SALT LAKE CITY — For Real Salt Lake, getting three points before the calendar flipped to August — when four out of the team's five games are scheduled away from Rio Tinto Stadium — was a must Saturday night.
Those hopes, though, disappeared within about 10 minutes of the opening whistle.
Columbus came out with a bang, netting two early goals — one each by Eddie Gaven and Tommy Heinemann — then holding off a furious comeback attempt by RSL to secure a 2-0 win.
"I think we were frantic and certainly a bit frustrated," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "I'm pleased with the effort and with the fight, and I don't think anybody out there quit. They put everything they could to try to get back into it. We just came up a bit short in the quality department tonight."
Robbie Rogers, in particular, gave RSL trouble down the left wing all night long. Rogers penetrated the defense to set up both Columbus goals, first beating Robbie Russell at the top of the box and sliding a pass back to an unmarked Gaven, who easily slotted the ball past RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
That goal came in the fifth minute.
Five minutes later, Rogers cut to the corner then looped a cross to a waiting Heinemann, who connected with a header into the side net. Real Salt Lake tightened its defense after that, but the damage was done.
"I haven't been here very long, but I've never seen Salt Lake get scored on that quickly," RSL midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. "We couldn't get our rhythm going. Usually it doesn't matter if we go down a goal or two because we stick to our plan and we're able to get back into it. For some reason, we just couldn't do that tonight."
As expected, RSL pushed forward with more urgency in the second half and managed 12 shots, compared to only three in the first 45 minutes.
Jean Alexandre had three good chances but missed each time. Meanwhile, Fabian Espindola and Kyle Beckerman consistently created chances but were likewise denied, whether by a wayward touch or a save by Columbus keeper Andy Grueneaum.
RSL earned seven corner kicks but was also called offsides five times.
The loss came with two of RSL's top players — Alvaro Saborio and Jamison Olave — watching from the bench. Saborio was suspended one game for his dive in the penalty box last week against San Jose. He made the penalty kick and RSL went on to win 4-0.
Olave sprained his left knee in Wednesday's MLS All-Star game and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks of action.
"I'm not so sure it made much of a difference," Kreis said. "Obviously you want to keep the fluidity of your back four, but with Olave's injury and Tony Beltran's injury, we just couldn't to do that. It wasn't just the back four, it was the entire defensive effort. It was our entire focus and mentality at the beginning of the game."
Columbus was also without its leading scorer. Andres Mendoza, who has 10 goals so far this season, was sidelined with a hamstring strain.
The team's frustration boiled over after the final whistle when Espindola and Columbus' Julius James, who had been barking back-and-forth at each other for much of the second half, started a shoving match that quickly emptied both benches. It took a handful of teammates and RSL staff members to restrain Espindola as security escorted Jones from the field.
"We know that Fabian is a very emotional player," Kreis said. "He was trying to make a real difference for us every time he got the ball tonight, going at players and trying to get behind them. It just wasn't going well for him, as it wasn't for a lot of the players. He runs a bit hot and cold, and tonight he was really hot."
The loss dropped RSL to 9-4-6, where it sits alone in fifth place in the Western Conference with 33 points. RSL will hit the road to face Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.