Sirk's Notebook: Rare Loss Edition

TheCrew.com's Steve Sirk documents the first leg of the Trillium Cup series

Michael Parkhurst

Photo Credit: 
Kirby Hines / TheCrew.com

Last Wednesday night, Michael Bradley was an American hero, recording a goal and an assist for the U.S. Men’s National Team against rival Mexico. Last Saturday, Michael Bradley was the most unwelcome Canadian nuisance in Central Ohio since the arrival of all those geese. In the highly-anticipated clash of New Eras, Bradley bossed the midfield and scored an 11th minute goal as long-beleaguered Toronto FC won in Columbus for only the second time in club history, defeating the Crew 2-0.

But hey, even with their hot start, it’s not like anyone expected the Crew to finish 34-0-0 on the season.

To clarify, no intelligent, thoughtful, analytical, rational person—or even a person with so much as one molecule of common sense careening around inside an otherwise empty skull—expected the Crew to finish 34-0-0 this season.

PUNDITS PUMMELED

Saturday’s match wasn’t supposed to end that way. The Crew was off to a glittering 3-0-0 start, whereas Toronto came into the game missing four starters, including Designated Player scoring ace Jermain Defoe. In its preview story, the Toronto Sun ran a big headline: “The Odds Aren’t Great.” On the MLSsoccer.com preview, not a single prognosticator picked Toronto to win. This game had all the makings of another in a long line of TFC humiliations courtesy of the Columbus Crew. And then the whistle blew.

Columbus started slow, Bradley scored an early goal, and then the Crew spent the rest of the game trying in vain to connect crosses in the Toronto box. As is often the case in games like that, Toronto scored again late to put it away for the Canadians. What the heck happened, eh?

“I think it’s complacency,” said Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “We thought they were going to come in and lay down. They’re missing Jermain Defoe, [Steven] Caldwell, [Jonathan] Osorio, [Doneil] Henry. We thought they were going to come in and lay down for us and they weren’t. Why would they? This is MLS. In MLS, every game is tight. We know that. The starting point of this is preparation and being prepared to play the game. We shouldn’t have had that attitude and I’ll take responsibility for that if we did and we have to be ready to play from the opening whistle.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the locker room tunnel, beloved Crew legend / beloved TFC turncoat Duncan Oughton, now an assistant coach with Toronto, was happy to have flipped the script.

“Every person at (the) MLS (website) picked Columbus to win,” he said. “I think it’s with all the injuries and how the Crew have started off so well, but it doesn’t really matter what the press say. We all know that. It’s what happens on the field, fortunately.”

Or in this case, unfortunately. (I’ve found I frequently have to correct Duncan’s word choices these days.)

BRADLEY CONJURES A GOAL

Bradley’s 11th minute goal came out of seemingly nowhere. He ran on to a pass in the Crew box, but he had an extremely tight angle. He nevertheless ripped a low, driven shot that went through the legs of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark and tucked just inside the far side netting.

“I felt like the first goal was a soft one and I put us in the hole early,” Clark said. “That’s tough, especially when we weren’t playing our best game in the early minutes there. I knew he was going to shoot it and he just caught me with my feet planted. There was a little gap between my legs and he found it.”

“There’s no secret; he’s a great player,” Berhalter said of Bradley. “We don’t even need to discuss that. We know that. If you give a good player the ball in the penalty box, good things can happen, and he punished us today.”

NOT BUSTING THE BUNKER

The early goal played right into TFC’s favor. Columbus has shown to be a possession-oriented team that is susceptible to counterattacks. Toronto has shown to be a counterattacking team without much possession.

“When they pinched an early goal, you know it’s going to be tough because they are going to pack it in,” said Crew midfielder Wil Trapp.

The second half game film would be the soccer equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day. Over and over again, the Crew pumped crosses into Toronto box. Over and over again, Toronto cleared the danger.

“They did a good job,” Berhalter said of Toronto’s team defense. “Let’s give them some credit as well. They got their guys back, they stayed organized, and they were very difficult to break down.”

“After the goal, they stayed compact,” said Crew forward Dominic Oduro. “Our game is trying to find spaces in behind the defense. They stayed compact and made it really difficult for us. We outplayed them, but we were unlucky trying to find the net.”

The Crew did little in the way of creating their own luck. Berhalter felt both ends of the crossing equation were out of sorts, citing the lack of “good hard runs” and the quality of the crosses themselves.

“I think it’s the movements inside the penalty box and it’s the crossing,” Berhalter said. “How many crosses did we cut back to no one at the top of the box? How many times did we prepare the ball in a way we couldn’t play it across the front of the goal quickly enough? We had opportunities. There were chances there and we just didn’t capitalize on that.”

There were certainly some chances, as there are bound to be when an entire half is spent in the final 30 yards of the attacking half. It felt like a 45-minute hockey power play, where a team keeps flinging the puck into the goal mouth, hoping for the right bounce. I made this analogy to Oduro, who surely grew up watching tons of hockey in Ghana. Brilliant. Still, he must have seen enough Blue Jackets games to roll with it.

“It did, especially in the second half,” Oduro said in reference to the game feeling like a prolonged hockey power play. “We just need to do a better job of trying to find spaces in between.”

The Crew never got their bounces or found those spaces. And then on a rare foray into the Columbus end, Issey Nakajima-Farran scored in the 85th minute for Toronto. Because that’s how soccer works.

“They had the game plan to stay compact,” Oduro said. “I don’t know if they were hoping for a draw, but it worked for them and they got the win.”

A RARE LOSS

The loss marked the first defeat of the Berhalter era, even including preseason. It was the Crew’s first loss since the 2013 season finale on October 27 vs. New England, which happened 160 days before the Toronto loss.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Trapp said. “You’re going to have tough games and you’re going to lose sometimes. You don’t want to, but that’s the game of soccer. Sometimes you’re not going to score and sometimes you’re going to give up goals. You’re not going to be perfect all the time. I think it’s humbling, and at the same time, I think it’s going to light a fire under us and we’ll be back stronger next week.”

“You never want it to happen,” Oduro agreed, “but sometimes it’s okay to get your [butt] kicked a little bit. It makes you take a step back and adjust things.”

Berhalter will surely work with the team to adjust things, but he is eager to see what happens next from a mental standpoint.

“There will be more losses, but this is our first loss,” he said. “This is a good test for us as a group to how we respond, how we get back, and how the hunger is back there again. I’m looking forward to the response.”

Clark is confident in what Berhalter will find.

“We’re going to bounce back,” he said. “We’re a young team and it’s important to learn lessons like this. We’ve got to come out to play. You’ve got to take the game and you’ve got to earn it.”

ANOTHER DOSE OF VENEZUELAN VENOM

When Bernardo Anor unleashed a long-range goal against Philadelphia, Crew radio broadcaster Neil Sika described it as “Venezuelan venom.” On Saturday, Anor tagged another long-distance shot off of a 50th minute free kick. Federico Higuain rolled the ball over to Anor, whose low scorching drive was on frame, but punched away by diving TFC goalkeeper Julio Cesar. I wondered if that ball was hit even harder than the shot Anor scored on a couple weeks ago.

“I don’t know,” Anor said. “We’ve been working on free kicks this week. We just gave it a try and it came out pretty well. He made a good save, so we didn’t quite pull it off.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: DOUBLY GOOD TRILLUM EDITION

With the Crew and Toronto each off to good starts in “New Era” mode, it created a Trillium Cup rarity—both teams had a winning record entering Saturday’s match. It was only the third time in history that the Crew and Hosers met while each team had a winning record. The list:

May 17, 2008 (at TFC, 0-0): TFC entered 3-2-1; CLB entered 6-1-0

July 25, 2009 (at CLB, 3-2): TFC entered 7-6-5; CLB entered 6-3-9

April 5, 2014 (at CLB, 0-2): TFC entered 2-1-0; CLB entered 3-0-0

There are only two other instances in which the Crew faced a Toronto team with a winning record. Both of those happened in 2009, the year that TFC almost made the playoffs before hilariously losing 5-0 in the final weekend of the season:

March 28, 2009 (at CLB, 1-1): TFC entered 1-0-0; CLB entered 0-0-1

May 2, 2009 (at TFC, 1-1): TFC entered 3-2-2; CLB entered 0-2-4

So in the end, Saturday’s game joins May 17, 2008, as the only meetings where the Crew and Toronto entered with winning records and left the winning records. Our old friend Duncan is happy about this development.

“This Trillium Cup thing is going to be good this year, huh?” Oughton said. “It’s going to be a battle!”

LAMPSON’S SPIRIT ANIMALS

One of the fun additions to the stadium experience this year is the halftime video series where players answer random questions. At the home opener, players were asked for their favorite movie line. On Saturday, they were asked to reveal their spirit animal. Here’s the video:

 

 

Goalkeeper Matt Lampson has stolen the show both times. In the first video, he said, “Ehhh…[long pause]…that’s a terrible question.” This week, Lampson revealed the great white shark to be his spirit animal. He then said he had a top-five list, so that made it an easy question to answer.

Crew fan Kelly Jo Larsen tweeted the Crew to ask the logical follow-up question—what are the other four members of Lampson’s top-five list?

This is precisely the type of hard-hitting follow-up journalism that I specialize in. I reached out to Lampson to see if he would be willing to share his top five. An entertaining and exemplary expounder, Lampson not only agreed to share his top-five spirit animal list, but he also offered additional insight into his rankings.

What follows is Lampson’s indescribably awesome email on the subject.

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I have most certainly embraced the fact that I am definitely the most bizarre member of the Columbus Crew. It is a point that my fellow teammates do not hesitate to remind me of on a daily basis. While I find it completely understandable and acceptable for individuals to liken themselves to animals and their varying attributes, I have recently been informed that this is not the case. In fact, my affinity for animal knowledge has fueled the team with many-a-comment regarding my peculiar personality. The most common comments are those which include a multitude of remarks and observations concerning my animal T-shirts. Unbeknownst to me, those went out of style in the mid 1980’s, and the team has likened my sense of style to that of a ten year old boy. With all this background information in mind, I find it imperative to inform Crew Nation on the additional four animals in my “Top 5.”

1. Great White Shark – What the Lion is to the Savannah, the Great White is to the ocean. It is powerful, scary, and festively plump. All three attributes perfectly fit me. Nothing messes with the Great White, and their constant desire for food only further exemplifies how similar the animal is to me.  And most importantly, sharks do not get cancer—a small tidbit of knowledge that I hold dear to my heart.

2. Beluga Whale – Quite possibly one of the most intelligent creatures in the world. Their echolocation and ability to communicate is rivaled by very few in the animal kingdom. These two facts, however, have absolutely no relationship to me. The truth is, I am just as misshapen, have a large layer of sub-cutaneous blubber, and am pasty white just like them.

3. American Bison – My affinity for bison first arose during my trip as a child to Yellowstone National Park. Their magnificence and clout is something I found mystical as a child. It was not until my later years that I discovered how delicious these animals were that made me love them even more. Needless to say, at Ted’s Montana Grill, not only can I see the splendor of the bison hanging on the wall, but I can also taste its splendor at the same time.

4. Grizzly Bear – Essentially this is my physical appearance manifested as an animal. My beard and hair may indeed be the same genetic makeup as Grizzly Bear fur. I am typically slow moving unless I need to move fast, I am omnivorous, and I hibernate from time to time. I am certain that I unknowingly emit bear noises as well during various times of the day. Also, I have been known to attack people that encroach on my space or food, and digging through trash cans in Alaska is my favorite hobby.

5. Okapi – Ah yes, the Okapi. Is it a giraffe? Is it a horse? Is it a giraffe-horse? The fact that no one really knows what the hell this thing is the first time they see it is precisely the way people react when they see me for the first time. They encounter a tall, bearded man that may or may not be homeless, wearing brand new adidas shoes and a shirt from Cedar Point circa-1996. I do not blame people for wondering what they are looking at. And thus, I sympathize with the Okapi in its endangered and striped-bodied elegance.

With all of this information now readily available to the public, it is no secret that the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is above and beyond my favorite locale in the city. If anyone should see me there, I encourage you to say, “Hello.” However, before you do so, please make sure your child is not on a leash, and that I am not in a deep, cross-species communication with the animals.

Thank you,

Matthew Lampson

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I hope this answered your question, Kelly Jo. If not, you can at least take solace in the fact that your question finally led to some quality writing appearing in this week’s Notebook.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? (SEVEN IDENTICAL LETTERS)

While we are on the subject of goalkeepers, when I went over to Steve Clark’s locker, he grabbed my press credential and gave it a quick look.

“Oh, it’s Steve Sirk,” he said. “For a second I thought it said Steve Clark. That would’ve been weird.”

Alas, I am not quite Steve Clark’s name doppelganger. Weirdness averted.

THE LEGEND OF J90+4

Because it was so joyous, let’s pause to take a look back at the magical moment when Justin Meram morphed from “J9” to “J90+4.” Meram’s game-winning goal at the end of the fourth and final minute of stoppage time in Seattle on March 29 immediately became one of my all-time favorite Crew memories. The drama, the setting, the opponent, the New Era mojo, the goal itself, the…EVERYTHING, instantly made it the stuff of Crew legend.

I mean, just LOOK at it…

As the week went on, I still felt I needed to know everything about this amazing goal. What follows is a reconstruction based on a fun telephone conversation with the man himself, plus a follow-up call with Josh Williams for some additional perspective. So here we go…

The Crew had survived a first half that saw Steve Clark bail the team out with some spectacular saves on Seattle counterattacks to keep Columbus at just a 1-0 deficit. In the second half, the Crew translated their huge possession edge to an equalizing goal on a Federico Higuain penalty kick. The penalty call also resulted in a red card to Seattle defender Djimi Traore, meaning the Crew would have a man advantage for the final 20 minutes of the game. (Last year, they lost to a 10-man Seattle team, so this was not a gimme.) The Crew thoroughly dominated from that point forward, but the game seemed destined for a draw. Columbus had a corner kick in the final minute of stoppage time that led to a shot by Bernardo Anor that got cleared off the line by Seattle’s Oswaldo Alonso. This is where the story of the goal begins.

“Bernardo hit it and it looked like it hit Alonso’s arm,” Williams said. “I couldn’t tell if his arm was extended or if it his body or what, but I saw everybody going wild so my first instinct was to go wild and try to get a penalty that late in the game. I wasn’t sure if it was actually a penalty, but I just joined everybody else.”

Once it was obvious that a penalty call wasn’t coming and that the Crew would have to settle for another corner kick, Williams turned his back to the play and began discussing potential runs with his teammates. Likewise, the Seattle players caught their breath and discussed their assignments. Everybody was getting their ducks in a row for one last cross into the box, but in doing so, Williams said that what everybody (including himself) missed was Michael Parkhurst ripping the ball away from the delaying Sounders and zipping it out to Higuain at the corner flag.

Higuain caught the ball, set it down, and made immediate eye contact with Meram, who was all alone at the corner of the 18-yard box.

“We saw each other and he made a decision,” Meram said. “Luckily, it was the right decision. It’s easy to look off somebody when they’re open, but he didn’t. He figured they had a lot of big bodies in there—Seattle’s a really big team—so why not try something different?”

As the ball rolled out to Meram, he had already made up his mind. He was going to blast a shot on goal, hoping maximum force would beget maximum effect. If you’re a Crew fan, this is where things get awesome. Seattle’s much-maligned playing surface thwarted Power Plan A and forced Meram to go with Placement Plan B. 

“With that surface, my touch took me away from my body,” he said. “If you go back and see, I go from still to taking a couple of really fast steps. At that point, I knew that I couldn’t go with power because of my body angle, so I knew that I had to go with the inside of my foot. That’s a shot that I seriously practice and do nearly every single day.”

Williams was in the Seattle box prepping for the corner kick when a rushing rave-green frenzy alerted him that something was up.

“I didn’t even see the ball get played in,” Williams said. “As soon as I picked up my head, I see some Seattle guys running in a panic. I looked back and saw Justin with the ball, so I knew it was going to be a cross or a shot. I got near the goalkeeper so I’d be right there if he fumbled it. I saw Justin hit it and as soon as he hit it, I was pretty much right next to the goalie, so I knew it had a really good chance of going in. It looked like a clean hit.”

When Meram caught up to the runaway ball and went to pick his spot, he knew where to shoot. He also knew it was going in from the moment the ball left his foot.

“There were like 20 bodies in there and then there was that little gap to that corner,” he said. “If you can see, before it even gets to the net I was starting to turn toward the bench.”

Then the ball hit the back of the net. Even though he knew his strike was true, Meram said it took a few seconds for the reality of the moment to hit him, like there had to be some sort of catch.

“I absolutely lost it,” Meram said. “It was crazy because 40,000 people went completely silent. For the first second or two, I didn’t know if it was a goal or not. I didn’t hear a whistle. I didn’t hear anything. But then I knew it was a goal. Like I told my friends and family, I went into a place that I wish I could go back to. It’s something I will take to the grave with me.”

“It got really quiet,” Williams added. “I’ve never heard a stadium go from so loud to a pin drop. I think that was the first time all game where I could hear my teammates. You normally can’t hear anybody. That’s how loud it is in that place. Then when he scored, all you could hear is Justin screaming.”

Williams felt the same momentary sense of stunned confusion before attempting to chase down Meram as he sprinted to the Crew’s bench to celebrate.

“It’s kind of a shock,” Williams said. “You can’t believe it’s such a nice goal and then you just want to find somebody to celebrate with. Unfortunately, that was the fastest I’ve seen Justin Meram run since he first put on a Crew shirt. He was on a beeline to the bench. We were all trying to catch him. I was sprinting, but he had just come into the game, so maybe it’s because he was fresh that he seemed so fast to us.”

Meram’s sprint to the bench ended with him jumping into the arms of Berhalter, who subbed him on in the 89th minute and offered him some uncomplicated advice, telling him, “Why don’t you go get a goal.” After getting the goal as requested, Meram’s instinct was to celebrate with the man who told him and trusted him to make it happen.

“I got a lot of crap from my teammates for doing that,” Meram said. “They were saying, ‘Look at daddy’s boy, jumping into his arms,’ and this and that.”

For those who were curious, that explains this postgame tweet from Parkhurst:

“But I told them,” Meram continued, “under the circumstance, when he tells me to go score a goal and there’s a minute plus stoppage time left, I mean, what more do you want from a substitute?”

After the final whistle, Meram also cashed in on a pregame promise from Crew assistant coach Rob Maaskant, who told Meram that he would carry him off the field if he scored the game-winning goal later that night. With Meram’s end of the bargain secured, cameras captured Maaskant carrying the giddy goalscorer off of the plastic pitch.

Williams missed Meram’s triumphant piggyback ride off the field.

“I didn’t know it happened until we were at the airport the next morning and someone had a picture of it,” he said. “I was proud of Rob. He’s a man of his word. He kept his word. Man, I wish I had seen that when it happened.”

Meram said that after the game, Berhalter jokingly acknowledged his sage sideline advice. “[Berhalter] said he kept it really simple, (laughs)” said Meram. “For those couple of things that were said by Rob and Gregg, and then for it to all happen, it was crazy. It was meant to be.”

The thing about the goal that has struck me every time I’ve watched it—and I’ve watched it dozens of times—is that it reminded me of a buzzer beater in basketball. The short corner was like an inbound play. Meram’s touch was like taking a dribble to the edge of the three point line. Although not as pronounced, his shot had a similar gentle arc to it. And then…SWISH…nothing but net. The crowd went silent. The game was over. I could even imagine the red light going off while the ball was still in flight. Justin Meram had his MJ/Kobe/LeBron moment.

“Wait, are we putting Justin in that category?” Williams wondered incredulously.

No, I just meant that this specific play was reminiscent.

“I didn’t really think about that, but it really was like a buzzer-beater,” Williams agreed. “It’s as close to a soccer buzzer-beater as I have ever seen. I wish we had a late game timeout where Gregg had drawn that up on the clipboard, but that’s not how it works in soccer. It was a big heads-up play by Mike to wrestle the ball away when all of the complaining was going on, and then it was a heads-up play by Pipa, and then it was a great play by Justin. The rest is history. It’s one of those things that you will never forget.”

“That’s something every kid dreams about in the back yard,” Meram said. “We all do it, whether it’s basketball, or football where you’re kicking the field goal with two seconds left, or soccer. We all do that thing where you count down ‘five, four, three, two, one…’ That was exactly the moment. It was crazy.”

For most people, the dream never moves beyond the back yard. Justin Meram lived it as 25-year-old professional. The kid inside never stopped giggling.

“For the first couple of days, I couldn’t believe it,” Meram said. “I would be driving and then I’d start laughing out of nowhere. It was like, ‘I can’t believe it.’ Seriously. I’d just laugh. It was a pretty cool moment.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: J90+4 EDITION

Meram’s 94th minute goal in Seattle was the 12th tie-breaking stoppage time game-winner in Crew history, and the fifth to occur on the road. Here’s the updated list of crowd-crushing, supporter-hushing road winners:

6/12/2002: Edson Buddle, 101+, at New England. (2-1, OT)

9/8/2004: Tony Sanneh, 91+, at San Jose. (1-0)

4/22/2006: Kyle Martino, 96+, at Los Angeles. (1-0)

8/29/2012: Eddie Gaven, 95+, at Philadelphia. (2-1)

3/29/2014: Justin Meram, 94+, at Seattle. (2-1)

I have to use the “tie-breaking” caveat because Robbie Rogers technically scored a game-winner in stoppage time at RFK Stadium on October 30, 2007. His goal put Columbus up 3-1, but then the Crew conceded it a penalty kick goal on the final kick of the game. It was a retroactive game-winner, not a dramatic game-winner like the others on this list.

MERAM TANGENT #1: EERIE CHAT

Fun side story: My friend Rob was watching the game on MLS Live in California. His feed was a minute behind my TV feed, so we talked throughout the game via chat, which better enabled us to converse without me giving anything away. After I got done whooping it up, I got a chat message from Rob that said, “It’s driving me nuts that you already know what happened.” This comment referenced when the Crew were lining up for the corner kick before THE corner kick. And then I cackled because Rob had NO IDEA what I already knew. It was fun to stare at the chat window until three simple letters appeared: “OMG.” (At the end of our chat, he concluded: “That was such a fun game. I can’t believe it ended like that. Especially after I sent you that message. How weird.”)

MERAM TANGENT #2: JOSH’S HOOPS MEMORY

Since Josh Williams played basketball growing up, and since we thought Meram’s goal resembled a buzzer-beater, I asked him if he had ever made a buzzer-beating shot to win a game.  He said he hadn’t, but then laughed and shared this story about his playing days at Copley High in a game against arch-rival Barberton.

“I airballed a buzzer-beater,” he said. “It was the end of the first overtime. Something happened in practice where I hit a clutch shot. I could score, but I was our point guard, not our main scorer. But after I hit that shot in practice, the coach had all the confidence in the world that I could get the shot off to win the game.”

And so it came to be that Josh Williams found himself dribbling the basketball with the chance to win a tie game at the end of overtime.

“I crossed over, I pulled up, and… it felt good,” he said with another laugh. “It felt good leaving my hand, but it came up with nothing but air. The game went to double overtime.”

Did they win in double overtime?

“No, actually, we didn’t,” he said. “And it was to our rival. It was a huge loss for us. It sucked.”

Well, I guess we can thank J90+4 for indirectly ripping the scab off that old wound.

KIWI HAIRCUTS

Members of a Facebook group called The Terraces Online decided to celebrate Duncan Oughton’s return to Columbus through I project they dubbed “The Ages of Oughton Hairstyles.” Alan Prochazka snapped a photo of the guys in all of their wigged glory. (And I’m happy that some blond wigs made the cut. I still remember one of Oughton’s botched orange/blond dye-jobs, which prompted Dante Washington to remark, “Duncan, your head looks like a dirty Q-Tip.”) From left to right, the wig-wearers are Michael Barch, Glenn MacTaggert, Scott Smoot, and Dan Fischer.

As one might expect, Duncan appreciated the humorous tribute.

“They gave me a shirt, actually,” he said with a big smile. “They were all wearing different haircuts that I wore when I played here.”

Oughton’s current haircut is not so mullet-like or comical, as seen here in his official Toronto FC headshot.

My mom likes it,” he said. “It was a Christmas present for my mom.”

 

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

Just a heads up, dear readers, that I will miss the next two home games, so there will be no Notebook for the D.C. United and New York games. For the second year in a row, I had to make an early commitment that spanned two weekends, and for the second year in a row, when the MLS schedule got released, it revealed Crew home games for both of those weekends. An average person might expect to miss one game each year. A lucky person would miss no games. I’m from Cleveland, so my luck speaks for itself—four weekends over two years, four Crew home games.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s end on this one…

VISITING LOCKER ROOM IMPROVEMENT

After the Philadelphia game, I wrote about the Crew’s locker room makeover and the players’ reaction to it. That night, I also noticed that the visiting locker room received a makeover in the form of a brand new paint job. Let’s just say that it’s bright and that visiting teams will have no doubt about where they are playing.

I figured Oughton’s return home would be the perfect opportunity to get some feedback on the new paint job.

“Oh my God, we walked in here, and even the coaches’ room was bright yellow,” Oughton said. “It was like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s a little overbearing. Lovely, obviously. It’s what I call Crew gold.”

Oughton also took note of some of the other major stadium improvements since the last time he had been in his adopted American hometown.

“The scoreboard is really nice,” he said. “It’s much better than the one with the burned hole in it that was here for a little while. The seats on the other side of the field are nice too. That was a good addition.”

Did he get to see that the Crew also widened the concourses?

“No, I didn’t have a chance to see that,” he said. “I was busy working, Sirk. I don’t know if you know what that is, but some people have to do that.”

Questions? Comments? Think I should have a different spirit animal besides a monocle-wearing chimp? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk