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Real Salt Lake falls 4-3 at Columbus in frantic match

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the third time in four straight road matches, Real Salt Lake couldn’t earn a point, falling just short of a dramatic comeback in a 4-3 loss to Columbus Crew SC.

A stunning Luke Mulholland goal gave RSL (6-4-2) an early lead, but four straight Crew strikes put the match out of reach before RSL answered with two goals in the final minutes to tighten the scoreline.

“We felt like we could get chances throughout the game at any time, but they were good on the attacking end and we paid for it,” Jordan Allen said after the match. “We gave ourselves too big of a hole to dig out of.”

For the second time in three RSL matches, the team had to deal with a lengthy delay. Thanks to lightning in the area, the match that was originally scheduled for a 7:37 p.m. local kickoff didn’t begin until 9:11 p.m., forcing a second set of warmups and a thinned crowd.

“It’s just a hindrance,” head coach Jeff Cassar said of the delay. “But both teams had to deal with it. … It messes up a little of your preparation, but I thought the guys handled it well.”

After the delay in kickoff time, there would be no delay in on-field action.

In just the 13th minute, RSL had the game’s first goal. Joao Plata found space on the left wing and slid a pass inside to Mulholland, who looked up and hit a perfectly placed strike from 20 yards into the corner of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark’s net.

The goal was Mulholland’s second of the season and the sixth assist of 2016 for Plata.

“Every once in a while, a blind squirrel finds a nut,” Mulholland said with a grin after the match.

But Columbus would respond with fury, scoring two goals in the next seven minutes.

Winger Justin Meram created both goals, first dribbling through the RSL defense to assist Ola Kamara and then leading a counterattack that ended with an errant bounce off of Salt Lake defender Justen Glad for an own goal.

Suddenly, RSL went from an early lead to down a goal, and Mulholland admitted the team didn’t respond appropriately.

“You go 1-0 up and then before you know it it’s 2-1 to the other team. So it was definitely a dagger,” Mulholland said.

Another dagger came just before the half, as Mulholland earned a penalty kick. Plata scored up to attempt the game-tying shot only to have it saved by Clark, shifting all the momentum to Columbus.

“We would have been on a high, they would have been on a low,” Cassar said. “Now we’re coming in with our heads down a little bit and maybe we had a little bit of a hangover going into the second half.”

Kamara would add two more goals for Columbus before RSL knew what hit them, scoring his first three MLS goals against RSL.

And by the time goals from Allen and Plata drew the visitors to within one, Columbus was able to close out the match, forcing yet another road loss for RSL. The club has only picked up wins against Sporting Kansas City twice on the road this year, and has just eight points from eight road matches.

In the midst of a five-game road stretch, the club has taken just three points from the first four matches. Allen made no excuses and said the team will need to be better against New York City FC Thursday.

“It’s always tough,” he said. “But we have high standards for ourselves as a team and individually. Right now, after this game, we don’t really meet those standards.”

Even Cassar lost his cool by the end of the match, as he was sent off by referee David Gantar after expressing his frustration with the stoppage time and the communication by the officiating crew.

“I didn’t lose my temper at the beginning and then there was just no communication,” he said. “I lost my cool and said something I shouldn’t have.”