BY KELLIE TAYLOR
Craig Yacks attended his first Major League Soccer game Saturday night.
Like many of the fans in attendance, Yacks, 22, wore the colors of the home-team Columbus Crew -- a black jersey with gold shorts and the logo of three construction workers symbolizing "America's hardest working team."
But Yacks' jersey was different. It did not bear the name of World Cup stars Thomas Dooley or Brian McBride. The name above the shiny number 26 was his.
Yacks, a forward - midfielder on the Crew's A-League affiliate, the Cincinnati Riverhawks, was called up to play with the parent club for Saturday's game with the Dallas Burn.
"(Riverhawk head coach) Nick (Ranieri) called me on Wednesday and said, "Craig, you're playing in Columbus this weekend,' " Yacks said. "I said to him, "You're kidding, right?' "
The contract Yacks signed was just for the Dallas game. Friday's pregame practice made Yacks, who is from Anderson, the answer to a trivia question: He is the first Cincinnati native to be on a Major League Soccer roster.
With 12 minutes remaining in the 1-1 game, it looked as though Yacks might get his chance to make his Major League debut. Crew head coach Tom Fitzgerald looked down his bench and motioned to Yacks and midfielder Marcelo Carrera to begin warming up.
Yacks donned his orange warmup jersey and began stretching on the south side of the field. The season-high crowd of 15,628 fans echoed in his ears as the Crew missed several chances to go ahead in the game.
"I was getting really nervous," Yacks said. "I have never played in front of this many people. I tried to concentrate on the game, not the situation, but I definitely had some butterflies." With eight minutes remaining, assistant coach Greg Andrulis called over Carrera and Yacks. Carrera, a three-year Crew veteran, entered the game. Yacks returned to the bench.
"Craig's a good player," Fitzgerald said. "I thought about throwing him in there in the end because of his speed. I went to Marcelo instead because we thought we might go to a shoot-out."
A-League games go to an overtime period before resorting to a shootout, unlike the MLS where tied games go straight to a shoot-out. "I've never been in a shootout before and (Fitzgerald) asked me if I had," Yacks said. "It was a close game and the coach has to go with the players he knows."
The Burn scored with five minutes remaining and held on for a 2-1 win.
Yacks said he thrilled by the opportunity and not too disappointed he did not get to play.
"The way I look at it, I had great front row seats," he said. "Even if I was just sitting the bench, it's something I can say I did."
Fitzgerald has yet to decide if Yacks will travel with the team to Miami Wednesday for the team's last game before the one-week All-Star break.
"We're not sure what we'll do with Craig yet," Fitzgerald said following the Crew's Saturday night loss.
Yacks' fate will depend on how the Crew bounces back from recent adversity. The roster is riddled with injuries, including the loss of midfielders Brian Maissoneuve and Robert Warzycha, who are both out 2-3 weeks.
The injuries, combined with the loss of forward Stern John to the Trindad-Tobago national team and contractual problems with forward Andrew Williams, have left the Crew's roster thin.
"The A-League players have been a savior to us," Fitzgerald said. "We like Craig's speed and aggressiveness. He's the kind of player we need."
Yacks' days with the Crew may be over for now, but in his mind, not for good.
"It makes you want to work a lot harder to get to this level," he said. "If all else fails, I can still tell my grandkids I was on an MLS team. They don't have to know how long."