Josh Gardner scored his first MLS goal since 2006 and the Columbus Crew came from behind to defeat Real Salt Lake 2-1 on Wednesday in Crew Stadium.
Gardner gave the Crew (4-3-6) the lead in the 82nd minute when his shot from 22 yards hit the left thigh of RSL defender Chris Schuler then ricocheted past goalkeeper Nick Rimando. It was the first time Columbus had led in six games.
RSL (6-3-2) had yielded only one goal in their previous four games and took a 1-0 lead on the strength of a Jamison Olave goal in the 7th minute. They held the one-goal advantage for nearly 70 minutes, but the Crew got the equalizer in the 76th minute on a penalty kick by Andres Mendoza after Justin Meram was tripped by Olave in the box.
While the penalty call was not controversial, the penalty kick itself was. Mendoza immediately called for the ball and denied Jeff Cunningham a chance to tie the league career mark of 133 goals held by Jaime Moreno. Cunningham, who was the Crew's designated penalty taker on the night, went to the spot, but Mendoza refused to budge. Crew captain Chad Marshall joined the two forwards before Cunningham waved for Mendoza to take the penalty.
Mendoza buried the kick, but was subsequently booed off the pitch by the Crew faithful when he was substituted minutes later.
The fireworks didn’t end there. Real Salt Lake were denied the equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time when William Hesmer made a spectacular save on a Tony Beltran heel flick.
It was a fortuitous end to what looked, at the start, like familiar sad refrain for the Crew. For the fourth time in six games Columbus conceded before the 10th minute when Olave flicked home Nelson Gonzalez's corner kick.
Fabian Espindola had set up the set piece with a strike from just outside the penalty area that was tipped out of bounds by Hesmer. Gonzalez’s service from the right sailed to the far post where Crew midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo was marking Olave.
The big defender was able to get his right foot on the ball as Ekpo got twisted around, and the shot went into the upper left corner over a sprawling Hesmer.
The Crew tried to rally. Cunningham’s first opportunity at the equalizer came in the 20th minute, but a cross deep into the box from Ekpo hit his thigh and trickled to goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It was the second squandered chance after Eddie Gaven’s open look from 16 yards went right of the target.
With a wilting temperature of 91 degrees, play slowed considerably the final 15 minutes of the first half with the Crew shooting wildly from the outside and RSL going 35 minutes without a shot after their goal until a wide right attempt from Jean Alexandre.
RSL then had a chance to increase the lead in the 45th minute only to see Hesmer deny Espindola with a sliding save on the stroke of halftime.
Neither team created too much in the first half-hour of the 2nd half, though Cunningham did ping the crossbar in the 60th minute.
Both teams are in action again this weekend. RSL travel to Philadelphia on Saturday for a 4 pm ET kick-off at PPL Park, while Columbus host the Fire on Sunday at 4 pm ET at Crew Stadium.
RSL – Jamison Olave 1 (Nelson Gonzalez 1) 7’
COL – Mendoza 4 (penalty kick) 76’
COL – Josh Gardner 1 (Andres Mendoza 1) 82’
RSL – Kyle Beckerman (caution: reckless challenge, 79’)
REAL SALT LAKE – Nick Rimando – Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert – Ned Grabavoy, Collen Warner (Andy Williams, 66’), Kyle Beckerman, Nelson Gonzalez (Luis Gil, 59’) – Jean Alexandre (Robbie Russell, 80’), Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Artur Aghasyan, Nat Borchers, Rauwshan McKenzie, Kyle Reynish.
COLUMBUS – William Hesmer – Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner – Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo, Kevin Burns (Justin Meram, 46’), Rich Balchan – Andres Mendoza (Andy Iro, 85’), Jeff Cunningham (Aaron Horton, 89’).
Substitutes Not Used: Eric Gehrig, Dejan Rusmir, Korey Veeder, Andy Gruenebaum.
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Corey Rockwell; Frank Anderson
4th Official: Fotis Bazakos
Weather: 91 and sunny