then they withstood mounting pressure from the Dallas Burn over the final 45 minutes before hanging for a 2-1 victory Wednesday night at Crew Stadium in Columbus.
Columbus attacked at will for the first half, but it was almost all Dallas after the break -- though a Jason Kreis strike just before the hour mark was the only goal they could muster.
With the three points -- which put an end to a streak of three draws for the Crew -- Columbus takes sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with 24 points from 17 games. The Crew also still have a game in hand on the first-place MetroStars.
The Burn defense was particularly porous near the end of the first half when four consecutive chances fell to Buddle, two of which he put past Jeff Cassar. On his first goal in the 38th minute, a giveaway by Dallas center back Cory Gibbs put the ball right on New Zealand international Simon Elliott's foot. His quick pass into the box found an unmarked Buddle, and he easily finished to open the scoring.
Five minutes later Buddle doubled his pleasure and hit for his fifth goal of the season. Again it was Elliott who provided the service, as he laced a perfect ball behind the defense on a volley from the right sideline. Buddle controlled the ball inside the box and coolly chipped the ball over an on-rushing Cassar to give Columbus a two-goal advantage at the half.
The visitors looked to chop into the Crew's lead right after the break and nearly struck inside the first five minutes. Eddie Johnson headed on goal to force a diving save from Busch before Dallas had an apparent goal disallowed in the 49th minute. Dallas defender Clarence Goodson put away a rebound after Busch saved a forceful shot from distance, but the referee's assistant raised his flag to negate the score though replays indicated the goal was likely valid.
But the flag stayed down in the 59th minute when Kreis put home his fifth goal of the season to narrow the gap. A long ball over the top from Gibbs found Johnson on the right flank, whose cross sailed all the way back through the box to Chris Gbandi.
Gbandi then drove a low shot from the top of the penalty area that was deflected home by Kreis from inside the six-yard box, the 91st career goal for the all-time MLS goal-scoring leader.
The two-goal lead for Columbus should have been restored with the first touch of substitute midfielder Brian Maisonneuve. Buddle cleverly flicked a ball over the Burn defense for the original Crew man to run on to, but his volley from close range whistled wide of the left post.
Johnson came within inches of evening the score at the 70-minute mark when he headed into the crossbar. O'Brien did very well to get a cross off to the big forward, but his attempt at goal was slightly too high. Kreis then also came close with a header six minutes later, but the ball hit the side netting.
Substitute forward Jeff Cunningham should have sealed the deal with a late run along the endline that resulted in a good look at goal, but Cassar saved well to keep the scoreline at 2-1.
After the break for this Saturday's Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game, Columbus will next take the field for an MLS game on Aug. 7 at New England in a nationally-televised contest against the Revolution (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The Burn will host the Rapids on the same day at 7 p.m. ET., though they will face the Kansas City Wizards next Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Edson Buddle (Columbus Crew)