COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ike Opara scored in the 17th minute and Sporting Kansas City beat the Columbus Crew 1-0 on Saturday night.
Kansas City (15-10-6) entered with the best goals-against average in MLS (0.97) and prevented the Crew from attacking through the midfield as Jimmy Nielsen made his only save on Federico Higuain's 30-yard free kick in the 77th minute. Nielsen's 11th shutout moved KC to within two points of Eastern Conference leader New York.
"All 10 guys worked very hard in front of me and had huge discipline in the performance today," Nielsen said. "We know Columbus has very dangerous guys up front. We wanted to avoid giving them any room to play in."
The Crew (13-14-5) had a three-game winning streak stopped and are two points out of the final playoff spot in the East with two games left.
"We had very few answers whether it was a final pass, maybe the final dribble for somebody to step around somebody, maybe the run was offside," Crew interim coach Brian Bliss said. "Whatever it was, we came up short in having an answer in the final third."
Opara took advantage of an injury to the Crew's Agustin Viana to score. Viana was hit in the head while defending Opara on a corner kick and went to the turf as the Crew's Tyson Wahl cleared a shot in front of goal. The ball went to Graham Zusi, who immediately serviced the ball to the opposite post where Opara had an open shot for his third goal.
"I'm not sure (Zusi) even knew he was on the ground before he crossed the ball in," Opara said. "It was tough. I saw the goalie come in and I saw the post and I knew I had to head the ball."