COLUMBUS – The Columbus Crew joined the Philadelphia Union atop the Eastern Conference on 31 points after a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night at Crew Stadium.
The Crew scored on a shot by midfielder Eddie Gaven in the 79th minute that deflected off Portland Timbers defender Mamadou Danso.
Originally ruled an own goal, the sequence began with a cross from the left flank by Robbie Rogers into the box to Chad Marshall. He headed the ball to Tommy Heinemann for a shot that hit the left post past diving goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
Gaven and teammate Emilio Rentería were there for the rebound and Gaven was able to get a foot on the ball, which bounced toward the goal line before bouncing off of Danso’s chest and into the netting.
The goal ended a 259-minute scoreless streak for Columbus and moved the Crew (8-6-7, 31 points) into a first-place tie in the East although the Union has played two fewer matches.
Midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan each attempted a team-high four shots and midfielder Jack Jewsbury had three of his own for the Timbers. In the 60th minute the Crew was denied a goal when referee Andrew Chapin ruled a header by Marshall was cleared off the line by rookie Darlington Nagbe.
Nagbe made a key goal-line save in the 59th minute to keep the Crew from staking a lead earlier in the second half. Off a corner kick, Marshall put a diving header from just beyond the six yard box on frame. The ball bounced underneath the reach of Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, but Nagbe was there on the right post to clear the shot away. Nagbe’s clearance hit off the underside of the crossbar and back into the field of play, where Danso distanced the ball from danger.
A lackluster first half saw the visiting Timbers come closest to opening the score. Portland (6-10-3, 21 points) had 10 of the 13 shots and both shots on goal came on long attempts that were easily handled by Gruenebaum.
The Timbers’ best effort was a dribbling slalom run and final shot by Nagbe in the 37th minute that went left of the post. Earlier, midfielder Jack Jewsbury failed to connect from 22 yards when his rising strike sailed over the crossbar.
The Crew suffered a blow before the match when goalkeeper William Hesmer was a late scratch after a test of his strained left quadriceps ruled him out of the match.
Hesmer, who allowed one goal in the past three games and started every MLS regular-season match the past two seasons, was replaced by back-up Andy Gruenebaum, who was making his first MLS regular-season start since a 1-0 loss at New York on Aug. 30, 2009.
The Crew were also without leading scorer Andrés Mendoza, who suffered a hamstring injury in Wednesday’s loss at Los Angeles. He was replaced by forward Jeff Cunningham, who is still tied for the all-time MLS goal-soring lead.
The Timbers, who were playing in a 4-5-1 formation, gave Lovel Palmer his debut in a Portland jersey after the Jamaican arrived in a trade from the Houston Dynamo earlier in the week. He slotted in at right back and played the full 90 minutes.
Portland returns home Tuesday for an exhibition against Argentina’s Independiente and host Toronto FC on July 30.
The Crew also have a friendly on Tuesday at home vs. English Premier League side Newcastle United of before traveling to Real Salt Lake on July 30.
COL – Own goal (Mamadou Danso) 79’
POR – James Marcelin (caution: reckless tackle, 78’)
PORTLAND – Troy Perkins – Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Rodney Wallace – Darlington Nagbe (Peter Lowry, 78’), James Marcelin, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara (Sal Zizzo, 75’) – Kalif Alhassan, Jorge Perlaza (Kenny Cooper, 46’).
COLUMBUS – Andy Gruenebaum – Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner – Eddie Gaven, Dejan Rusmir (Kevin Burns, 33’), Emmanuel Ekpo, Robbie Rogers – Tommy Heinemann, Jeff Cunningham (Emilio Renteria 66’).
Referee: Andrew Chapin.
Referee's Assistants: Chris Strickland, Adam Garner.
4th Official: Allen Chapman
Weather: 85 and partly cloudy.