SALT LAKE CITY - The Columbus Crew kept alive their slim playoff hopes, while Real Salt Lake are assured of missing the MLS Cup Playoffs in their inaugural season, as Edson Buddle hit for two goals to lead the visitors to a 2-1 victory Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Starting just his second game since July 9 because of injury and suspension under the MLS substance abuse policy, Buddle scored early and late in the opening half to keep the Crew alive by the slimmest of margins for a playoff berth.
The Crew took the lead after just eight minutes. A terrific ball from Simon Elliott out of midfield found Chris Henderson on the left flank. He rounded his marker before putting in a cross that found Buddle in the heart of the area. The fifth-year striker didn't control with the cleanest of touches, but was still able to poke the ball home from close range.
Real nearly pulled level just three minutes later. Melvin Tarley recieved a through ball near the midfield stripe and took it down to the top of the penalty area. He then turned and laid it back for an on-rushing Jamie Watson, who hammered a rising drive that tested Jonny Walker, but the Crew 'keeper was able to get a hand on it and deflect it over the crossbar.
In the 19th minute Henderson had a chance to double the Crew's lead. A low cross fell to the MLS original at the top of the six-yard box, but he volleyed his shot well over into the north stands.
After the early scare, the Columbus defense settled in and kept Real at bay. But as the half wore down, the altitude seemed to get the best of the Crew, who were making their first-ever trip to Utah.
In the 37th minute Robert Scarlett played the ball across the goalmouth, but no one was on the other end. Yet the Crew failed to clear the danger, and a miscommunication put the ball at the feet Chris Brown inside the penalty area. He settled the ball and ripped a shot that beat Walker, only to come back off the bar.
Then in the 39th minute Andy Williams took the ball to top of the area. He slid the ball across the box to Kenny Cutler for a clean shot, but again the ball sailed high.
But it was the Crew who had the final say in the half. Nearly two minutes into stoppage time Kyle Martino received the ball and carried it forward toward the Real penalty area. He played it through to Buddle making an angled run into the left side of the area, and he placed his shot perfectly, beating Countess to his left as the ball clanked off the inside of the post and into the goal to double the Crew lead.
Real poured on the pressure in the second half, but couldn't break the Crew defense. Just two minutes after the restart, they had one of their many opportunities when Watson crossed the ball to Tarley, who was waiting unmarked at the far post. Tarley looked to have Real's first goal, but mishit the ball, sending it over the cross bar.
Walker made six of his 10 saves during the second period. In the 70th minute, halftime substitute Seth Trembly hit a well-struck ball to the far side, but Walker dove to his left to deflect the shot wide of the post.
Real's offensive efforts went for naught until Williams singlehandedly put Real on the board in the 86th minute. He stole the ball of the feet of Robin Fraser at the top of the area, then took a couple of steps before hitting an off-balance shot into the far netting.
Yet Real needed to win to avoid elimination from the MLS Cup Playoffs, and the late goal was too little, too late, guaranteeing the Colorado Rapids the final available place in the Western Conference. For the Crew, if the Kansas City Wizards win on Sunday afternoon, they will still be in the same position as RSL was entering Saturday's games - they have to win every game for the rest of the season to have any chance of a postseason berth.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Edson Buddle (Columbus Crew)
David Hale is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.