Running Diary: Crew vs. Toronto FC

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Now Columbus, struggling but by no means doomed, faces lowly expansion franchise Toronto FC, which acquired former Crew star Jeff Cunningham in a trade this week to pair him with another past Crew striker, Edson Buddle. Tonight we’ll find out if the Crew can win when it’s supposed to—at home against the worst in the league—or if its discarded past will come back to haunt it.

Here's a running diary of tonight's match...

7:20 Checkered black and gold flags are waving all around the northeast corner of the field, where the Local 103 supporters’ club seems to have been joined by a Latino crew called La Turbina del Amarilla. Meanwhile, my Mom calls me from across the stadium to inform me about the sizable Toronto sect that’s filling up the southeast portion of the stands. This catches me off guard. The Raptors supposedly have some of the most passionate fans in the NBA, and Toronto is one of the most international cities in North America, so I suppose this bastion of soccer crazies shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it is nonetheless. One would presume the Maple Leafs’ fan base is zealous too. No clue about the Blue Jays and Argonauts, though.

7:25 Your Columbus starters: Andy Greunebaum (trying to regain his dandyness), Frankie Hejduk, Marcos Gonzalez, Ezra Hendrickson, Rusty Pierce, Stefani Miglioranzi, Ned Grabavoy, Danny O’Rourke, Gullermo Barros Schelotto, Andy Herron (back from his suspension for elbowing Jay Heaps, which confirmed my friend Tommy's suspicion that Herron is, in fact, a "G"), Alejandro Moreno.

7:26 Toronto’s lineup: Greg Sutton, Marco Reda, Jim Brennan, Kevin Goldthwaite, Ronnie O’Brien, Andy Welsh, Maurice Edu, Chris Pozniak, Marvell Wynne, Danny Dichio, Jeff Cunningham. (No matter which colors he wears, it kills me that they aren’t black and gold—I can’t even imagine if he ended up with DC or Chicago. )

7:27 Two national anthems tonight. The Canadians should really have adapted their national anthem from a drinking song like we did; “O Canada” is the essence of blandness.

7:33 p.m. The bleachers aren’t exactly bursting at the seams, but don’t blame the humidity. Who wants to come root for a team that’s scored four goals in seven games? Still, the folks who are present seem rowdy and ready to go.

7:34 My favorite banner so far this season: “Brad Evans: Down on the Field.” Judging from his performance last week, though, it seems best to keep him down on the bench.

7:37 Kickoff, at last.

7:39 Quick work from the Crew. Goal, Herron! He meets a wonderfully threaded through ball from Moreno on the left side of the box and blasts it off goalkeeper Sutton’s outstretched hands into the net. The Crew’s Spanish-speaking frontline is off to a lovely start.

7:40 After the goal, Herron picks up a yellow for taking off his shirt in celebration, reminding us of one of the silliest passages in the FIFA rulebook.

7:43 Herron is everywhere so far, and with so many new attackers vying for playing time (and continued rumors of Carlos Ruiz on the way), it’s no wonder. Speaking of Ruiz, if he really did suit up for the Crew, (a) I have no idea who Columbus would trade to get him and (b) would that complete the Sigi Schmid "rebuild my old Galaxy roster" project?

7:47 Hejduk’s free kick ricochets off the official, off a Toronto head and back to a friendly foot. His crosses continue to be his greatest weakness, but for a world-class defender, that ain’t such a bad greatest weakness.

7:49 Herron, still in the thick of it, gets mauled by Wynne just short of midfield. It's hard out there for a pimp.

7:50 Ezra steps in front of Cunningham to intercept a Toronto pass. He’s already done that a few times today.

7:51 Pozniak chops down Hejduk on the right flank, allowing Schelotto to take a free kick. He seems eager to launch it quickly, but he and his teammates aren’t on the same page, so he waits. Eventually, his service is low, harmless and intercepted.

7:54 Pierce, cheating way forward, challenges for the ball but allows the Toronto attacker to bolt past him. “You gotta get that if you’re gonna lay yourself out there,” I say. Then Pierce admirably tracks back 50 yards and wins the ball back.

7:55 Pozniak’s point-blank touch inside the six-yard box comes dangerously close to netting a Toronto goal, enough to elicit a stadium-wide gasp. But Gruenebaum deflects it out of danger.

7:57 Former Dallas star O’Brien hacks Schelotto (after doing the same on O’Rourke earlier) but gets away with it. When Schelotto carries out retribution on Pozniak, he doesn’t get such leeway.

7:59 Schelotto springs Hejduk into the right corner with pace, but Hejduk’s bullet of a cross skitters across the grass to a defender’s outstretched foot. Nice cross placement from Hejduk that time, but it needed a little air.

8:01 Herron beats the offside trap on the left side, looking to recreate his goal from earlier. This time his low shot just barely squeaks right.

8:02 Again, it’s Herron down the left. This time he chooses to cross, but his rocket sails across the goalmouth; his teammates aren’t quite there yet.

8:04 Cunningham slices and dices and lays off to Dichio, whose low, curling shot clangs off the inner post and into the net. 1-1 ballgame. The ghost of Jeff Cunningham wrecks havoc on the Crew!

8:05 The Crew attackers get right back to work. They’re looking good tonight. If they can squeeze out more than one goal, I might sprout some hope for this season yet.

8:07 On the TV broadcast in the background, I can hear sideline reporter Katie Witham (who drives me mad by referring to the Crew as “we”) interviewing Toronto coach Mo Johnston. I was shocked to learn recently that before coming to play for Kansas City in 1996, Johnston was a pioneer in Scottish football, one of the first to break the Catholic-Protestant division in the Rangers-Celtic rivalry. Read about it in Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains Everything.

8:11 Cunningham continues to pester the Crew defense, but Pierce shepherds him past the end line for a goal kick.

8:12 The Crew midfield combines nicely to win the ball and advance down the field. Eventually, Hejduk ruins it with another poorly placed cross, this time way behind his targets.

8:13 After some pingpong, another Herron goal! Schelotto plays a beautiful service to Migs, who follows with a delicate heel-flick to an on-rushing Grabavoy. Sutton’s save deflects to Herron, who’s more than happy to deposit goal No. 2 into the net. Ain’t nothin’ but a G thang, baby.

8:15 Ricardo Virtuoso enters for Herron. Why did this happen? The guy had man of the match on lockdown, and he gets yanked before halftime? We’re going to need some clarification on this.

8:19 Cunningham bends around his defender to get off a weird volley that, fortunately for Gruenebaum, is directed squarely at the keeper.

8:20 Word from the bench: Herron left with a left quad strain. This completes tonight’s chapter of the G-Funk era.

8:21 Schelotto’s beautiful reverse heel flick finds Hejduk bolting for the right corner again, but once more Frankie’s cross leaves something to be desired. Maybe this is a bigger problem than I was letting on earlier.

8:23 A crew corner kick rattles off a few heads before a high-flying Toronto kick clears the ball from danger. I’m surprised nobody got a boot in the head there.

8:24 Your halftime score: 2-1 Crew. That's right: The Crew scored two goals in the first half. And they're winning. I feel like I'm stepping into a whole new era. G-Funk, step to this, I dare ya.

8:29 Wow, the stats guy sitting next to me is using a dial-up modem to connect to AOL. Perhaps this is not a new era after all, and it's actually 1998.

8:40 The second half is underway.

8:41 Big save from Sutton on Moreno’s point-blank blast.

8:43 On second thought, let’s hold off on that new era talk for now. A monster free kick from Brennan ties the match at 2.

8:46 Remember my last running diary, from the match at Kansas City three weeks ago? When I declared my frustration at both teams’ uninspired play? This is the exact opposite. Tonight’s match is the epitome of entertainment.

8:47 Gonzalez comes up to head a powerful corner kick high and wide.

8:48 Goldthwaite does the splits to break up a Crew attack, but Columbus regains composure and wins another corner kick.

8:50 Cunningham misses his chance to exact more revenge by mere inches. His shot seemed destined for the right side netting, but it somehow sneaked by.

8:55 Things have quieted down here. This seems like a good time to point out that the Hoosier pair of Grabavoy and O’Rourke, who have been expertly holding down central midfield this season, are not having their best night. They're still playing with a lot of guts and passion, though. Fittingly, at the heart of the field lies the heart of the team.

9:01 Migs snags an interception and feeds Moreno, who passes to a streaking Virtuoso. Unfortunately for the Crew, Virtuoso, in the words of somebody in the press box, “acted like he’d never seen a soccer ball.” This is strange considering his wondrous ball control from a few weeks ago.

9:03 Schelotto can’t get a call. Aren’t they supposed to protect the stars?

9:04 Tonight’s attendance:11,755. Also, Brad Evans is down on the field, replacing Miglioranzi. He immediately

9:05 AOL-using stat guy notes that Cunningham is wearing No. 93, presumably in honor of his 93 career MLS goals. Will he update his number every time he scores a new goal? Speaking of a Cunningham goal, it looks likely as he bursts through for a one-on-one that Gruenebaum bravely saves. Turns out it’s meaningless though, as Cunny was WAY offside.

9:07 Hot eats and cool treats from Virtuoso, who apparently has his touch back.

9:08 Thunderous stomping from the fans indicates a highly anticipated corner kick, but the Crew does nothing with it.

9:10 Cunningham breaks away again, but Gruenebaum stones him again! Dandy Andy is ballin’ outta control!

9:12 Schelotto is pissed! He shoves a Toronto defender on the right sideline, picks up a foul, launches the ball into the stands in frustration, and earns himself a yellow card.

9:13 Crew’s getting sloppy out there.

9:14 Dandy Andy is gonna give me a heart attack, but he’s playing with authority.

9:15. Yup. Getting real sloppy. And everybody knows you can’t be sloppy when it’s time for the Wild Bean Shootout.

9:18 Best Columbus chance in a while goes wide right.

9:20 Crew defense is pushed way up, which is never safe when Cunningham’s running amok. Luckily, they track back and handle the Toronto attack. Meanwhile, Virtuoso “channels Ronaldo” (kind of) then pulls off a killer cross to Schelotto’s head. The legend can’t quite keep his shot from clearing the crossbar.

9:21 Toronto switches former Crew forwards as Edson Buddle enters for Cunningham. This seems unwise, but you know, do what you gotta do, Mo.

9:22 Time is running out. Three minutes left before stoppage.

9:23 Schelotto absorbs another hack near midfield. The ensuing scuffle leads to a yellow on Brennan and a continued attack. The crowd goes wild as the Crew launches a shot into the net… but it’s the outside netting. Corner kick.

9:24 The Crew is going all-out trying to secure the win. This is either going to be an inspiring or heartbreaking finish.

9:25 We’re in stoppage.

9:27 Aaaaand… game. Drat.