN’s position on the radio dial. Anyway….)
I assumed maybe I left them in the car so as not to risk losing them, but a search of the car also came up empty. Then I did what any rational person would do, which was empty the entire contents of my bag onto the hood of our TFC-red rental car with New Mexico plates. My empty bag revealed no keys, so then I did what any irrational person would do and barked out a big old f-bomb. This also failed to make my keys appear.
Once we got back to Columbus, I obtained a spare key from my real brother, went home, and emptied my bag on my bed. Again, no key. So I went to the store and had another duplicate made, and then the next day I went to the post office and paid them $15.00 to re-key my mail box, and that was that.
Fast forward to August 16, the night before the Crew’s rematch with Toronto. I grabbed that same blue adidas soccer bag to put it in my closet and I heard a clinking sound. Incredulous, I opened the bag and my house keys were sitting right there in the bottom of the bag, mocking me with glimmering shininess. I had emptied that bag twice on July 28 and found no sign of the keys, now there they were, on August 16, in plain sight.
I was truly baffled. After consulting with Neil and with Craig Merz, it was apparent that only two possible explanations existed:
1. Something about wormholes or parallel dimensions or multiple planes of existence. I’m no Stephen Hawking, so according to Occam’s Razor, I should go with the simpler and more likely theory, which is…
2. Duncan Oughton, that beaked buffoon, sneaked into our hotel room in Toronto, took the keys out of my bag, then brought them back to Columbus this past weekend, used the key to gain entry into my house, then placed the keys back into the very bag he stole them from. This theory makes total sense when one considers that Duncan had the perfect diversion that Saturday night in Toronto. The fire alarm went off in our hotel at about 3:00 a.m., which featured in-room strobe lights and a recording stating, “Attention. We have an alarm situation on the 25th floor. The fire department is en route. Please stand by for further instructions.” (The best part of all this is that when Neil propped our door open and went out into the hallway, the guy in the room across the hall opened his door and asked Neil, in all seriousness, “Is this happening in your room too?” No, dingdong, you are the only person that the hotel has seen fit to warn. The rest of us just happened to be up, wandering the halls, playing with strobe lights.) (Also, due to the unrelenting strobe lights, I kept waiting for a new announcement of, “Attention. We have an epilepsy situation on the first, second, third, fourth, and…fifth through 25th floors….the paramedics are en route…”)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, how Duncan stole my keys. So that’s the theory. He pulled the firm alarm as a diversion, then while we were blinded my strobe lights, he slipped into the room and stole my keys. Then he went into my house this past Friday while I was at work and put them back. That is the only possible explanation that makes any sense.
I emailed this theory to Duncan earlier this week. It seems that the Kiwi, in a pathetic bit of self-serving misdirection, posited an alternative hypothesis to solve this most flummoxing mystery.
“The answer,” he wrote, “is you’re a numbnut.”
Questions? Comments? Hate it when Occam’s Razor cuts both ways? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk