For once it wasn't Columbus giving up a late equalizer. After surrendering late leads twice in recent weeks, it was the Crew who struck tonight against Real Salt Lake. Ben Speas found Ethan Finlay with a searching pass upfield in the 88th minute, and Finlay chipped goalkeeper Jeff Attinella to lift the Crew to a 1-1 draw.
The Crew had an opportunity to jump out to an early lead when Agustin Viana was fouled in the penalty area during a corner kick in the 11th minute. Surprisingly, however, Federico Higuain sent the penalty high over the crossbar - squandering a chance to put pressure on a Real Salt Lake team reeling after losing their first game of the season last weekend.
A second opportunity was thwarted a few minutes later, setting up one of the dominant story lines of the evening. Josh Williams, overlapping into the penalty area from his right back position, latched onto a loose ball and unleashed a curling shot to the far post - only to be denied by an acrobatic save by Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
It was to be a career night for Attinella, who finished the game with a career-high six saves. These included crucial denials of Hector Jimenez and Adam Bedell as the Crew surged forward in the game's closing stages.
The Crew's challenging first half ended on a sour note as Federico Higuain was forced to leave the game in the 44th minute with an unspecified injury to his right leg. Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game that Higuain was not expected to play this weekend. He was replaced by homegrown midfielder Ben Speas.
After the excitement of the first half ended without a goal, it was perhaps not surprising when the visitors scored first in the 56th minute. The play started when Columbus cleared a corner kick, but the ball was quickly sent back into the area from midfield. There, Luis Gil was waiting to pounce as the Columbus defense was slow to react. Goalkeeper Steve Clark had no chance as Gil's first-time shot nestled inside the far post.
With 34 minutes to find an equalizer, Berhalter turned to perhaps his hottest player. Ethan Finlay was riding a 3-game point streak heading into the contest, and did not disappoint with a solid appearance as a substitute on Wednesday.
Finlay's late equalizer was reminescent of recent performances by Higuain. The pass to spring Finlay behind the Salt Lake defense was of the caliber regularly seen by Higuain, while Finlay's chipped shot over the onrushing Attinella was similarly skilled.
Columbus returns to action this weekend with their last league game before the World Cup break. They travel to DC United for a Saturday kickoff at 6:30 PM. The game will be part of a doubleheader with the Spanish national team.
Following that contest, the team will host the Indy Eleven in an Open Cup game at the University of Akron's FirstEnergy Stadium. Their next game at Crew Stadium will come on June 28 against FC Dallas.
Timeline of events
8' Corner kick, Columbus (left side - short, headed clear)
11' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - penalty kick)
11' Penalty kick, Rich Balchan fouls Agustin Viana
12' Penalty kick missed high, Federico Higuain
14' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - short, no shot taken)
16' Caution, Eric Gehrig (reckless tackle on Javier Morales)
34' Corner kick, Salt Lake (right side - headed clear)
44' Ben Speas replaces Federico Higuain
51' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - too long, no shot)
52' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - Anor header wide)
55' Corner kick, Salt Lake (right side - headed clear)
56' Corner kick, Salt Lake (left side - headed clear)
56' 0-1 Luis Gil (unassisted)
59' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed clear)
65' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - too long)
69' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - header over crossbar)
72' Adam Bedell replaces Agustin Viana
72' Devon Sandoval replaces Olmes Garcia
77' Ethan Finlay replaces Hector Jimenez
77' Corner kick, Columbus (left side - headed wide)
79' Tony Beltran replaces Rich Balchan
79' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - no shot taken)
86' Luke Mulholland replaces Luis Gil
87' Corner kick, Columbus (right side, punched by Attinella)
88' 1-1 Ethan Finlay (Ben Speas)
94+ Corner kick, Columbus (left side - short, punched by Attinella)
Steve Clark, Josh Williams, Eric Gehrig, Michael Parkhurst, Bernardo Anor, Tony Tchani, Agustin Viana (Adam Bedell 72'), Hector Jimenez (Ethan Finlay 77'), Federico Higuain (Ben Speas 44'), Justin Meram, Dominic Oduro
Matt Lampson, Chad Barson, Tyson Wahl, Dan Paladini
Real Salt Lake
Jeff Attinella, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Schuler, Kenny Mansally, Rich Balchan (Tony Beltran 79'), Cole Grossman, Javier Morales, John Stertzer, Luis Gil (Luke Mulholland 86'), Ned Grabavoy, Olmes Garcia (Devon Sandoval 72')
Lalo Fernandez, Aaron Maund, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers