SANDY, Utah — Behind a goal and an assist from Robbie Rogers, the Columbus Crew dropped Real Salt Lake 2-0 on Saturday night to claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference and send RSL to just their second loss of the season at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Columbus came out swinging early and didn't look back. In just the fifth minute, Rogers got ahead of RSL defenders Robbie Russell and Chris Schuler and turned the corner toward goal. His square ball found Eddie Gaven wide open, and the veteran midfielder easily slotted the ball past diving goalkeeper Nick Rimando and into the net.
The Crew kept up the pressure and a long distance shot by midfielder Dejan Rusmir in the eighth minute had enough on it to force Rimando to punch the ball away. The RSL 'keeper may have kept Rusmir’s shot from finding goal, but just two minutes later, the Crew added a second. Again it was Rogers creating the play down the left side, this time lifting a cross to forward Tommy Heinemann, who headed home for the 2-0 lead.
Real Salt Lake had two chances to close the gap in the first half, both involving forward Jean Alexandre, who was filling in for the suspended Álvaro Saborío. On the first chance, Fabián Espíndola made a chip pass in the box that Alexandre got a foot on, but his shot sailed over the net. Just moments before the halftime whistle, Espíndola led Alexandre into clear space but the Haitian international couldn’t get the ball off of his feet and the defense was able to recover to clear the danger.
RSL had a great chance coming out of the break as Espíndola initially beat the defense, but defender Julius James did a good job of catching up to the play, forcing the Argentine striker to gather. Espíndola still managed to get a quality shot off, but goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum made a good cover on the shot, pushing it to the side.
As would be expected, the opposing coaches made differing adjustments as the second half wore on. RSL coach Jason Kreis brought in an extra attacker while the Crew's Robert Warzycha went with a more compact formation. The result was RSL seeing a lot of the ball for the remainder of the game but struggling to find full chances. Espíndola seemed to be well on his way to pulling back a goal for the home side in the 86th minute, but he was called offside.
After the final whistle, James and Espíndola exchanged words and Espíndola had to be restrained, but the scuffle ended before it began as teammates and coaches rushed to come between the two.
CLB -- Eddie Gaven 4 (Robbie Rogers 2) 5
CLB -- Tommy Heinemann 2 (Robbie Rogers 3, Dejan Rusmir 2) 10
Columbus Crew -- Andy Gruenebaum, Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner, Emmanuel Ekpo, Eddie Gaven, Dejan Rusmir (Eric Gehrig 61), Robbie Rogers, Tommy Heinemann, Justin Meram (Bernardo Anor 76).
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Burns, Jeff Cunningham, Cole Grossman, Andres Mendoza, Chris Konopka.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell (Arturo Alvarez 61), Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Andy Williams (Collen Warner 61), Will Johnson, Jean Alexandre (Luis Gil 70), Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Chris Agorsor, Tony Beltran, Rauwshan McKenzie, Tim Melia.
Referee: Jasen Anno
Referee's Assistants: Frank Anderson; Corey Rockwell
4th Official: Fotis Bazakos
Time of Game: 1:48
Weather: Cloudy and 86 degrees