By JOSE M. ROMERO
Eric Brunner's 46th-minute goal — the product of yet another successful set piece for the Portland Timbers — was just enough for Portland to make it five straight MLS wins at Jeld-Wen Field after its 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew Saturday night.
Brunner was in the right spot to knock in an on-target cross from Kalif Alhassan as the Timbers executed what has become their primary method of scoring lately — a set piece — to perfection. Jack Jewsbury placed the ball and passed to Alhassan without so much as a pause, and Alhassan found Brunner uncovered for the goal.
It was one of a scant few shining moments for the Timbers, but they made it stand. For Brunner, the goal had to be sweet, as he is native of the Columbus area and former Ohio State Buckeye who played for the Crew the past two seasons before being left unprotected in the expansion draft and chosen by Portland.
The Timbers (5-3-2) moved into the upper half of the Western Conference table at 17 points and are undefeated in four straight games, while the Crew (3-3-4) remained at 13 points and lost its second in a row.
Columbus was not without its chances. Forward Tommy Heinemann headed one over the goal in the 11th minute, but the biggest miss for the Crew came in the 42nd minute. Substitute Andres Mendoza, who'd replaced a shaken-up Emilio Renteria four minutes earlier, crossed to Heinemann for an open header that Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins tipped away.
The Timbers appeared frustrated with the Crew's physical play in the first half, as defender Julius James got a reaction from Timbers forward Kenny Cooper that earned Cooper a yellow card.
With Brunner's goal, the Timbers loosened up and forward Jorge Perlaza was a tough matchup for James. Alhassan also had a couple of shots that missed.
Portland settled back into a more defensive stance over the final nine minutes with Ryan Pore's entrance into the game for Perlaza. In the 86th minute, however, Columbus star Robbie Rogers turned and fired a shot in traffic that hit the post and rolled away.
The Timbers weren't threatened after that, and kept possession of the ball for the final minute of extra time.