By Casey Ward
Dragging a wife in her third trimester to a literally and figuratively sodden soccer match played in an uncovered stadium must surely constitutes domestic abuse. Had my fellow spectators been able to detect the protruding belly beneath her oversized yellow poncho, I would have been run out of Crew stadium on a rail. When the match between Real Salt Lake, the 2009 MLS Cup Champions, and the Columbus Crew, the 2008 MLS Cup Champions, promised in the opening minutes to be as dispiriting and predictable as the driven rain we sat in, I almost felt guilty for bringing her with me. Almost.
At the start of the match, the Mormons left two of their most dynamic and effective players, Robbie Findley and Javier Morales, on the bench. As a result, RSL uncharacteristically played a game similar in style to the current incarnation of the Crew: hollow. Without Morales directing his underlings from the center of the pitch, everything took place at the peripheries. The ball skirted the center circle as though repelled by a magnet. While not as direct as the Crew (Brunner to Iro to Rimando, Brunner to Iro to Rimando, Brunner to Iro to Rimando…), Real Salt Lake’s approach lacked the passing pizzazz evident in their playoff run last season. The game, as a result, was a slog.
In 90+ minutes at home, the Columbus Crew only managed a single shot on goal. Robbie Russell’s clumsy challenge on Robbie Rogers resulted in a penalty kick for the Crew, which Guillermo Barros Schelotto briskly converted. From an offensive standpoint, that is the only moment worth noting in what Warzycha described as a “crappy game.” Considering that the penalty kick was caused by a defender’s blunder, I thought about omitting even that.
From a defensive standpoint, however, a number of actions merit praise as they constitute the only valid justifications for the aforementioned abuse. All of these actions were performed surprisingly and heroically by William Hesmer. The previous season had seen a drop in Hesmer’s form, which caused many Crew fans to wonder if 2008 had been, for Hesmer at least, a fluke. With the same backline in place in 2009, what other reason could there be for his relatively frequent gaffes and bobbles? This season, however, has seen a newly reinvigorated Hesmer, one who barks orders and snatches balls from corner kicks with authority. His assertiveness and quick reflexes saved the Crew from dropping points to RSL on three occasions. Robbie Findley, on a one-on-one breakaway, Javier Morales, on a 20-yard freekick, and Alvaro Saborio, assisted by Crew defender Eric Brunner, all watched in dismay as their goal-bound efforts struck the outstretched legs and/or palms of Hesmer. His performance was the only memorable thing about a match most will forget.
While the MLS may have to wait decades for an American Steven Gerrard or Darren Bent to grow up in its ranks, it already has half a dozen goalkeepers who could challenge any English-born keeper for his No. 1 kit. One needs look no further than the man between the pipes in Columbus.