Gyasi Zardes scored his 20th goal of the year, and the Columbus Crew fought off fatigue and the visiting Red Bulls, 1-0, on Sunday in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The second leg is scheduled for Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Zardes scored the game’s only goal in the 61st minute, a sliding finish of a back-heel pass from the second-half substitute Federico Higuain. Higuain had been rested in the first half by Columbus Coach Gregg Berhalter, a bold bit of restraint prompted by the Crew’s taxing first-round win over D.C. United in a penalty-kick shootout on Thursday night.
The Red Bulls, the Supporters’ Shield winners after posting the best record in the regular season, had not played since Oct. 28.
The winner was Zardes’s third career postseason goal. Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen preserved his team’s first-leg advantage by pushing away Bradley Wright-Phillips’s glancing header in stoppage time.
The Red Bulls’ best scoring chance before that was in the 27th minute, when Tim Parker headed a corner kick off the post. The ball then deflected off Steffen and was cleared away.
The Red Bulls had earned a bye after securing their third Supporters’ Shield title in six seasons. The Crew are the only Eastern Conference team the Red Bulls have not beaten this year.
The teams have met three previous times in the postseason, with the Crew winning each time.
TIMBERS 2, SOUNDERS 1 Sebastian Blanco put Portland in front with a goal in the 29th minute, and the Timbers hung on through a tense second half, taking the advantage in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series against visiting Seattle.
The second leg is set for Thursday in Seattle. The Sounders may have injury concerns for that game: Cristian Roldan had to leave Sunday’s game in the 31st minute with a groin injury, and Seattle also lost Chad Marshall with a right knee injury before halftime.
Raul Ruidiaz scored in the 10th minute, giving the Sounders an early lead. But the Timbers pulled even a short time later on Jeremy Ebobisse’s goal, and Blanco then maneuvered around several defenders and beat goalkeeper Stefan Frei, putting Portland in front.
The Timbers thought they had another goal in the 80th minute on Lucas Melano’s rebound, but it was called offside.