Mendoza's miss haunts Columbus in 2-0 loss to Rapids

Andres Mendoza of the Columbus Crew

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If the avalanche of injuries hadn’t already caught up to the Columbus Crew, the one suffered by Eddie Gaven in the opening minutes against Colorado on Friday did the trick.

Gaven suffered a contusion around the Achilles tendon region of his right leg and was forced out of the match in the seventh minute in a move that directly affected two positions. His departure left the Crew wanting at his right midfield spot and exposed the lack of creativity from Dejan Rusmir in the middle.

As a result the Crew didn’t take their lone shot on goal until the 73rd minute and saw their two-game winning streak snapped in a 2-0 defeat at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

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“We did not have too much quality in the midfield today,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “We would have had more quality but Eddie was missing.”

The Crew (9-7-7, 34 points) still sit atop the Eastern Conference, two points clear of Philadelphia and play the next two at home against New England on August 13 and a week later vs. the Union.

Columbus had a chance to equalize Brian Mullan’s 54th-minute goal when Andrés Mendoza took a pass from Eric Gehrig and fired from the left of the box. But the ball was not well struck by the Designated Player and Matt Pickens was able to smother the attempt.

“He has to score the goal,” Warzycha said. “You are away from home against a good team. Basically you are going to get one or two chances. If you have a chance to tie the game or win the game you have to score.”

Six minutes later Omar Cummings took advantage of a turnover to seal the Crew’s fate.

“If Mendoza puts that one away to make it 1-1, I think we definitely come out of here with a point,” defender Josh Gardner said. “A positive in the second half was we were moving the ball side-to-side and getting some movement. We were putting the ball in dangerous areas. We just weren’t able to get on the end of them.”

Mendoza returned from injuries after missing two games but the team leader in goals (seven) struggled. He was called offside four times and couldn’t get his right foot on a Robbie Rogers cross in the 18th minute.

The Crew were without injured forwards Emilio Renteria and Jeff Cunningham but really felt the lack of depth in the midfield when rookie Bernardo Anor, one of five first-year players on the bench, came in for Gaven.

Anor looked overmatched and created several chances for Colorado (9-6-10) with his errant passes. He was part of the Crew’s inability to possess the ball and Rusmir added to the woes with his lack of offensive punch.

That left Emmanuel Ekpo to press forward from his holding midfielder role, and he had a rare off game that left the Crew vulnerable at times.

“Defensively we did the best we could,” Gardner said. “They had good movement that created problems for us, but they got one great shot by Mullan and one giveaway in the back that led to the second goal. That’s really all they had.”

Columbus have been blanked nine times overall and in half of their 12 road matches while scoring 24 goals in 23 games. That’s why they could ill afford the loss of Gaven, who had a goal in each of the previous two matches and has played more minutes than any midfielder or forward on the team.

“Eddie’s one of those guys who can change a game and obviously you don’t want to lose him early,” Gardner said.

The impending return of midfielder Dilly Duka — out since June 4 with an ankle sprain — may provide a spark but the Crew are also looking to South America for help, said technical director Brian Bliss. He said Thursday a player has been offered and he is hopeful a deal can be done by the close of the transfer window on August 15.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a striker but an offensive-geared type of guy,” Bliss said.