Sirk's Notebook: Catching Up Edition

A look at Steve Clark's brilliance, Venezuelan Venom, the Big Celery and more

Steve Clark

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports Images

Over the past week, most of my available “Crew time” as been spent doing work related to my new book “Kirk Urso: Forever Massive.” You can learn more about it and order it here: www.thecrew.com/forevermassive. All proceeds go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund. Thank you to those who have already ordered and I hope everyone loves the book as much as all of us loved putting it together.

This weekend offered me a chance to catch up on the Sirk’s Notebook material that has accrued over the Montreal and Crystal Palace FC games. This Notebook will bounce back and forth between the two games. It’s not a full recap of either game by any stretch, but lots of little haphazard quick-hitters from the past week or so. I will also have a separate Josh Williams-centered Notebook for you this week, as Josh and I had a lengthy sit-down on Wednesday to talk about such improbably related topics as blood clots and LeBron.

But for now, here’s a bunch of Notebook randomness from Montreal and Crystal Palace.

STEVE CLARK WINS SAVE(S) OF THE WEEK

Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark won Save of the Week honors for his double stop against Montreal in the Crew’s 2-1 victory on July 19. Check out the saves in this video…

That night, Clark shrugged off that soon to be award-winning sequence, equating it to the get-down-get-up-get-down-get-up warmup sequence that goalkeepers do approximately every single day of their lives.

“They put two on me and it was a little bit of a training atmosphere with two saves,” he said. “That doesn’t happen a lot, but that’s fine for me, you know?”

Clark has wowed Crew fans all season with his reaction saves. While he studies players and tactics, it’s only to be absorbed on an instinctual level. He makes reaction saves because when the whistle blows, his brain is trained to pounce, not ponder.

“It’s important to prepare, but you also need to shut off the thinking side of your brain when you’re playing and just react,” he said. “You have to prepare and then just let go. That’s very important.”

Shutting off the thinking side of one’s brain also means shutting down the worrying side of one’s brain, which Clark also feels is an invaluable asset between the pipes.

“As a goalkeeper, when they’re shooting at you, you’re going to get scored on,” he said. “You just have to see the ball and be at peace. That’s a big thing about being a goalkeeper—you can’t get frustrated, you can’t get nervous, and you just have to be at peace. I made those saves and I’m happy. That’s who I am.”

Some people feel that any description of who Steve Clark is should include the term “MLS All-Star.” One person that feels this way is Crew defender Michael Parkhurst, who knows a thing or two about MLS All-Stars since he is one. Parkhust will be representing the Crew on August 6 as the MLS All-Stars take on Bayern Munich in Portland.

“He’s been a rock back there all season,” Parkhurst said of Clark. “The way we play, we leave ourselves open and we give up chances every game and we need him to come up big and he came up huge again tonight, like he has all season. I think he’s deserving of the all-star team and I’m disappointed that he didn’t make it. He’s had a fantastic season and he’s a big reason we got the win tonight.”

DOUBLE DOSE OF VENEZUELAN VENOM

Crew radio announcer Neil Sika has dubbed Bernardo Anor’s long-range strikes to be “Venezuelan Venom.” In the Montreal game, Anor administered lethal dosages from his left and right fangs. Err, feet. His 56th minute equalizer launched from his favored left foot. His 75th minute game-winner blasted off his right boot. He was like a switch-hitter who crushed a long homerun from each side of the plate in the same game.

“I had to even it up,” Anor said with a smile. “Left or right foot, it’s about trying. I’m so thankful it came out nice from both sides.”

He may have scored the equalizer and the game-winner in the same game, but he deflected credit for the victory to Clark, who was the team’s internal Man of the Match.

“I scored the goals, but Steve made the saves,” Anor said. “I congratulate him. He deserves most of the credit. Without him, the game would have been completely different. I’m happy he contributed in his way and I contributed in my way.”

THE BIG CELERY’S ALMOST CELER-BRATION

In the 75th minute of the Montreal game, Aaron Schoenfeld (aka “The Big Celery”) subbed into the game as the Crew prepared to take a corner kick. After running into position in the crowded box, Schoenfeld got on the end of Federico Higuain’s cross and flicked it off of the far post. It was almost a dream entrance for his 2014 Crew Stadium debut.

“I was trying to do what Eddie Johnson did in the Gold Cup," Schoenfeld joked, referencing Johnson’s goal in that exact same scenario last summer for the U.S. Men’s National Team. “As I was checking in, someone said I would score on my first touch. If I did, that would have been a heck of a story. It would have been something.”

A goal would have been a fitting continuation of Schoenfeld’s progress in 2014. During his loan spell with the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL-Pro, Scheonfeld bagged 12 goals in 18 appearances. He made the most of his time in southwestern Ohio.

“Scoring goals as a striker breeds nothing but confidence,” he said. “You can have the worst run of games, but as long as you’re scoring goals, nobody cares. Going to Dayton helped me a lot. As a young player, it’s hard to find minutes in this league, so to go down there and play 18 games or whatever it was, it was awesome.”

At 6’4” tall, Schoenfeld is a player normally brought on for his size. Against Montreal, Big Celery subbed in for the 6’7” Adam Bedell, meaning Schoenfeld was the smaller celery stalk in the exchange. Surely that’s a rarity, right?

“That’s probably the first time that ever happened,” Schoenfeld said after briefly mulling the scenario. “I never thought about that. That was cool, man. Dayton had a forward bigger than me, but I don’t think I ever subbed in for him.”

GEHRIG THE PLAYMAKER

In the 15th minute against Crystal Palace, defender Eric Gehrig whipped in a perfect cross and Bedell buried the header to give the Crew a 1-0 lead.

“It was fantastic to get that goal,” Bedell said. “All the credit goes to Eric. That ball was unreal. It makes my job a whole lot easier when the service is like that. I made a good run, got a head on it, and put it in.”

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going where it was supposed to go,” Gehrig said of his cross. “I don’t even know if I saw it hit the net. I just turned. I knew it was a goal. It felt good.”

Gehrig has one assist in 34 career MLS games, but he now has assists in consecutive games against English Premier League teams. He also assisted on Ryan Finley’s goal against FA Cup champions Wigan Athletic last year. Perhaps an EPL team is going to buy him as a playmaker.

“Yeah, that would be nice. Are you done?”

Gehrig wanted to change the subject as he is much too humble to discuss his EPL playmaking prospects, but the stats don’t lie. Okay, even if I am preposterously misusing a small sample size, the fact remains that it was a sweet ball. That was a textbook cross and finish from Gehrig and Bedell.

LAMPSON AND ASSUMPTIONS

Matt Lampson went the full 90 minutes in the Crew’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace FC of the Barclays Premier League. Lampson had been injured during the Crew’s participation in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, so Crystal Palace FC marked his first game action of 2014.

It was great to see him out there, but it made me think of how the abolition of the MLS Reserve League must be unpleasant for a guy like Lampson, who has been serving as the backup Save of the Week candidate (and now winner!) Steve Clark. Goalkeeper is a “starter or bust” position. There are no multiple goalkeeper formations. A starting goalkeeper doesn’t get gassed in the 60th minute. There aren’t tactical goalkeeper substitutions, barring a penalty kick shootout at the FIFA World Cup or that now outlawed farce involving our dear friend Eddie Gaven back in his teenage years with the MetroStars. And while a loan to Dayton is great for the development of rookies like Matt Walker and Ross Friedman, or for the confidence and goal-scoring touch of forward Aaron Schoenfeld, Lampson’s talents are urgently required with the first team since he is one collision, muscle pull or red card away from being an extremely valuable presence in the net.

So my thought was that the absence of the reserve league must be terrible for a goalkeeper in Matt Lampson’s situation. He’s currently in playing time purgatory, whereas he’d at least get games if the Reserve League were still around.

This is why one should ask questions and not assume. When I asked Lampson about it, he shed some light on why my assumption differed from his actual real-life perspective.

“The Reserve League was good to get minutes, but the meaningful games that you actually are really getting better are the games you’re playing on Saturday and Wednesday,” he said. “As nice as it is to get minutes, to me (the Reserve League) was mainly for fitness for the field players. The speed of play wasn’t as good. It’s the day after a game. Just the quality wasn’t what you would see on the day before. As long as I’m getting games like this or the Open Cup and whatever other friendlies we have, I’ll be happy and go into every game trying to get better and do everything I can to be a better goalkeeper.”

BIG CROWD

Between Clark’s acrobatics, Bernie’s blasts, and the full three points, the crowd of 21,112 that saw the Crew defeat the Impact had a lot to cheer about. Anor and Clark created the biggest cheers on the evening, and after the game, they cheered right back.

“The atmosphere was great,” Anor said. “Having the crowd behind you, it is always great to play like that. I thank the fans because we have been struggling a little bit, but they keep coming out and supporting us. They are with us.”

“It’s so important to win for the fans,” Clark added. “I hope they had a blast. I had a blast. They were loving it and we’re going to win more games at home.”

MR. NUMBERS NERD: 20K EDITION

Over the years, a common lament among Columbus fans is that when a huge crowd shows up at Crew Stadium, the team doesn’t. The comeback win over Montreal in front of 21,112 got me to wondering how true that is. Is it a case of large-crowd losses being more lamentable, thereby inflating the overall perception of how many there are? Or have the Crew in fact historically underperformed when fans fill The House that Lamar Built?

July 19 marked the 25th official competitive Crew match at Crew Stadium in which the attendance surpassed 20,000. I went with 20,000 because it is a nice round number, although it now technically exceeds the new post-renovation seating capacity of 19,968. (Capacity was 22,555 as constructed, and 20,145 after the stage went in for 2008, and now 19,968 after the new East Preferred seating and additional egress modifications.) Of course, because of its design, Crew Stadium is a standing room ticket buyer’s paradise, so the Crew can still easily crack 20,000 for sold out games, as was the case against Montreal.

When it comes to performance in front of 20,000 home fans in Crew Stadium’s history, perception has been reality. The recent win put the Crew right at .500 in those home matches based on official MLS records. They are now 9-9-7 in all competitions in that situation, scoring 30 goals and conceding 27. If for aesthetic “what actually happened during the soccer game” purposes you count a shootout loss following a 0-0 draw with Tampa in 1999 as a tie instead of a loss, the Crew improved to just one game over .500, at 9-8-8 in all competitions. (The only non-regular season game was a 3-1 playoff loss to San Jose on September 22, 2001, in front of 20,883 spectators.)

The visiting teams for the 20,000-plus crowds to Crew Stadium, and the Crew’s record in those games:

5: LA Galaxy (2-2-1)

4: Chicago (1-1-2)

3: New England (2-0-1), D.C. United (1-1-1)

2: San Jose (1-1-0), New York (1-1-0)

1: Colorado (0-0-1), Chivas USA (0-1-0), FC Dallas (0-0-1), Seattle (0-1-0), Montreal (1-0-0), Tampa Bay (0-1-0 or 0-0-1, depending on shootout classification.)

Non-nerds can skip ahead to the next section, but for completists, here’s the list of the Crew’s results when playing in front of 20,000 or more at Crew Stadium. The July 19 victory over Montreal marked the first time in nearly five years that the Crew combined 20,000 home spectators and the full three points into the very same event.

05/15/99: W 2-0 vs. New England [24,741]

05/22/99: SOL 0-0 vs. Tampa Bay [20,782]

09/09/00: L 3-2 vs. Chicago [24,347]

07/21/01: W 2-1 vs. San Jose [24,033]

09/01/01: W 4-1 vs. New England [20,272]

09/22/01: L 3-1 vs. San Jose [20,883] (playoffs)

07/20/02: T 1-1 vs. Colorado [21,432]

08/31/02: T 0-0 vs. New England [24,422]

09/14/02: W 2-0 vs. Chicago [22,459]

04/05/03: T 1-1 vs. LA Galaxy [22,058]

04/03/04: L 3-1 vs. New York [20,356]

08/21/04: T 2-2 vs. D.C. United [23,849]

09/25/04: W 1-0 vs. D.C. United [23,775]

10/02/04: T 2-2 vs. Chicago [23,250]

10/01/05: L 1-0 vs. Chivas USA [20,548]

04/15/06: T 1-1 vs. Chicago [20,818]

08/19/06: W 1-0 vs. New York [20,149]

08/18/07: L 2-0 vs. D.C. United [21,639]

09/30/07: L 2-1 vs. LA Galaxy [24,300]

10/04/08: W 1-0 vs. LA Galaxy [22,685]

09/26/09: W 2-0 vs. LA Galaxy [20,966]

09/24/11: L 1-0 vs. LA Galaxy [21,203]

08/31/13: L 1-0 vs. Seattle [20,392]

06/29/14: T 0-0 vs. FC Dallas [20,617]

07/19/14: W 2-1 vs. Montreal [21,112]

SORTA LIKE OLD TIMES FOR THE ‘CHISE

Crew midfielder Wil Trapp was suspended for the Montreal game, so the Gahanna native had to do what he did countless times growing up—watch the Black & Gold while sitting in the stands at Crew Stadium. Was it just like old times?

“Yeah, a little bit,” Trapp said. “I migrated around. A bunch of my buddies were in town, so I watched part of it with them. I sat down and watched with my grandfather for a bit. I watched with Hector [Jimenez] and Benny [Speas] in the box for a while. I watched some from the stage. I just migrated around. I got a little nostalgic, but not too nostalgic.”

Being a member of the team, watching games from the stands isn’t quite like it was when he was growing up.

“I get a little more intense now,” Trapp said with a laugh. “When I was a kid, I was just having a good time. I’m a little more engaged now, so there might be some profanities.”

CLARK DONS THE GLOVES

Although he did not even dress for the Crystal Palace match, goalkeeper Steve Clark still donned the gloves to aid the team. In this case, they were latex gloves as he hustled around the locker room assisting equipment manager John Velasco in the collection of shoes and sweaty garments after the game.

“I’m just trying to help any way I can,” Clark said.

ASHLEIGH, TONY, AND JUICE

Crew sideline reporter and website host Ashleigh Ignelzi made a friendly acquaintance with Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis during his visit to Columbus with Stoke City in 2012. As they renewed acquaintances in the tunnel on Wednesday, Ignelzi drank from a bottle of organic Samba Fresh juice, as is her pregame custom. During their conversation, a Crystal Palace staffer presented Pulis with some tea, but he was distracted by Ignelzi’s purple concoction and asked what it was. She explained and Pulis said, “Alright, let me give it a try.” With her permission, he handed Ignelzi his tea and took a swig of her strawberry/orange/pear/apple/kale/spinach/carrot/beet juice.

“I had to resist the urge to snap a pic of TP throwing back my juice,” Ignelzi said. “He loved it. Tony is great. He stays up to date on MLS and the development of the league, which I am always impressed with his knowledge. It was so nice to have him back in Columbus. Never thought I'd be able to say I've shared my Samba Fresh juice with a Premier League manager!”

You never know what’s going to happen at the stadium on any given day. For example, I had no idea that this juice story would be the first of two food-related anecdotes I would walk away with that night…

LAMPSON STARTS AT THE BEGINNING

When a reporter asked Lampson for his thoughts on the Crystal Palace game, the Crew goalkeeper decided to start from the very beginning. By that I do not mean the first minute of the game. He started with the pregame snack table.

“Tucker had a great spread today,” Lampson said. “Grapenuts…bananas…the good kind of peanut butter...”

For those wondering about the good kind of peanut butter, do not doubt for a second that Lampson would elaborate for everyone’s edification.

“It’s natural Smucker’s, which you have to stir.”

Questions? Comments? Lazily prefer your peanut butter pre-stirred? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk