Jamie Sabau, Getty Images
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Real Salt Lake doesn't allow many goals.
It certainly doesn't allow many late goals, especially the kind that turn potential wins into ties and potential ties into losses.
But last night a normally rock-solid defense splintered in the second half and leaked two late goals.
Andres Mendoza and Josh Gardner scored for the Columbus Crew in the 76th and 82nd minutes, respectively, and Real Salt Lake lost 2-1 in sweltering Crew Stadium.
Jamison Olave scored for Salt Lake (6-3-2) in the seventh minute, but his improbable strike off a Nelson Gonzalez corner kick couldn't make up for a less-than-sharp performance by a Salt Lake side hampered by injuries and national-team call-ups.
"We didn't do well enough with the ball," Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. "We lost it in really bad positions."
A penalty conversion by Mendoza and a right-footed strike from distance by Gardner that glanced off the leg of defender Chris Schuler marked the first time in the previous 63 games that Salt Lake had allowed two goals in the final 15 minutes of a game.
It last happened on May 6, 2009, against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Salt Lake tied that game 2-2.
It might have done the same last night, but Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer made a cat-like save of a short-range heel volley by Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran to preserve the victory for Columbus (4-3-6).
"I haven't scored yet for this team and it would have been a nice way to get my first one," said Beltran, who has not scored in 65 games for Salt Lake. "Unfortunately he made a great save."
Olave's inclusion in the starting lineup was the only change Salt Lake made from a 2-0 victory over Vancouver on Saturday.
He started in place of Nat Borchers, and the switch proved prudent.
The big defender scored when he outmuscled marker Emmanuel Ekpo at the back post and pushed his sweeping right foot through a tangle to place the ball in the upper corner.
It was the only spot Hesmer could not reach, and the early goal served as a gut punch to the Crew and the announced crowd of 9,650.
"You have such an advantage after that because you can manage the game from there," Beltran said. "We didn't do a good job of that tonight. This team does so well when we keep possession. After the goal, we just couldn't find it."
Salt Lake played an uncharacteristically sloppy game for the remainder of the first half and most of the second half.
It preserved its lead for more than an hour, but Crew rookie Justin Meram drew a penalty when he was fouled by Olave in the 74th minute.
A minor drama ensued when Mendoza — and not former Salt Lake striker Jeff Cunningham — stepped to the spot to take the kick.
Cunningham is one goal from tying the MLS scoring record (132 goals) held by Jaime Moreno.
But the veteran ceded the try to the Crew's underperforming designated player and Mendoza beat keeper Nick Rimando with a high and hard shot into the upper netting.
Mendoza later played a prime ball to Gardner at the top of the penalty area and the Crew defender scored the winner from 23 yards.
"When our guys are really, really committed — not just saying it but doing everything they can for each other — they don't allow chances and we certainly don't allow two goals," Kreis said.
And the reasons for the lack of commitment?
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