The Columbus Crew pounced on Real Salt Lake with two early goals, and held on for the final 80 minutes to post their first-ever win at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night. Robbie Rogers found Eddie Gaven and Tommy Heinemann with well-taken crosses in the fifth and tenth minutes to give Columbus the lead, while Andy Gruenebaum denied Fabian Espindola two minutes into the second half to preserve the shutout.
Coming into the game, the Crew had lost all four games at Rio Tinto stadium by a combined 11-2 scoreline. Their last trip, in March as part of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, ended with a 4-1 shellacking.
When the Crew broke up the left flank in the fifth minute, then, it was something of a surprise when Robbie Rogers blew past Robbie Russell, drew the home team’s defense out of position, and sent an inch-perfect pass through the penalty area. Eddie Gaven, arriving late to the play, met the ball in stride and plenty of space as Chris Wingert had slid centrally to try and provide coverage. Gaven made no mistake from close range, tucking his shot inside the post where goalkeeper Nick Rimando could not make the save.
Five minutes later it was Tommy Heinemann’s turn to benefit from Rogers’ skill. Again the Crew built up the left flank, but this time Rogers’ ball was sent through the air to the penalty spot. Heinemann, the Crew’s best aerial threat, leapt to meet the ball while Chris Wingert stood rooted to the ground, and the Crew forward’s ball beat Rimando to the far post.
Real Salt Lake reacted to this pair of early blows with better play, but were unable to even put a shot on Andy Gruenebaum’s goal in the first half. Their best attempt came after 23 minutes when Fabian Espindola finished a strong run to the end line with a delicate chip toward the penalty spot, but Jean Alexandre’s shot with the goal yawning before him was mis-played and the ball sailed high over the crossbar.
Columbus, meanwhile, continued to look dangerous through the opening 45 minutes. Tommy Heinemann had a quality scoring chance in the 21st minute after receiving a pass from Emmanuel Ekpo, but his low shot from the edge of the penalty area missed wide of the near post.
Nearly fifteen minutes would pass before the next Columbus scoring chance, although Real Salt Lake created alm`st nothing of note themselves in that time either. Eddie Gaven finished a run through the midfield in the 35th minute with a knuckling shot with three players closing down space, but Nick Rimando proved equal to the challenge and tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Just two minutes into the second half, the home team almost pulled themselves back into the contest. Andy Williams played a ball over the back line for the run of Fabian Espindola from the midfield stripe. Espindola was closed down by Marshall and James in the area, but was able to pull the ball back and send a powerful shot low toward the far post. Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum dropped quickly to his left and palmed the ball to a stop, controlling the rebound before anyone else could pounce.
Gruenebaum, starting in place of the injured William Hesmer, did well throughout the game in just his second league start in the last two years. The Columbus reserve goalkeeper has seen plenty of action, however, having played all of the Crew’s games in the Champions League, Open Cup, and playoffs last year (12 appearances).
As the second half wore on, Real Salt Lake continued to dominate possession, allowing only sporadic chances from the Crew. Their efforts at piercing the Columbus defense, however, typically foundered upon the pairing of Chad Marshall and Julius James in the heart of the back line.
The home team felt hard done by a referee’s decision in the 73rd minute when a shot by Arturo Alvarez struck Eric Gehrig in the chest and arm before falling to the ground, but the referee left his whistle in his hand without calling for a penalty kick.
Six minute later, the final real scoring chance of the night saw Andy Gruenebaum win a footrace with Fabian Espindola for a loose ball at the top of the penalty area. Gruenebaum was first to the ball, clearing it away just as Espindola tried to take a shot, and further possession by Salt Lake typically ended without any real danger.
What It Means
The victory pushes the Crew into sole possession of the Eastern Conference lead, with 34 points. Columbus enjoys a record of nine wins, seven draws, and six losses (3-3-5 on the road). They sit three points in front of the Philadelphia Union, although the Union hold two games in hand. New York are four points behind the Crew, although they have played one more game than has Columbus.
Real Salt Lake falls to 9-6-4 on the season, in fifth place in the Western Conference. The loss is just their second at home this season in league play, although they also lost in the finals of the Champions League against Monterrey.
5′ 1-0 Eddie Gaven (Robbie Rogers, Justin Meram)
10′ 2-0 Tommy Heinemann (Robbie Rogers)
61′ Eric Gehrig replaces Dejan Rusmir
61′ Arturo Alvarez replaces Andy Williams
61′ Collen Warner replaces Robbie Russell
70′ Luis Gil replaces Jean Alexandre
76′ Bernardo Anor replaces Justin Meram
Andy Gruenebaum, Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner, Dejan Rusmir (Eric Gehrig 61′), Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo, Robbie Rogers, Tommy Heinemann, Justin Meram (Bernardo Anor 76′)
Chris Konopka, Kevin Burns, Cole Grossman, Jeff Cunningham, Andres Mendoza
Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell (Collen Warner 61′), Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Andy Williams (Arturo Alvarez 61′), Will Johnson, Jean Alexandre (Lui Gil 70′), Fabian Espindola
Tim Melia, Chris Agorsor, Tony Beltran, Rauwshan McKenzie
The Columbus road trip continues next weekend with a game Friday in Denver. Their next two games will both be at home against Eastern Conference foes, with first the New England Revolution (August 13th) and then the Philadelphia Union (August 20th) paying a visit to Ohio. The game against Philadelphia promises to be pivotal in the race for playoff position, as both teams are grappling for the top spot in the conference.
Real Salt Lake has a short week ahead, with a Wednesday trip to Kansas City’s new stadium. They return home to Utah next weekend to host New York before again taking to the road for games in Toronto and Houston.