COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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 were denied once by a controversial goal-line clearance and a second time by the goalpost, but midfielder Eddie Gaven came through with a late goal which was all the Crew needed on the night.
The winning sequence began with a cross from the left flank by Robbie Rogers into the box to Chad Marshall. He headed the ball to forward Tommy Heinemann for a shot that hit the left post past diving Timbers 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 deflecting off the chest of Portland defender Mamadou Danso at the goal line and into the net.
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 have played two fewer matches.
In the 60th minute, the Crew were denied a goal when referee Andrew Chapin ruled a header by Marshall was cleared off the line by rookie Darlington Nagbe even though replays hinted the ball may have crossed the line.
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 Columbus 'keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who was filling in for starter William Hesmer, a late scratch after a test of his strained left quadriceps ruled him out of the match.
In replacing Hesmer, who allowed one goal in the past three games and started every MLS regular-season match the past two seasons, Gruenebaum made 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 the LA Galaxy. He was replaced by forward Jeff Cunningham, who is still tied for the all-time MLS goal-soring lead.
Portland's 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 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 return home for an exhibition against Argentina’s Independiente on July 26 and then host Toronto FC four days later.
The Crew also have a friendly on July 26 at home vs. English Premier League side Newcastle United of before traveling to Real Salt Lake next weekend.
CLB -- Eddie Gaven 3 (unassisted) 79
POR -- James Marcelin (caution; Reckless Foul) 78
Portland Timbers -- Troy Perkins, Lovel Palmer, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe (Peter Lowry 78), James Marcelin, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara (Sal Zizzo 74), Kalif Alhassan, Jorge Perlaza (Kenny Cooper 46).
Substitutes Not Used: Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eddie Johnson, Adin Brown.
Columbus Crew -- Andy Gruenebaum, Sebastian Miranda (Cole Grossman 78), Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner, Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo, Dejan Rusmir (Kevin Burns 66), Robbie Rogers, Tommy Heinemann, Jeff Cunningham (Emilio Renteria 66).
Substitutes Not Used: Bernardo Anor, Eric Gehrig, Justin Meram, Alex Riggs.
Referee: Andrew Chapin
Referee's Assistants: Chris Strickland; Adam Garner
4th Official: Allen Chapman
Time of Game: 1:51
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 87 degrees