Sirk's Notebook: Revs Road Trip Edition

Steve Sirk chronicles the Crew's weekend trip to New England

Wil Trapp

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports Images

Now in its 14th season, Sirk’s Notebook is an independently-written feature that often focuses on the irreverent side of the Crew experience. A local fixture, it has appeared on TheCrew.com from 2000-2003 and 2008-present. Any opinions expressed in Sirk’s Notebook are not necessarily the views of the Columbus Crew organization. Especially when he makes fun of other teams.

The Crew’s 3-2 loss at New England last Saturday had a number of unfortunate consequences. For example, the result eliminated Columbus from playoff contention. That’s a big one. It also prevented me from declaring that Foxboro is located in “Massivecrewsetts.” I was totally going to write that if the Crew won. Alas, it was not to be.

Now that we’ve ruminated on what could have been, let’s move on to the road trip Notebook. We’ll start with a few game-related things, then I will tell travel stories and bombard you with a million trip photos like the most annoying person on earth. Since I can’t sidle up next to each of you and swipe from photo to photo on my cell phone, this will be the Notebook equivalent.

But first, a few game things, like Crew interim coach Brian Bliss’ description of the 3-2 thriller:

“It was entertaining if you were sitting in the stands,” he said. “Sitting on the bench, it’s a heart attack a second. We couldn’t play it any way other than that way because of what was at stake. They were in the same boat we were and the game opened up after the first call and it was an entertaining game. Both teams went at it.”

SCHOENFELD’S BIG DAY

Playing his first game since injuring his shoulder on July 20, Aaron Schoenfeld came off the bench to start the second half with the Crew trailing 1-0. In the 59th minute, he helped the Crew level the score by serving as a target, then dishing the ball off to Dominic Oduro, who lasered a shot into the net to knot the score.

“I just remember getting it through traffic and hearing Dom scream,” Schoenfeld said. “I got it to him and he hit a bomb. All credit to him on that goal.”

“On my goal, we did have a bit of a good passing sequence,” Oduro said. “Aaron was able to hold the ball inside the 18, he saw I was wide open and then he slipped me a good pass. From my angle, I had a good touch that bounced well for me to have a blast into the net.”

With the Crew later trailing 2-1, Schoenfeld and Oduro would reverse roles in the 71st minute, scoring just two minutes after New England reclaimed the lead. This time Oduro fed Schoenfeld, who collected the ball and dusted off the “Stern Turn” that Stern John made famous in Columbus in the late 1990s. Schoenfeld’s spinning left-footed blast into the upper corner tied the score and put the Crew in a position to push for the necessary win.

“On Aaron's goal, a shot deflected off a New England player, I think, and fell right in front of me,” Oduro said. “I wanted to try and take it on my right to shoot, but I picked my head up and saw Aaron in a good spot to pass, which I did. He was able to hold it and then make a perfect turn in the box to hit a curling shot to score.”

“Dom gave me the ball and I didn’t feel any immediate pressure,” Schoenfeld said. “So I took the turn and had a hit and it went in.”

Schoenfeld’s huge performance came when the Crew needed it most, with the season on the line. He said he was well prepared by the coaching staff heading into the weekend.

“We worked on a few different scenarios this week depending on the situation,” he said. “One of the things we worked on was what we would do if we were losing. So we went over the 3-5-2 and what we would do to try to catch the game. The option to put me up there was something we worked on this week, so I just tried to carry it over from training. I got the message at halftime and I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to help our team.”

“There was a little bit more direct play going,” Bliss said, “so we decided at halftime that if both teams are going to play a little more direct and look for second balls, then Aaron would be a little more helpful than a couple of other guys we had on the bench and it proved to be right. I give (assistant coach) Mike Lapper a little bit of credit, because he pushed me in that direction.”

Despite the loss, Schoenfeld’s teammates were happy to see all of his hard work validated in a clutch late-season performance.

“He played a great game,” said goalkeeper Matt Lampson. “He was a great target for all of my balls in and his goal was unreal. It was a hell of a shot and a great turn. He deserves it. He works his ass off in training and he’s a great guy, so I’m really happy for him and I’m proud of him for what he did when he got the chance. He played incredibly well and was a great bright spot in that second half.”

Alas, for Schoenfeld, his memorable night will leave him with mixed emotions.

“As a forward, you’re judged on the goals you score,” he said. “I got the monkey off my back. Hopefully there are more to come. I just wanted to come in and make a difference in any way possible. It’s just hard to see the season go down like this.”

THE GOALKEEPER VIEW

One of the truths I’ve learned over my many years writing about soccer is that goalkeepers are the perfect player to ask about goals allowed. In some ways, that’s unfair because it’s not like every goal allowed is the goalkeeper’s fault, so quizzing them about the goals shouldn’t be taken as such. In fact, there are games when the goalkeeper couldn’t have done a thing about the goals that went in. Still, they tend to have the best view of the breakdowns and they also tend to have an encyclopedic memory of what transpired. Soccer is a game of chaos, whereas goalkeeper is a position of focus. With that in mind, minutes after a heartbreaking loss, I bugged Matt Lampson to tell me about all three goals from his vantage point.

The first goal came off of a set piece in the 32nd minute. A.J. Soares expertly flicked a header off of a low service into traffic by Kelyn Rowe.

“It was a fantastic ball in,” Lampson said. “It dipped low to the point where I couldn’t see it anymore. It was a great flick on by Soares. I didn’t see it until late. It came up out of the bodies and went by me. It was great ball in and a great finish, but it’s another set piece goal that we gave up and it’s inexcusable.”

New England’s second goal came in the 69th minute on a penalty kick. Lampson made the save on a Rowe breakaway, but Tony Tchani made an ill-advised lunge in the heat of the scramble for the rebound. The ball and the man were moving away from the goal when the foul was committed. Lampson went to the correct side on Chris Tierney’s penalty kick, but the ball still tucked into the side of the net for a goal.

“I didn’t guess,” Lampson said of his diving effort. “I wanted to stay up as long as possible, but I can’t cover as much range if I don’t guess. He put it past me. If it’s in the air, I think I save it.”

New England’s game-winner came in the 76th minute on a swift attack of the Crew’s penalty area. Tierney’s overlapping run resulted in a low cross. Diego Fagundez eluded Tchani’s mark for an easy finish into the open net.

“The third goal was a tap-in,” Lampson said. “I was set for the shot from Tierney and it went across. There was a near-post run, so I had to check up on that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with a big defensive play and I couldn’t come up with a big save. That’s the way the game goes.”

LOCKER ROOM REACTION

After the team’s summer swoon, you’d be hard-pressed to find many pundits who though the Crew would be playing for the playoffs in the penultimate weekend of the season. I’ll admit I sure didn’t. But there they were, trading goals with the Revs as both teams played for their season. Although disappointed in the result, the players are optimistic about the team’s future. Their late-season run under Bliss has given the locker room fresh energy heading into the season finale and beyond.

“In all honesty, I thought we played a hell of a second half,” Lampson said. “That’s a credit to Bliss. We didn’t have a good first half, but he got us prepared for the second half and we came out on fire. If we don’t go to three in the back, I don’t know that we let in that third goal. I think he’s got us playing and I think it’s a sign of the great things that this team can accomplish. We just need to put it all together on a consistent and regular basis.”

“I think you can see through the last several games that we were definitely playing better soccer, which is something people at times didn’t believe that we could do,” Schoenfeld said. “I’m just proud that we were able to string those games together and go down fighting when a lot of people didn’t believe in us.”

“That’s how it’s been since Blissy took over,” said midfielder Wil Trapp. “I think this push has been a testament to our toughness and it will transition into next year. We have a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t cut it this year. Nobody likes to be a loser. I think we’ll respond well to that.”

THE BUS SPEECH

My sense over the past several weeks, as evidenced by some of the quotes like those above, is that the players love playing for Bliss and I think the postgame scene from Saturday night can be illustrative as to why. Having fallen short in a hard-fought end to end battle that officially ended their playoff dreams, the players were obviously down. Leaving for Columbus right from the stadium left no chance for the players to go out and let off some steam. It was going to be a long, quiet bus ride and flight back to Ohio.

As the bus started to pull out from the underbelly of Gillette Stadium, Bliss asked the driver to stop and shut off the engine. His voice raspy from 90 minutes of sideline shouting, Bliss addressed the team.

“Look, I know we made some mistakes and there are some plays you want back and I know you’re [bleepin’] disappointed,” Bliss said, “but if you look at the stats— and I know some say stats are for [bleepin’] losers and I know we lost the [bleepin'] game—but if you look at the stats in terms of the shots and the possession and the duels won and those kind of things, it shows me that we came here, in a game that both teams needed to [bleepin’] win and we went at them. I'm proud of how we came to play and how you [bleepin’] battled those guys. and I want you to know that if this was game 24 instead of game 33, we wouldn’t have been [bleepin’] around with three in the back. That was dictated by the circumstances and the risks we needed to take. Okay? We have these guys again, so let’s work this week and not let New England get into the playoffs on our [bleepin’] back. I thank you for your effort.”

And with that, Bliss dropped back into his seat, the bus started up and the team was on its way back to Columbus. The hoarse and coarse soliloquy sucked the tension out of the bus. It struck me as a coach reading his team and saying exactly what needed to be said at that moment. Sure, there were mistakes to go over and lessons to be learned, but the bus and the flight were neither the time nor location conducive to such endeavors. Rather than let the guys silently stew in misery for the rest of the night, Bliss simply acknowledged (and genuinely shared and empathized with) his players’ frustration and disappointment and thanked them for giving their all. It lifted the mood considerably.

For Bliss, the rest of the trip was spent with a DVD of the game popped into assistant coach Mike Lapper’s laptop computer. The entire flight back, the two coaches made their first pass through the game film, rewinding, pointing at the screen, analyzing, gesticulating and taking notes. They put in a solid two-plus hours of film work to get a head start in preparation for the following week’s training.

Film study and training would be for players' minds, but the bus speech was about the players’ hearts. From my vantage point, it appeared to be a good reading of the mood and the situation and a course of action that many players would respect and appreciate.

TRAVEL PHOTOS, PT. 1 (THE TRIP) 

Last weekend’s trip came nearly 15 years after the first time I traveled with the team, which was a 1998 sojourn to Foxboro. I have many fond memories from that trip, but this year’s trip was nothing like it from a travel standpoint. In 1998, we all waited at the airport terminal and then boarded a Southwest Airlines flight that was maybe 1/3 full. It’s hard to imagine the days of such cheap fuel that airlines didn’t mind running flights that were more than half empty. The good news was that players had plenty of room to stretch out, some even lying across all three seats. But the defining memory for me is when the pilot came on over the intercom and announced, “We have some very special guests on our flight. The  Columbus Crew soccer team is on board and we want to wish them the best of luck in their tournament this weekend.” Ah, the good old days when MLS was in its infancy and any soccer team was presumed to be a tournament-bound youth club.

Fast forward 15 years and the flight was something else entirely.  With a 30-person charter, no airport security was required. Just pull up, park, walk into the building and then out to the plane. If you needed to go to the bathroom before the flight, the aviation company’s men’s room had preposterously large stalls for…urinals.

So this is how the wealthy pee.

The flight was smooth and comfy. Here’s a shot of the Crew-filled cabin…

The descent offered some nice views of the famous New England fall foliage.

When we landed, instead of one of those jetways, there was a little shrub-lined pathway that would have taken us into the building.

The shrub path would have been a nice touch, but instead the group exited the plane and boarded the bus that was waiting right there on the tarmac. On the ride to Foxboro Andy Gruenebaum asked me to take a photo of him for his #DigiBaum series on the Crew’s Instagram account. The look on his face was priceless.

The hotel was located at Patriot Place, the shopping center adjacent to Gillette Stadium. The hotel afforded spectacular views of a stadium that had once been described to me as a “soulless vessel.”

More photos in a bit. First, some more little stories.

BEN’S SURPRISE

As we waited for our departing flight, Ben Speas’ arrival was greeted with much enthusiasm by Lampson. He reached over to the table next to his chair and held up a Tim Horton’s bag.

“Look what I brought for you, Ben,” Lampson said, handing it over.

Speas excitedly accepted the bag and thanked Lampson.

“You don’t even know what’s in there,” Lampson warned. “What if it’s something you hate?”

“I know I’ll love it,” Speas said as he opened the bag, his eyes lighting up at the sight of the treasure it contained—one Boston cream donut, his favorite. He quickly devoured his gift.

“I like to make people happy,” Lampson said. “Look at the smile on Ben’s face right now. That smile is worth it.”

DISMANTLING INSECTS

On the ride to Foxboro, the bus passed a work truck for Costello Dismantling. The company’s logo is a praying mantis. So wait, was it dismantling? Or did I misread it? Maybe it was “Dis-mantis-ing.” Perhaps they are a very specialized insect extermination company. Ohio has stinkbugs…maybe Massachusetts has a praying mantis problem.

I suggested that, like cockroaches, by the time you see one praying mantis, maybe it means there are already thousands of them hiding in your home.

“By the time you see one, it’s already too late,” team physician Dr. J concurred, playing along.

I agreed that the sight of a praying mantis in the home would definitely be a case where you’d want to call in a dis-mantis-ing company. It would already be past the point of no return.

“When you’re past the point of praying…” offered Crew communications manager Tim Miller.

Perfect! Now we had a slogan: “When you’re past the point of praying, call Costello Dis-mantis-ing.”

“That would be perfect for radio or TV,” said Dr. J, “but it wouldn’t work in print because of the a/e thing.”

I assured Dr. J that the praying mantis gets its name because it looks like it is praying, so it is spelled with an “a.” I could understand his confusion, though, since a praying mantis is preying on other insects. It is a preying praying mantis. He looked up the spelling anyway to confirm.

To be fair, Dr. J earned that title as a medical doctor, not an entomologist. Dr. J is my go-to guy whenever I need a medical term. For example, in Boston, people can drive like maniacs on the side of the freeway. That’s allowed at rush hour, so as to increase the traffic flow. I said they must have a heck of a cleanup crew in Massachusetts, because even if you were allowed to do that in Ohio, you would constantly encounter blown out truck tires and mutilated deer carcasses on the…. on the…uhhh…on the…

“Shoulder,” Dr. J said.

See! Medical term!

“Anatomy term,” he corrected.

Oh. Anyway, where was I? Right. Dis-mantis-ing. Here is the logo for Costello Dismantling:

When I told this story to my friend Rob, he thought that maybe the company chose the praying mantis as a mascot not because of the “mant” aspect, but because the female praying mantis physically dismantles her mate after the completion of the procreative process. It’s a solid theory.

Rob and I also debated what to call a praying mantis infestation. For example, bees would be a swarm.  We eventually settled on “a congregation.” So you would call Costello Dis-mantis-ing and say, “My kitchen is crawling with a congregation of praying mantises! I desperately need your dis-mantis-ing services!”

These are the things I think about.

BLOWING UP MARCO

I have a tendency to be annoyingly pedantic for my own amusement. Seeing the movie “Airplane!” when I was six years old is undoubtedly the source of this character trait, which surfaced during a conversation in the hotel lobby with Chad Marshall and former Crew communications guy Marco Rosa, who now lives in Boston and works for Major League Lacrosse.

MR: “This will be the second MLS game this year I’ll be attending as a spectator.”

SS: “Yeah, I haven’t played in any either.”

[Marco gives me the “are you effing serious” look.]

MR: “Anyway, this will—“

CM: “Sorry, man. He just blew you up. Story’s over.”

It was good to see Marco, even the 99.9% of the time I wasn’t blowing him up with pointless pedantry.

TRAVEL IS BORING (FOR PLAYERS)

Every time I travel with the team, I am reminded how boring travel can be for a professional athlete. Going to an away game is a blast for fans. There are sights to see, bars to close and tailgates to attend. Even the team staff can go out and have some beers and stay out late. For the players? Not so much. It’s all about getting ready for the game.

Friday night means a team dinner at the hotel and maybe a leisurely walk around the hotel area. Saturday morning is breakfast, a team walk to loosen the limbs, a team meeting and then a lot of down time. Books are read, crossword puzzles are solved, televisions are watched, iPads are played with and naps are taken. It’s all about resting up for the main event. Then it’s time for the team meal and the bus to the stadium. For the most part, as an athlete, the road trips are infinitely more mundane than glamorous. (and that’s still true even if, in this instance, the charter flight upped the glamor quotient and eliminated the terminally mundane—waiting around at the airport.)

I’m sure a post-game night out can be fun, especially after a win, but for the most part, like those of a musician, athlete travels are more boring than most people would probably imagine.

TRAVEL PHOTOS, PT. 2 (PATRIOT PLACE)

One meaningful aspect of the weekend for me was that I got to spend a lot of time with Kirk Urso’s brother, Kyle and Kyle’s girlfriend, Erica. They came down from New Hampshire to support the Crew in New England, as they always do and they even got to spend some time with some of Kirk’s teammates. I’ve spoken and corresponded with Kyle and Erica in very small doses, so that weekend was the first time we really got to hang out for a prolonged period of time. When the three of us walked around Patriot Place on Saturday afternoon, we encountered many interesting things.

For example, we saw a scarecrow on stilts with funky flamingo knee joints and enormous bell bottoms…

The scarecrow also walked around with a crow on his arm, projecting the image, “I suck at my job.”

(Actually, it was a stuffed crow, not a live crow, so maybe I am being too harsh. Perhaps the image he was projecting was, “Get anywhere near me, crows and I will wear your hollowed-out carcass like a wristwatch.”) (Perhaps he would call it a Crowlex.) (Do professional scarecrows need joke writers? If so, I’m available.)

After gawking at the awkward scarecrow, we gave Erica “five minutes” to shop and then we saw a petting zoo a half hour later.

It had bunnies to make Andy Gruenebaum homesick…

It also had ducklings,  and chicks,  and a pig, and a fence-climbing goat…

Beyond the goat, you will see wooly creature with horns. It appeared to be some sort of sheep.

“It’s a ram,” Erica said.

“A Dodge Ram,” Kyle said.

“Exactly,” Erica said. “It’s a Dodge Ram because he’s dodging all these kids.”

After we watched the zookeeper smear goat poop into the sidewalk with a broom and dustpan, we continued on our journey and saw some sort of pumpkin decorating contest.

From this vantage point, we also had a good view of Gillette Stadium, the aforementioned “soulless vessel.”

On the way back to the hotel, I took a picture of the Patriots’ mascot, who I assume was spending his afternoon shopping for boots that fit better. Or, as Erica teased, I was quote-unquote “taking a photo of the Patriots’ mascot.” Please note that the mascot is centered. My motives were pure.

CUPCAKE CANNIBAL

As Erica shopped again “for five minutes,” Kyle and I came across a bakery called Cupcake Charlie’s. What caught our attention and ultimately lured our business, was this sign above the shop:

“Charlie the Cupcake is holding a tray full of other cupcakes,” I noted.

“He’s betraying his own kind,” Kyle said.

“That would be like you or I holding a tray of other people to eat.”

“But he doesn’t find it revolting.”

“Well, he’s either a crazy cupcake cannibal or these cupcakes are so good that he’s not repulsed by the idea of feeding his fellow cupcakes to people.”

“He’s smiling about it,” Kyle said. “It makes him happy. Those cupcakes must be really good.”

“Right,” I said. “Charlie is taking a huge risk too. He’s hoping to feed other cupcakes to people, but there’s also risk involved since he himself is also a cupcake and once people get a taste, they could turn around and eat him.”

“Then we definitely gotta try one,” he said.

So we did. Messy and delicious. We were not served by a tray-toting cupcake, so we can only hope that Charlie was not gobbled up while serving an earlier patron. But that’s probably what happened to him. Either that, or the other cupcakes staged a violent insurrection to put an end to Charlie’s treacherous reign of sacrificial people-feeding cupcake terror.

TRAVEL PHOTOS, PT. 3 (THE STADIUM)

More travel photos! I trust that the yawn you just gave was merely your brain gasping for oxygen so it could fully process and appreciate the following images in all of their cell-phone-quality glory.

First, the bus that carried Columbus to the stadium was off by one digit…

Since the Crew were in the visiting NFL locker room at Gillette Stadium, there were warning signs pertaining to NFL games and, in retrospect, the 2006 World Cup Final.

Despite it being a code-red inventory risk, equipment manager Rusty Wummel asked me to lay out the candy, gum and crackers. He assured me I did an excellent job, so I apparently have a future in that sort of thing if my scarecrow joke-writing career doesn’t pan out.

Here’s a corner of the Crew’s locker room once Rusty got it all set up.

Seeing as that we were at Gillette Stadium, it should come as no surprise that they take razor safety VERY seriously.

Here’s a field-level shot of the aforementioned “soulless vessel,” looking out toward its iconic light tower.

Here’s a shot of the Patriots’ three championship banners. I couldn’t find any MLS Cup banners for the Revolution, so these will have to do.

With new Crew chairman Anthony Precourt being on record as wanting to change the Crew’s logo, this match could have been one of the final meetings between the only two logos to remain unchanged since the league’s launch in 1996.

With an exuberant crowd of over 26,000 on hand and with an exciting win giving them so much to cheer about, the “soulless vessel” turned out not to be soulless after all.

ONE FINAL MOMENT

As Dominic Oduro walked toward the team’s bus and New England coach Jay Heaps walked toward his postgame press conference, Heaps called out to Oduro for a quick chat.  He told Oduro that he played well and that he would see him next week. Then Heaps offered the following parting plea: “Slow down, will ya?”

Not a chance. Sunday’s game should be a fun one.

Questions? Comments? Think this Notebook would have worked better a slideshow? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk