By KURTIS LARSON
Teal Bunbury's first MLS goal early in the first-half held up at Crew Stadium Wednesday night to give Kansas City their first win against Columbus since 2007.
The win was Kansas City's first away victory of the season and snapped a three-game scoring drought when Ryan Smith unlocked the Crew defense with a well-timed through ball to Teal Bunbury in the 14th minute. The KC rookie slotted the ball through Columbus keeper Will Hesmer's legs to make it 1-0.
"(The win) means a lot," Bunbury told reporters following the game. "We kept hearing how hostile and tough it was to come here and get a win. My team has been pushing me in training and in games to keep my confidence up and it's getting higher."
Columbus had opportunities to equalize midway through the second half, but Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen stood tall in net. The Danish keeper demonstrated on multiple occasions why he finished second among keepers in MLS all-star voting in preserving the win.
In the 70th minute Columbus failed to capitalize on arguably their best chance of the game. A miss-clearance by Kansas City's Jimmy Conrad fell to Guillermo Barros Schelotto at the corner of the penalty area. Schelloto cut inside past a defender before shooting with his left from close range. Nielsen reacted with a last-ditch kick save to keep the score at 1-0.
"That's my job, and that's what the club pays me to do," Nielsen said when asked about the crucial save. "I'm happy with the win and I don't care about my own performance. Hopefully we can build on the victory today and give ourselves some confidence."
Columbus would see another golden opportunity slip away moments later when Eddie Gaven failed to convert from close range.
In the 78th minute, a recently inserted Emmanuel Ekpo found space on the right hand side before playing a cross to Gaven who was unmarked at the back of the six-yard-box. Despite having an open net, the 23-year-old midfielder elected to not strike the ball first time giving Kansas City a chance to recover and deny the equalizer.
"I thought we played well in the second half," Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha said. "We started to create chances. (Kansas City) were fresh and organized and it was hard to break their line of defenders."
"It's disappointing to lose any game, but at home it's especially hard," the Crew's Adam Moffat told reporters following the home loss. "We could have easily won this game tonight if we take those chances."
The home side's final chance game just minutes from full-time when a corner kick found its way to Ekpo at the top of the box. The Nigerian took a touch before unleashing a clean strike on goal with traffic still in front of the net. Though screened, Nielsen's reflex save preserved all three points for the Wizards.
"I have to commend our team, most importantly, Jimmy Nielsen," head coach Peter Vermes said following the win. "(Nielsen) was huge and obviously made some great saves that saved the game."
Kansas City next travel to Dick's Sporting Goods Park to battle the Rapids Saturday. The win moved the Wizards into fifth in the east, two points behind fourth-place Chicago.
Columbus failed to increase their eastern conference lead over the New York Red Bulls who remain just two points behind the leaders. First place will be on the line when New York visits Crew Stadium this Saturday.