Crew show fight in second-half rally

Cunningham unruffled about Mendoza taking game-tying PK

Josh Gardner

Photo Credit: 
Jamie Sabau - Getty Images

Jeff Cunningham was gracious in his comments toward fellow Crew
forward Andrés Mendoza after Wednesday night's game even though
Mendoza’s decision to take a penalty kick in the 76th minute cost
Cunningham a shot at tying the MLS career goal mark.

Mendoza buried the shot to tie the score at one and Josh Gardner scored
in the 82nd minute for a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at Crew
Stadium.

WATCH: Full Match Highlights

After Justin Meram was tripped by Jámison Olave, Mendoza directed the
ball boy to give him the ball while Cunningham, who has 132 goals but
none this season, went to the spot.

It took some mediation by captain Chad Marshall before Cunningham stepped back.

“I’m happy for Mendoza,” Cunningham said. “The boy deserves it. He’s definitely putting in the work tonight.

“[Marshall] made sure that a situation like this where we’re both
fighting over it doesn’t happen,” he added. “Usually I’m one and Mendoza
is two [to take the kick]. He felt very confident that he would score.
Sometimes you have to lead by example and be a servant.”

The goal was the fourth of the season for Mendoza, tying the Designated
Player with the injured Emilio Rentería for the team lead. Mendoza has
been criticized by fans for his slow start but has three goals in the
past three games despite two gilt-edged misses last week at New York.

“It’s good for him,” Cunningham said. “We need him to be at his best.
That goal was probably more important for the club than me at this
point. As a forward he’s been under a lot of pressure. It’s important
for us to be supportive of him. I’m happy he stepped up and he’s
confident enough to score. Life goes on and we got three points.”

Mendoza said through a translator that he did not know Cunningham was
shooting for the record of 133 goals held by Jaime Moreno, nor that
Cunningham had been designated before the game to take any penalty
kicks.

“Mendoza scored the goal, so I can’t complain,” coach Robert Warzycha
said. “I wanted Jeff to take the penalty but Mendoza felt strongly.”

Cunningham got his first start of the season and narrowly missed tying
the game in the 60th minute when his header off an Eddie Gaven corner
kick smacked the crossbar. He is not worried about scoring the historic
goal.

“The year I won the Golden Boot two years ago [for FC Dallas], my
second goal was, I believe, scored on July 3,” he said. “I scored 16
after that. Experience has taught me that it will come.”

Gardner, who trails Cunningham by 130 goals, scored his first in MLS
since July of 2006 when he played for the LA Galaxy. The journeyman
appreciated Cunningham’s yielding to Mendoza.

“Jeff’s a class act to allow him to take it,” he said. “He was the first one over there to congratulate him.”

Gardner’s goal came off his weaker right foot and was deflected by RSL defender Chris Schuler before going in.

“[Warzycha] doesn’t want me to shoot with my right foot too often,” he
said. “But I had to take the opportunity and keep it on frame. That’s
what I did and it was fortunate that it went in.”

It gave the Crew – 0-2-3 in its previous five games while never holding
the lead — a 1-0-4 mark when trailing at the half, best in the league.

“We’ve been chasing matches all year long,” Gardner said. “To get three
points at home in front of our fans is huge for us. We fight every
game. We have nothing to lose when we’re down a goal. That’s our
attitude when we come back. If we can get that mindset from the opening
whistle I think we’re going to be able to win games three or four to
zero.”

Warzycha was pleased to see the Crew rally once again after allowing a
goal before the 10th minute for the fourth time in six games.

“I think we started the game as usual, gave up a goal in the 10th
minute," he said. "It was a bit frustrating because it was on the first
corner and they got a lucky bounce and scored. We responded pretty well
and the game was even in the first half.

“We came in the second half with not as much energy as I would’ve
liked,” he added. “Salt Lake had a couple of corners in a row and put us
in the box a bit, but after that we started to pick up the tempo and in
the end we scored two goals against a very good team.”

RSL allowed two goals after the 75th minute for the first time since a
2-2 tie vs. Los Angeles on May 6, 2009 — a span of 63 games.