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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Andres Mendoza converted a penalty kick in the 51st minute and Columbus defeated Philadelphia 2-1 on Saturday night to increase its lead in the Eastern Conference.

The Crew (11-7-7) are five points ahead of Houston atop the Eastern Conference, while the Union (8-6-10) fell a point back of the Dynamo.

Union defender Sheanon Williams was called for a handball when a pass from Robbie Rogers hit him on the left wrist as he tried to shield himself.

Mendoza’s shot was initially stopped by Faryd Mondragon, but the ball rolled underneath him across the goal line.

“We have played against each other around the world,” Mendoza said. “He played for a club in Turkey when I was there. He knows how I play.”

Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak was upset by the penalty and said it was not befitting two teams battling for the top spot.

“It’s physically impossible to see from the angle the referee was running and how far (away) he was,” he said of referee Mark Kadlecik. “It’s physically impossible. What can I say?”

“And to make a call like that in a game like that, it’s a little too much for any kind of standard.”

Emilio Renteria scored for Columbus (11-7-7) in the 37th minute with a left-footed redirect of a pass from Rogers, but the Union got the equalizer five minutes later on their seventh corner kick, with Veljko Paunovic heading the cross from Keon Daniel.

Paunovic ran past Justin Meram at the far post for the header that goalkeeper William Hesmer had no chance to stop.

Hesmer came up with a key save against Sebastien Le Toux in stoppage time to preserve the Crew’s fourth win in five games.

“It was a good effort by our team,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “We played against a very good organized team, a very physical team.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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