Crew edges Red Bulls 1-0 in MLS playoff series opener

Gyasi Zardes scored Columbus Crew’s winning goal against New York Red Bulls. (AFP pic)

NEW YORK: American Gyasi Zardes scored in the 61st minute on Sunday to give Columbus Crew a 1-0 victory over New York Red Bulls in the MLS Cup playoffs.

The hosting Crew, who have defeated the Red Bulls in all three of their prior playoff meetings, seized the upper hand in the two-leg Eastern Conference semifinal, which concludes next Sunday in Harrison, New Jersey.

Columbus striker Zardes blasted a right-footed shot into the goal off a sensational backheel pass from Argentine forward Federico Higuaín.

The Red Bulls nearly equalised in the dying seconds of stoppage time but a close-range header from English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips to the inside right corner was deflected past the post by Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen.