Those who know the Columbus Crew well are causing the most damage.
A week after San Jose forward Steven Lenhart’s play was instrumental in defeating the club that that traded him in January, ex-Crew defender Eric Brunner got revenge for being left unprotected in last fall’s MLS Expansion Draft by scoring in the 46th minute to give Portland a 1-0 win over the struggling Crew on Saturday at JELD-WEN Field.
Brunner is from the Columbus suburb of Dublin and played at Ohio State before joining the Crew for two seasons.
His header came off a quick restart by Jack Jewsbury that caught the Crew (3-3-4) unprepared. He gave the ball to Kalif Alhassan for the cross to the far post to an unmarked Brunner.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Columbus forward Tommy Heinemann said after the match. “We did battle, but we lost focus for one second and it turned out to bite us in the butt.”
The Crew were blanked for the second straight match and for the fourth time this season. They have just eight goals with half coming on penalty kicks.
“The frustration is not winning games,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “We created chances. We came here to play a good game and to go home without the points; it’s something that should hurt.”
He wasn’t sure how Brunner got free, but didn’t like the end result.
“What can I say? It seemed like he was really happy after he scored the goal,” Warzycha said. “Somebody needs to be on the ball. I didn’t see the replay what happened and how it happened. Some of the guys were saying the ball was still moving.”
Defender Julius James admitted the Crew were not ready for the play but that referee Edvin Jurisevic played a key role.
“We were caught off guard,” James said. “We thought the referee was going to use his whistle to control the play, but he didn’t. We have now in this league many referees who mark the spot of the ball and mark where the wall is supposed to be. He did it a couple of times before in the game but this time it didn’t happen. We were expecting him to draw a line and mark up everything.”
If not for another local product, the Crew might have had taken the lead in the 43rd minute. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who grew on the outskirts of Columbus in Worthington, Ohio, made a fingertip save of Heinemann’s header from 10 yards after a brilliant turn and volley from Andrés Mendoza set up the attempt.
“That was a great ball from Andrés,” Heinemann said. “It was a great save by Perkins. I thought it was going in. I was shocked he got a finger on it.”
It was that kind of game for the Crew, who set a league record by not scoring in the first half in any of their first 10 games of the season
Trying to shake up the offense, Warzycha abandoned the 4-5-1 and sent midfielder Dilly Duka to the bench so Heinemann could play up top with Emilio Rentería. Heinemann nearly put the Crew ahead in the 23rd minute when he headed a corner kick by Eddie Gaven. The ball was headed toward the goal when Rentería decided to redirect the shot with his head. His try sailed left.
“I thought it was going in, but maybe Emilio didn’t think so,” Heinemann said. “It’s one of those split-second plays. You can’t fault him. We’re all trying to put the ball into the net.”
Rentería was soon replaced by Mendoza after suffering a strained left quadriceps. The Crew had one more good look in the 86th minute, but Robbie Rogers’ strike from the top of the box hit the outside bottom of the right post.
“It’s just frustrating not to win,” said James, “and not to come out with any points in a situation like this where the crowd was against us and we really battled and fought for everything.”