Sirk's Notebook: Fire Extinguishing Edition

Sirk documents the Crew's big win over Chicago

Bernardo Anor

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports Images

There’s really no point in writing some sort of clever opening to this Notebook when Frankie Hejduk took it upon himself write new words to Billy Joel’s 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in an effort to summarize the Columbus Crew’s hugely important 3-0 win over the loathsome Chicago Fire on Saturday night. As first heard on the Morning Buzz podcast, here is what Frankie sang in his remake, “We Just Put Out the Fire”:

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Arrieta, Anor, Higuain, Oduro score

Back four, tough to beat, Lampson in goal

Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, in the middle, take no crap

Craziness going down, the Nordecke's in form

Great pass to Dom, then Oduro hits a bomb

Arrieta in the box, Higuain scores from the spot

Then Tchani to Anor, what a frickin' perfect score

Chicago blown away, what else do I have to say?

 

We just put out the Fire

It was never burning cuz their heads were turning

We just put out the Fire

They tried to light it but the Crew denied it

We just put out the Fire

And now they're gone while the Crew fight on and on and on and on

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It was that kind of mood after the Crew dispatched of their longtime nemesis. The Fire had already beaten the Crew three times this year, including the U.S. Open Cup, so it was a statement game for a Crew team still fighting an uphill battle to make the playoffs. A loss would have been catastrophic, while the win pulled the Crew to within just two points of the final playoff spot, albeit with one extra game than all of their playoff competitors.

“They’re [Chicago] ahead of us in the standings, they’ve beaten us three times this year…so it was a little bit of payback,” said the Crew’s interim coach, Brian Bliss. “We owed it to ourselves, not necessarily to Chicago. We owed it to ourselves to go win the game and I think that served notice to Chicago and the other teams that are ahead of us in the playoffs that there are a few games left and we are coming hard.”

“I think we’re just tired of losing to them,” said Dominic Oduro. “It’s not like they outplayed us in all the other games. We were just unfortunate not to score goals. We did that today. It’s just one game, but hopefully we keep doing it. Right now, the team is confident.”

ODURO’S SECOND STRAIGHT GAME-WINNER

After a shaky start, the Crew took the lead in the 15th minute on a play that started with an advantage call by the referee, featured a second-ball header by Tony Tchani, a brilliant reach-back pass by Federico Higuain that split two defenders and got the ball to Jairo Arrieta, and a quick toe poke by Arrieta to find Oduro on the right side of the box. Oduro took a controlling touch and then lasered the ball into the far side netting. Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson got his mitts on the ball, but it overpowered him and barely changed direction on its way into the goal. Oduro celebrated by eating a piece of pizza right there on the field. (More on that later.)

“Jairo did a great job,” Oduro said. “The ball was right there. All I had to do was hit it far post.”

Oduro snapped a seven-game goal drought with his game-winning redirection in Montreal the previous weekend, and it’s amazing how one little flick can infuse a striker with confidence. His goal on Saturday was struck by a guy who expected to score.

“I was knocking on the door over and over,” he said, “but as a forward, sometimes it’s unfortunate and you have bad luck in situations sometimes. I’m back on point. I’ve got two goals in two games, so hopefully I keep rolling.”

EL HOMBRE DEL PARTIDO: JAIRO ARRIETA

The assist on Oduro’s goal was just the beginning for Jairo Arrieta. In the 28th minute, Arrieta raced past the Chicago defense and got clobbered from behind by Bakary Soumare, earning the Fire defender a red card and putting the Crew at a man advantage for the rest of the night. Arrieta then set up Higuain’s 70th minute penalty kick goal by once again racing behind the Chicago defense. That time he got clipped by the goalkeeper in the box. So by the time the Crew had a 2-0 lead, Arrieta recorded an assist and had drawn a red card and a penalty kick. He was definitely the man of the match.

“I think it is hands down to Jairo,” said Bernardo Anor. “He did excellent work. He did everything that led to the first goal, the PK, and the guy that got suspended from the game. We congratulated Jairo and he deserves most of the credit for today’s match.”

Crew interim coach Brian Bliss noted that in addition to all that, Arrieta was very active on the Fire’s back line, giving them a lot to contend with. Crew defender Chad Marshall knows a thing or two about that.

“He was big for us,” Marshall said. “He always battles. He’s frustrating to mark, which I know from practice. He’s feisty and he’s definitely a handful, even for his size. He was huge for us today.”

After scoring nine goals in 18 games last season, Arrieta has just two in 22 games this year. Saturday marked his 10th consecutive appearance without a goal. Oduro recently snapped out of seven-game goal funk, so he appreciated how Arrieta was able to put his stamp on the game despite the dry spell.

“He was amazing,” Oduro said. “He was really energized. He was really confident and he made so many important plays for us. I know he’s a bit frustrated sometimes because he’s not scoring, but he did exactly what you’re supposed to do as a forward. If you’re not scoring, you can still make plays and help the team win games. He did that tonight.”

Arrieta was glad to do his part, even if scoring a goal wasn’t part of the package.

“I’m happy with the win, especially with the playoff implications,” he said through a translator. “I’m happy with the team performance and how everyone came together and I’m proud of how we performed tonight. It’s a big game, especially mathematically. For my contributions to affect the team, I am extremely satisfied for that. Whatever I have to do to contribute to the team, I will do it, and I will be happy to do it. It’s important to play with maximum effort and maximum force. Even if I didn’t have a goal, I feel good that my contributions were dangerous and that we got the win.”

ANOR FOR MORE

Bernardo Anor blew the game wide open in the 76th minute when he ran on to a dazzling, perfectly-weighted Tony Tchani through ball and poked it between Johnson’s legs as the goalkeeper rushed out to challenge the play.

“It was a good ball through,” Anor said. “Tchani saw me running through. He already played a tremendous ball through to Jairo when he caused the PK. A lot of the play was being created through the middle with Tchani and Wil Trapp. I saw the open space and Tony put a through ball and it paid off. It was good. It went through the goalkeeper’s legs and I was glad it went through.”

HALFTIME TALK

On the face of it, an early red card to an opponent would be the ultimate advantage, right? A game-long power play would seem to all but guarantee goals and good tidings. For the 2013 Crew, that has been anything but the case. On two prior occasions at home, the Crew were the beneficiary of an early red card. The played with a man advantage for 79 minutes vs. Portland and 83 minutes vs. Seattle. The net result of those 162 minutes was no goals scored, one goal conceded, and a loss to Seattle. The Crew still beat Portland, 1-0, but the goal happened before the red card and Portland controlled much of that match despite playing a man down. So when the Crew faced the prospect of a 62-minute power play vs. Chicago with a one goal lead, for some reason the stadium wasn’t bristling with confidence. Neither was the team. The rest of the first half tilted Chicago’s way.

“I think when the other team went down a man, we thought we had the game already over,” said Anor.

“I think for the last 15 minutes of the first half, we got a little bit lazy,” Oduro added.  “We came back in the second half energized and took it to them.”

Bliss had a few choice words for the players during the break.

“We challenged them at halftime,” Bliss said. “I think my words were, ‘Guys, should I go ask them to put another player back onto the field? Because we’ll probably play better.’ It’s tougher to play a man up sometimes. Obviously I was being facetious when I said that to the guys, but it is true—you have to play harder when you’re playing a man up. It was the first thing we hit at halftime, was from minute 28 to minute 40 we lost our way, and I think in those last four or five minutes of that half it was pretty even. We made note of it, brought it up to the players attention that we need to do a couple different things to right the ship, I think the guys responded well.”

The players heard the message loud and clear.

“Coach wasn’t happy with the way we ended the first half,” Marshall said. “That was definitely a point of emphasis at halftime. He really got on us about what he wanted us to do in the second half, and I think the guys responded. We really made them move side to side and tired them out. Obviously, guys don’t want to run, but when they’re a man down, that’s what you have to make them do. We tired them out and then we were able to get a couple of goals.”

“It is a cultural change that we all needed,” goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. “At halftime, we knew we needed to step on the jugular. That is exactly what we did, and we responded to what we needed to do. We had the killer instinct, which we were lacking in other games where we have been up a man. We know that it is difficult playing up a man, but this time we controlled that second half, wearing them out. That was what we need to do and it frustrated them. And we were able to capitalize on our chances.”

DOM’S POST-GOAL PIZZA PARTY

Back in June, Dominic Orduro threw a Papa John’s pizza party for any Crew fans who wanted to swing by Crew Stadium on their lunch break. On Saturday, Oduro threw himself on a one-man pizza party after scoring in the 15th minute. Upon blasting the ball into the net, Oduro ran to the southeast corner of the stadium, grabbed a piece of pizza from Crew employee Skyler Schmitt, took a celebratory bite, and then handed the rest of the pizza to a fan in the front row.

Oduro told the assembled media that he had been planning it for a long time and that he hoped the fans enjoyed it. Here’s some backstory and an interesting wrinkle or two from Saturday night.

The idea was hatched months ago while Oduro filmed his television ad for the Papa John’s Crew Pie, which is a large cheese pizza—Oduro’s favorite— with an $11 price to match Oduro’s jersey number. As the commercial shoot wrapped up, Oduro joked back and forth with Schmitt that it would be awesome if he celebrated a goal by taking a bite of pizza. It did not take long for their joke to become a secret plan. What did take a long time was for the plan to become reality.

Starting with the Chicago game on June 22, Schmitt stood in his designated corner in the attacking end of the field, ready with a personal cheese pizza. Game after game, Schmitt ended up eating the pizza himself as Oduro did not find the net. Even in the midst of a relative goal-scoring slump, Oduro scored three times…all on the road. He suffered many near misses at home.

“We talked about this every week at training,” sad Schmitt, who is the Crew’s video content producer. “We talked about how close he was quite a few times. Last Thursday, he told me that after he scored in Montreal, he wanted to run over and eat the pizza, but then remembered he was on the road. I told him this would be the week because I'm tired of eating his pizza.”

Last week was indeed the week, but even then, the grand plan almost fizzled. As the game hit the 10th minute, Schmitt had not received delivery of the personal pizza. (He did not realize at the time that his customary deliverer was on vacation and was not at the game.) When Crew exec Mike Malo stopped by to say hello, Schmitt anxiously mentioned that he was waiting on a pizza in the event that Oduro scored. A bemused Malo pulled out his wallet, handed Schmitt some cash, and told him to go buy one from the concession stand. Within a minute of returning to his designated spot with a fresh personal cheese pizza, Oduro finally scored his long-awaited home goal and raced over for his reward.

“I could tell as he was running to the corner that there was a huge relief to finally break the curse of the pizza celebration,” Schmitt said. “To get the goal against the Fire in such an important match made it even more special. I'm extremely happy for him and hopefully this opens the flood gates for the next four matches because I want 12 points.”

Oduro did indeed feel relief that he finally got to do his Papa John’s celebration, even though he almost forgot about it in the emotion of ending his home scoring drought. He first went to the southwest corner to celebrate, before suddenly taking off in pursuit of his pizza.

“Defenders have been clearing my shots off the line, so I haven’t been able to celebrate that,” Oduro said. “And then I almost forgot to do my pizza celebration, but it was worth it. The Papa John’s cheese pizza was amazing.”

As for Schmitt’s complaints that he had been gaining weight from having to eat all of Dom’s pizza, Oduro vowed that fitter days are ahead.

“I’m glad Skyler can start thinning up, starting today,” Oduro said.

PIZZA PLAN SAFEGUARDS

One other amusing note: Since nobody knew what exactly what would happen if Oduro celebrated a goal by eating a piece of pizza, Schmitt had a safeguard in place. If Oduro was ever playing on a yellow card, Schmitt was going to leave his post and eat the pizza himself so as not to tempt fate in the event that the ref deemed the celebration yellow-worthy.

“I was going to take the pizza away, even if he came to the corner looking for it,” Schmitt said. “Couldn’t risk a second yellow and hurt the team.”

Oduro was playing yellow-free and did not receive a caution for Saturday’s celebration.

LIFE RETURNS TO NORMAL FOR MARSHALL

Chad Marshall has had some scoring woes of his own this year. Too many close calls and goal line clearances. After having a header cleared off the line against Houston, Marshall mused that “of course there was some really athletic guy there” and noted “that’s life” before suggesting that he would probably never score another goal again.

Exactly one week later, Marshall scored the equalizing goal that revitalized the Crew and initiated their 2-1 comeback win in Montreal.

On Saturday night, Marshall continued his aerial dominance by…um…smashing a header just wide and blasting another header that forced a point-blank save out of Johnson that Johnson surely didn’t know he made until he felt the sting of the ball.

“And now I’m right back to where I was,” Marshall joked. “Life was like, ‘Alright, we’ll let him get one, but now it’s back to point-blank saves.’”

LAMPSON’S DISTRIBUTION / POSSIBLE DOUBLE-DUTY

Matt Lampson will tell you that he’s a young goalkeeper, that he’s still learning from mentors like Andy Gruenebaum and Jon Busch, and that he will make mistakes, and so on, but he possesses a skill that is unmistakably his— he has the best throwing arm of any Crew goalkeeper since Bo Oshoniyi whipped soccer balls around Ohio Stadium in 1996. It’s a weapon that is Lampson’s and Lampson’s alone, although Bliss is intent to put it to good use, parlaying Lampson’s arm strength and distribution skills into speedy transitions.

“That’s the way I like to play the game,” Bliss said. “We all coach the way we played. I like to play a high-tempo game, and for me, that’s high tempo when the goalkeeper gets his hands on the ball and he can sling it out left and sling it out right and we end up with the ball in possession at midfield. Half our job is done because we’ve covered half of the field with the pass. I don’t want to have that minced with lumping the ball over the top. It’s just a different way of playing and something I prefer to play like and the guys can do it well, Lampson can throw the ball, you saw it. The Clippers are going to take him.”

As a Cleveland Indians fan who has had to sit through too many uneasy or abominable ninth innings, I might not mind the idea of Lampson getting some side work with the Columbus Clippers and then closing for the Tribe six days a week in between Crew games.

“That’s funny because I lived for a year with the Ohio State men’s baseball team,” Lampson said. “I had a few roommates on the team. A lot of the pitching staff I lived with, so I know (coaches) Greg Beals and Chris Holick over there. I have a year of eligibility left, so I think I’m going to go over there and probably close for them this coming season. Then maybe the Indians will be interested. If I have to go to the Clippers first, that’s fine, but I’m gunning for the major leagues. I think I’m gunning at 98 or 99 right now, so hopefully that’s good enough. I’ve got a curveball, a slider, a knuckleball, and I throw 98-99 miles per hour. How many games do you get to throw as a closer before you need your arm reconstructed?”

That’s a concern for another day. From my point of view, the important thing is to get Lampson closing for the Indians six days a week as soon as possible. He would obviously leave the Tribe to play for the Crew on match days.

“You want me to do double duty?” he asked.

Yes, like Deion Sanders, except it would be cooler because he would be doing both sports at the exact same time.

“I’m nothing like Deion Sanders,” Lampson said. “Different athleticism, different sports, different skin color, and he’s much more attractive and much funnier than I am. I’m a Dolphins fan, so I don’t really care about Deion. Dan Marino, on the other hand, that’s who I like.”

That makes sense. Andy Gruenebaum has become the master of the kick save on account of his idol, New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur. It’s fitting that since Lampson likes Dan Marino, he would have the throwing thing.

“The throwing thing?” he said. “I don’t even think of myself as having ‘a throwing thing.’ Bliss just told me to throw the ball, so I threw it. I’m like a caveman, okay? See ball, throw ball. That’s all I was doing. I don’t see what the big deal is, but I will keep throwing it if they want me to.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: DOUBLE-DIGIT EDITION

A few goal-scoring nuggets…

* Saturday’s game featured Oduro’s 11th goal of the year and the 10th of the campaign by Higuain. As noted by Crew radio man Neil Sika during his broadcast, it marks the first time the Crew have had a pair of double-digit goal scorers since 2003, when Brian McBride scored 12 and Edson Buddle tallied 10.

* How many double-digit scorers did the Crew have in the decade between? Just three. Buddle scored 11 in 2004, Guillermo Barros Schelotto tallied 12 in 2009, and Andres Mendoza notched 13 in 2011.

* In 2006, the Crew accomplished the feat…in half. Joseph Ngwenya and Jason Garey led the team with five goals apiece.

* Jairo Arrieta and Eddie Gaven nearly missed pulling off the feat in 2012, each finishing with 9 goals. Gaven did not score this year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in May, and Arrieta has just two goals this year.

* One thing I noticed about Arrieta is that his offside calls are down dramatically. His minutes played are nearly identical to last year—1534 in 2012 and 1527 in 2013—but not only have his goals dropped from nine to two, but his offside infractions have dropped from 41 to 17. Granted, he was offside a ridiculous amount of times last year, but most of those calls were those razor-thin, split second calls on aggressive runs to goal. Either the timing is better or the aggression isn’t the same. (Plus he was used as a winger instead of a forward during some of the games earlier this year.) One thing I know for sure is that both the aggression and the timing were perfect on Saturday. It showed up on the scoreboard, but not the score sheet, so I don’t know if there’s really any correlation between Jairo’s offside stats and his goal tallies. It was just something I noticed and figured I’d share. Smarter people than me can figure out if it means anything.

CREWHAWK GETS SOME ADDED DESIGNS

Oduro’s black and gold Mohawk, which he has dubbed the Crewhawk, got spruced up a little for Saturday’s match. He had all kinds of diagonal lines shaved into the sign of his head, created triangles and whatnot. Here’s the picture Dom tweeted once it was done:

“I have my guys who help me come up with what we need to do,” Oduro said. “This was the hairstyle we decided to come out with today. We’re going to keep it like that.”

As for the Crewhawk itself, I asked Oduro if he was familiar with woolly bear caterpillars.

“That’s what I heard,” he said. “Also, like, a possum, or something like that. No, a raccoon’s tail. And that caterpillar. And I’ve been told I have a snake on my head.”

CHAD AND THE BROWNS TRADE

Last week, the Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL by trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round draft pick next year. Or as I summed it up on twitter, “With the 3rd pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select the 26th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.”

Browns fans were snarky and livid, but since Chad Marshall is a Colts fan, I thought I would check in and see how other side views the trade.

“I love it,” Marshall said, “Are you kidding me? I don’t really get the Browns’ philosophy of, ‘We need to get better, so let’s trade our best player,’ and I don’t get why the Browns made that trade before getting Josh Gordon back and seeing what their full offense could do, but as a Colts fan, I love it. He’s definitely a first round talent, so I don’t mind it.”

Speaking of being a Colts fan, how exactly did a California kid become a fan of a team in friggin’ Indianapolis?

“I grew up liking the Chargers,” he said, “but being out here for ten years, I met a girl from Indianapolis, and I’ve spent offseasons in Indianapolis with her and her family. They’re big Colts fans, and I’ve been to a few games, and I just like going. I’ve gotten into following that team. I still root for the Chargers, but my Midwest team is the Colts.”

I know what you’re thinking…when choosing a Midwest team, how could Chad Marshall possibly have passed up the opportunity to voluntarily become a fan of the Cleveland Browns? I thought the same thing, so I asked him.

“I can’t like the same team as Duncan,” Marshall said of longtime Crew folk hero Duncan Oughton, who is now an assistant coach with Toronto FC, which still feels weird to type. “I haven’t talked to Duncan about this trade. I’m really interested because I want to see if he’s a true Browns fan or if he was just a Browns ‘fan’ while he was here. I doubt he even knows the trade happened. Do you think that’s something they even discuss on TSN? If he was lucky, it was probably in really small type along the bottom of the screen while curling was on.”

A follow-up email sent to Canada went unanswered, like the prayers of every Chicago Fire fan seeking just one more victory over the Crew.

Questions? Comments? Had no idea that Frankie Hejduk was the Weird Al Yankovic of Crewville? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk