Whether it’s a matter of returning home or getting healthy, the Crew need an infusion of inspired play if they retain any hope of winning an unprecedented third straight Supporters’ Shield.
Columbus were a dealt a blow on Saturday when Real Salt Lake used a convincing 2-0 victory in Rio Tinto Stadium to jump over the Crew (11-5-4, 37 points) into second in the overall standings with 39 points. That puts RSL behind only Los Angeles – a 1-0 winner over New York – by four.
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Not that winning the Supporters’ Shield equals glory. Just ask the Crew after getting knocked out of the first round the 2009 playoffs by upstart Salt Lake to ignite an already impassioned rivalry.
The Crew like to think of themselves as the true champions last year over 30 games, but RSL have the rings and the swagger that go with winning the MLS Cup.
That lead RSL (11-4-6) coach Jason Kreis this past week to post some quotes by Crew goalkeeper after the Crew’s 1-0 win at home on April 24 that he felt slighted the Cup champions, in which Hesmer claimed Columbus still believed they were the better team despite RSL's title last November. Hesmer found the tactic to be silly.
“The quotes weren’t made in disrespect to them,” he said after the match Saturday. “Honestly, I was firing back at you guys in the media. After we won that game everybody was, ‘You beat the champions, how does it feel?’
“I pointed out that we won the Supporters’ Shield and they were a sub-.500 team that got hot at the end,” he added, “We still believed we were the best team and was no disrespect in any way.”
RSL may soon dispossess the Crew of something else – the win Saturday was their 21st in a row without a defeat at home in the regular season (14-0-7), moving them within one of the league mark set in Columbus last season.
Meanwhile, the Crew ended a three-game trip with two disturbing defeats sandwiched with a win at struggling expansion side Philadelphia and are 3-3-4 in away matches.
Spurred by Kreis and his players’ comments to the media about Hesmer, the Salt Lake fans were delighted by the goals and razzed the 'keeper all game.
“It was what I expected,” Hesmer said. “It was rowdy. I would say it was overly disrespectful. It surprised me that the stadium or security would let the fans chant what they did, but it is what it is. It makes for passionate fans. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not.”
The Crew were without starting midfielders Eddie Gaven (concussion) and Robbie Rogers (knee), defenders Gino Padula and Andy Iro and defensive midfielder Brian Carroll contracted a stomach virus Friday and was left in Columbus.
“You could go all the way down the line with the injuries we had, but there’s no excuse,” Hesmer said. “They beat us. They were the better team tonight.”