Sirk’s Notebook: Sporting KC edition

Sikr chronicles the Crew's 2-1 loss to Sporting

Ethan Finlay

Photo Credit: 
Kirby Hines / TheCrew.com
When it rains it Sporks. Just as it appeared the Crew would at least salvage a point despite extending their winless streak to seven, Sporting Kansas City notched a 93rd minute goal off the boot of Benny Feilhaber to leave the Crew with nothing. According to Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, the Crew didn’t deserve much more on the evening.
 
“We’re not victims in this whole thing,” he said. “The way we performed, we didn’t deserve to win that game and it wasn’t a pretty soccer game all around. The whole thing wasn’t pretty. Our job is to come out here and entertain the fans and play attractive soccer and we didn’t do that. We didn’t live up to our end of the bargain tonight.”
 
Trailing 1-0, the Crew gained the man advantage in the 55th minute when KC’s Aurelien Collin was sent off for bloodying Crew forward Adam Bedell. A Kansas City own-goal knotted the score but the Crew did little to threaten from there. After Wil Trapp picked up his second yellow card in the 89th minute, Kansas City took advantage of playing 10v10. Feilhaber blasted an 18-yard shot off the crossbar and into the net.
 
“He smashed it,” said Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark. Indeed, one has to smash a shot with sufficient velocity to out-quick Clark’s reflexes.
 
With one win in their last 16 matches, some might say that the Crew need to look at themselves in the mirror, start playing with confidence, and stick together as a team.
 
“We need to take a look at ourselves in the mirror, start playing with confidence, and start sticking together as a team,” said Clark, who is one of the some.
 
“When they are playing their best they can be a very competitive team,” Berhalter said of his troops. “I think we just need to get the guys confident and that’s part of our job. We need to build them up and get them to where they need to be for Saturday.”
 
 
OWN-GOAL ASSIST
 
The Crew scored their only goal in the 69th minute when Chad Barson sent a perfect cross toward the head of Federico Higuain. It would have been a simple finish for Higuain, but Kansas City defender Igor Juliao did the honors instead, nodding the ball past former Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. 
 
I jokingly told Barson that he got an own-goal assist. He paused for a moment, puzzled by my statistical attribution.
 
“Did I get an assist on that?”
 
Well, no. If Pipa had headed it in, it’s a beautiful assist, but since their guy headed it in to prevent Pipa from heading it in, it’s a big statistical nothing, regardless of how his cross created the goal either way. Barson couldn’t have cared less.
 
“Whatever,” he said of the statistical distinction. “Individual accolades, it’s not what I play for. I’ve never played for that. I just want our team to get back on track and start getting wins.”
 
 
 
MR. NUMBERS NERD: STOPPAGE TIME LOSSES EDITION
 
Back on March 29, Crew fans reveled as Justin Meram scored the 12th tie-breaking stoppage time game-winning goal in club history, dramatically lifting the Crew to a 2-1 victory in Seattle.
 
On Wednesday, Crew fans suffered through the 11th tie-breaking stoppage time game-losing goal in club history. Amazingly, it was the fifth in the span of just 380 days! Thankfully, it is only the fourth to ever happen at Crew Stadium.
 
Earlier in the year, I chronicled the instances of stoppage time ecstasy. Alas, with the assistance of the always-helpful Rick Lawes at MLS HQ, I have now compiled the roll call of stoppage time heartbreakers. Let’s all wince together on this stroll down Bad Memory Lane…
 
TIE-BREAKING STOPPAGE TIME GAME-LOSING GOALS IN CREW HISTORY 
 
10/05/2005: Ramon Nunez, 92+, at Dallas. (2-1)
08/11/2007: Clarence Goodson, 92+, at Dallas. (3-2)
09/15/2007: Scott Sealy, 94+, at Kansas City. (3-2) [Note: Eddie Johnson equalized at 93+.]
06/12/2011: Cristian Nazarit, 91+, vs. Chicago. (1-0)
09/24/2011: Chad Barrett, 93+, vs. LA Galaxy. (1-0)
10/20/2012: Lewis Neal, 91+, at D.C. United. (3-2)
07/04/2013: Robbie Keane, 92+, at LA Galaxy. (2-1)
07/20/2013: Jose Goncalves, 91+, vs. New England. (2-0) [Note: Diego Fagundez added a second at 94+.]
07/27/2013: Andrew Wiederman, 94+, at Toronto. (2-1)
05/31/2014: Doniel Henry, 92+, at Toronto. (3-2)
07/19/2014: Benny Feilhaber, 93+, vs. Kansas City. (2-1)
 
That 2007 loss in Kansas City was killer. Fighting for the last playoff spot, which ultimately went to KC, the Crew carried a 2-1 lead into stoppage time before a penalty turned the game. The shell-shocked Crew allowed another goal as soon as play resumed. The six-point swing ultimately allowed KC to grab the final playoff spot, with 40 points to the Crew’s 37. Without that stoppage time disaster, those point totals could/should/would have theoretically been reversed. Of course, we can’t be sure all of the remaining games for Columbus and KC would have played out the exact same way had the Crew closed out that result, but that six-point swing was brutal nonetheless.
 
So anyway, as far as stoppage time losses to Kansas City are concerned, history has shown it could be much worse than Wednesday. (How’s that for a completely ineffectual and immaterial consolation sentence?)
 
Ooh! I just found YouTube highlights of that 2007 game! The highlights are worth watching just to see Alejandro Moreno score one of the most Alejandro Moreno-ish goals of his career.
 

 
 
THE HAMMER RETURNS
 
Sporks goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum spent eight seasons in Columbus from 2006-2013. After returning to his hometown of Kansas City for the 2014 season, Wednesday marked his first appearance in Columbus while playing for the wrong team.
 
“It was weird,” Gruenebaum said. “The fans here are amazing. They welcomed me back and I didn’t know that they would. You never know. I spent eight years here and when you spend that much time, it feels like home. It was hard to leave. When I found out I wasn’t coming back, it was the weirdest to know that I’m going to have to start over, but then the opportunity happened to start over with Kansas City and there’s no other place I wanted to be. I’m so grateful to be with Kansas City.”
 
So just like LeBron James, Andy Gruenebaum has made 2014 about returning home.
 
“Exactly,” he said. “Going home. His was a little more televised. We have the same birthday, so there you go. LeBron and I, it’s the exact same story.” 
 
 
KC’S TRAVEL NIGHTMARE
 
After playing in Montreal over the weekend, Kansas City didn’t arrive in Columbus until Tuesday thanks to a bevy of busted travel plans.
 
“Probably one of the worst travel couple of days I have ever been a part of, and that’s saying a lot,” Gruenebaum said. “We started in Montreal. The flight got canceled. We hopped on a flight shortly thereafter that we thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to fly into La Guardia and then into Columbus and everything’s going to be fine.’ But then we got to La Guardia and our flight was delayed, so we sat on the runway for two and a half hours or something ridiculous. Then they finally moved us back to the gate and canceled the flight. We wake up at six in the morning to catch an early flight the next morning and then it gets canceled. Then we finally made it here yesterday and we were just zombies. One of the worst travel experiences ever.”
 
After consulting with official travel cluster(bleep) timekeeper Jacob Peterson, Gruenebaum confirmed that the Montreal to Columbus journey took 31 hours. “It’s a 12-hour drive,” Peterson noted.
 
Gruenebaum said the players had a notion to do just that. “On several occasions, we were just like, ‘Let’s just rent cars and go. Let’s do this.’ It was by far the worse that I can remember.”
 
So what did the Sporks do while living in the airport like Tom Hanks in that one movie?
 
“We took a soccer sock that was crumpled together and taped around it until we made a soccer ball,” he said. “Then we did PK shootouts, juggling games, 5v2, and whatever. Anything we could do to kill some time, we did. Oh, and we threw tape balls at each other’s nuts because that’s how mature we are. So that went down as well.”
 
 
FORMER GOALKEEPERS CHECK OUT THE IMPROVEMENTS
 
Gruenebaum wasn’t the only former Crew goalkeeper in the house. William Hesmer, wife Tacey, and infant son William III were all in attendance. It was Hesmer’s first visit since the offseason renovations to the stadium and Obetz, and he was impressed.
 
“Awesome,” Hesmer said. “Obetz looks great. That locker room here at the stadium is amazing. It’s needed. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s nice to see that Anthony is willing to come in here and make the changes that are needed.”
 
As for Gruenebaum’s thoughts on the improvements, well…
 
“Honestly, I didn’t even appreciate the new stuff because I was so taken with what was going on,” he said.  “I was in a weird situation, so I didn’t really get a chance to stop and appreciate all of that stuff.” 
 
 
ONE-DAY WILLIAM
 
Speaking of weird situations…
 
In June, Hesmer got a call from former Crew teammate Jason Garey. It seems that Carolina RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke had contacted Garey seeking Hesmer’s phone number. The RailHawks were down to one goalkeeper and having trouble finding a player eligible to dress for their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on June 25. Running out of options with so many players being cup-tied, Clarke called Hesmer.
 
“They were in dire straits,” Hesmer said. “They must have been pretty dire to pluck me back out.”
 
Did Hesmer think it was a joke? (I immediately thought of the scene in Major League where Jake Taylor gets a call from the Cleveland Indians and assumes it’s teammate prank and says, “If you’re gonna pull this [crap], at least you could have said you were from the Yankees.”)
 
“No, it was a serious call,” Hesmer said. “As soon as Colin called, I said, ‘I heard you needed a forward.’ He laughed and said, ‘Nah man, but are you fit and healthy? Can you at least just sit on the bench?’ I said, ‘I haven’t put my gloves on in two and a half years, but I think I could pull it off.’ So I went out there and trained for a couple days and I was so sore that I could barely warm up the goalkeeper the day of the game.” 
 
After Hesmer signed his one-day contract, he had grand plans for surprising former teammates and fellow Massive Champions Robbie Rogers and Pat Noonan, who play and coach, respectively, with the Galaxy.
 
“I asked them to leave me a bunch of tickets,” he said. “I was telling them, ‘I can’t wait to check you guys out. I’ll see you guys there.’ The plan was that when they walked out for warm-ups, they would see me out there on the field in uniform. I wanted them to be like, ‘What the (heck) is going on right now?’”
 
Alas, Hesmer went out to breakfast with Rogers and Noonan the morning of the game and wilted under their suspicious interrogation. 
 
“They kept asking me, ‘Why do you need so many tickets? Why do you want to see this game so bad?’ Then I spilled the beans.”
 
As kickoff approached, Hesmer had an important piece of advice for the RailHawks’ starting goalkeeper, Scott Goodwin. “I told him right before the game, ‘Hey, listen. Don’t get a red card and don’t get hurt.’ It was fun though.” (Goodwin pitched a shutout as the RailHawks upset the Galaxy 1-0 in extra time.)
 
So that’s the story of how One-Day William retired as a Carolina RailHawk. For now.
 
 
HESMER’S TOUR
 
Columbus was the final stop on Hesmer’s whirlwind week-long MLS tour. He first went to San Jose, then caught up with former teammates Danny O’Rourke and Chad Marshall in Seattle.
 
“I organized the trip so I could see those two at the same time and catch that Seattle-Portland game,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that atmosphere. It was awesome. With 64,000 people, you couldn’t even hear yourself think because it was so loud. To go from my rookie year in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium when there was barely a soul in there, to see that was pretty awesome.”
 
The trip was more than just a chance to catch up with old teammates in San Jose, Seattle, and Columbus. Hesmer is a strong believer that athletes need some level of financial literacy in order to successfully navigate their careers and their life after soccer, so his goal is to help players in that area.
 
“Hopefully it gets to a point where I’m doing it in preseason for a whole bunch of guys, where we can have some very basic financial discussions so guys can make good decisions,” Hesmer said. “Basically, just don’t be idiots with your money. Be smart and make good decisions. It’s not tough to do if you’ve got the right direction, but so many guys don’t understand the process of how that works, so they just avoid it. Hopefully I can give them some education and it falls on some willing ears.”
 
 
KIRK URSO: FOREVER MASSIVE
 
The Crew are now accepting orders for my new book Kirk Urso: Forever Massive. All proceeds will go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for congenital heart defect research.
 
The link to the order page, which also includes links to the book’s description, an excerpt, and some important ordering information, is located here: http://www.thecrew.com/forevermassive
 
This 311-page book is the result of so much love and generosity from so many people. Most Crew fans know Kirk mainly through tragedy, so I wanted to collect stories from his teammates to show the person behind the circle 15 emblem. My hope is that readers will gain a deeper appreciation for Kirk as a person and will understand why he was so loved in the locker room despite being a rookie who had only been in Columbus for a matter of months at the time of his passing.
 
If you order your copy by 4:00 p.m. EDT on July 25, 2014, your copy will be guaranteed to be part of the first print run. Orders made after that time will be fulfilled out of available Crew Gear inventory. If you want the special color edition, please order online. There will be little-to-no Crew Gear inventory of the color edition. Preordered books can be picked up at the stadium on August 9—I will be doing pre- and post-game book signings that night—or at the Crew Gear store during normal hours of operation. We can also mail them out if you live far away or would prefer that method. I will be at the Crew offices mailing out books that weekend.
 
Kirk Urso: Forever Massive is the most personally rewarding and meaningful project that I have ever worked on, so I hope that you will check it out, thereby raising money for a good cause in the memory of a wonderful person. 
 
Questions? Comments? Looking for a book recommendation? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk