COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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 at Crew Stadium.
Gardner gave the Crew the lead in the 82nd minute when his shot from 22 yards out 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 had yielded only one goal in their previous four games and took a 1-0 lead on the strength of a Jámison Olave goal in the seventh 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 Andrés 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 González's corner kick.
Salt Lake forward Fabián Espíndola had set up the set piece with a strike from just outside the penalty area that was tipped out of bounds by Hesmer. González’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 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 Espíndola with a sliding save on the stroke of halftime.
Neither team created too much in the first half-hour of the second half, though Cunningham did ping the crossbar in the 60th minute.
Both teams are in action again this weekend. RSL (6-3-2) travel to Philadelphia on Saturday for a 4 pm ET kickoff at PPL Park, while Columbus (4-3-6) host the Fire on Sunday at 4 pm ET at Crew Stadium.
RSL -- Jamison Olave 1 (Nelson Gonzalez 1) 7
CLB -- Andres Mendoza 4 (penalty kick) 76
CLB -- Josh Gardner 1 (Andres Mendoza 1) 82
RSL -- Fabian Espindola (caution; Reckless Foul) 78
RSL -- Chris Wingert (caution; Tactical Foul) 88
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 Crew -- 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
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Sunny and 91 degrees