Crew make statement with win at fortress Rio Tinto

It wasn’t about avenging a 4-1 beating in March that eliminated the Crew from the CONCACAF Champions League or the three other losses at Rio Tinto Stadium, including a 2009 playoff matchup.

They didn’t set out to show the rest of Major League Soccer that, hey, there are good teams in the Eastern Conference, either.

Nevertheless, the Columbus Crew made a powerful statement with their 2-0 victory against longtime nemesis Real Salt Lake on Saturday behind goals from Eddie Gaven in the fifth minute and Tommy Heinemann five minutes later.


Robbie Rogers, who entered with one assist for the season, had a pair and backup Andy Gruenebaum had his second straight shutout as the Crew moved three points clear of Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference.

“Coming here and winning — scoring two goals and shutting them out — is a huge statement,” Rogers said.

The Crew had been outscored 11-2 in four games at Rio Tinto and had just six goals on the road this season in 10 games before stunning the hosts with the early strikes. Rogers played two wonderful crosses into the box: the first hammered in by Gaven for his fourth goal of the season and the second in many games, and the second powered in by Heinemann off a header.

“It was a bit surprising to be honest,” Rogers said. “We wanted to get after them and put them on their heels. They’re a very good defensive team and we talked about really testing them. They came out a little slow and if we went after them hard we could punish them. They were giving me time to turn and go after them.”

What was remarkable is that the Crew had a league-low four first-half goals until the barrage. From there, Gruenebaum was outstanding in his decision making and saves, none better than his left-handed deflection to deny Fabián Espíndola in the 47th minute.

“He hit it through a screen and I saw it late,” Gruenebaum said. “I got my left hand on it. I got down as quick as I could and got the rebound.”

Gruenebaum also rushed off the line to snuff Espindola in the 70th to help keep the Crew’s perfect 7-0 record when scoring first.

“We played very good, especially early in the game when we switched the point of attack and opened up the game with our speed and good thinking,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “The key was making the field bigger when he had the ball, going from one side to the other side and [Justin] Meram and Tommy fighting for the balls. They did a good job.”

What may have been just as satisfying was being able to pull off their biggest road win since conquering New York 3-1 in May 20, 2010, and do so without the services of several injured players.

Goalkeeper William Hesmer missed his second straight game while forward Emilio Renteria, midfielders Dilly Duka, Danny O’Rourke, Tony Tchani and Rich Balchan and defender Shaun Francis are still out. Even forwards Jeff Cunningham and Andrés Mendoza, the team leader with seven goals, were questionable this week with leg injuries. Both traveled to Utah with the team, but neither featured in the match.

“Obviously beating Salt Lake, not a lot of teams come in here and win, says a lot but by no means does it say our season is in the bag or we’ve done our job,” Heinemann said. “There’s still a lot of ball to be played.”

Next up for the Crew is another potential revenge game: an Aug. 5 showdown with the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to face the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs.

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