Colorado takes first leg over Columbus

Pablo Mastroeni scored a goal in the 24th minute and the Colorado Rapids beat the Columbus Crew 1-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night.

Mastroeni, the only player remaining from the club’s last playoff appearance in 2006, finished a cross from Omar Cummings. It was Mastroeni’s 16th playoff game for Colorado, the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.

Goalkeeper Matt Pickens had to make big saves in the second half. He swatted away a shot in traffic in the 77th minute and blocked Andy Iro’s header in the 84th minute.

The second leg of the aggregate-goals series is in Columbus on Saturday.

Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum made his MLS debut, replacing William Hesmer, who broke his shoulder in a 3-1 win at Philadelphia in the regular-season finale Sunday.

Leading scorer Guillermo Barros Schelotto was seldom open to shoot or receive a pass.

The Crew kept play in the Colorado end in the opening minutes. Emmanuel Ekpo’s shot from the slot sailed wide of the left post in the sixth minute.

The Rapids took over and had a chance when Cummings overshot Conor Casey with a pass on a two-on-one break in the 10th minute. Cummings missed a second chance in the 21st minute, sliding a shot well wide of the left post.

Colorado broke through with Mastroeni’s goal. Mastroeni was situated on the opposite side of the crease when Cummings’ pass was deflected behind Casey in front of the goal and right to Mastroeni, who easily beat Gruenebaum.

The Crew stayed on their heels. Cummings missed on a header in the 31st minute and Wells Thompson hit the side of the net after breaking free in the 39th minute.

All the while Colorado’s defense kept the ball away from Barros Schelotto.

The Rapids missed chances to take a bigger lead. They had a 10-1 shot advantage in the first half and the Columbus defenders blocked six shots.

Cummings misfired on a header early in the second half. Barros Schelotto was left free long enough to take a shot from 25 yards out in the 56th minute, but it landed in the stands beyond the goal.

Frustration surfaced when Columbus midfielder Brian Carroll was given a yellow card in the 57th minute for a hit on Cummings.

The two teams split in the regular season series with each team winning at home.