After a month without a win to start the 2012 season, Peter Nowak’s squad took full advantage of a first half penalty to overcome the visiting Columbus Crew, 1-0.

Gabriel Gomez scored the lone goal, his second in Union colors. He stepped to the spot and coolly chipped the ball past Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum. While it wasn’t a conventional penalty take, it counted the same as the Union defense was able to hold onto the goal lead for the remainder of the match.

Robert Warzycha sprung a surprise in his starting lineup, leaving Emilio Renteria on the bench for Aaron Schoenfeld. Schoenfeld, a 6’4″, 190 lb. forward who was drafted by Montreal before being acquired by Columbus, gave the Crew a large body up front as a size advantage against a smaller Union backline. Another rookie, Ethan Finlay, got a start as a midfielder.

The Union started in a conservative 4-1-4-1 formation, challenged by a prematch injury to central defender Danny Califf. Nowak pushed Sheanon Williams inside to cover the loss of Califf, while Raymon Gaddis, a 2nd round SuperDraft pick, got his first MLS start at right back. Freddy Adu earned his first start since returning from international duty in the US U-23 tournament, being positioned on the left in the formation.

In what became a physical match, the deciding moment came in the 38th minute, as Freddy Adu was sprung down the left-hand side by a Williams’ diagonal pass. Adu crossed into the area, and Eric Gehrig swung his elbow at the ball and drew the call. After some negotiations, Gomez took the penalty successfully.

Columbus had a few chances, including a late header by 2nd half substitute Bernardo Anor. The Venezuelan forward met his head to the ball off a cross, but he could not put the redirection on target. The Crew was frustrated throughout the match, especially by Zac MacMath, who earned his second clean sheet of the campaign.  After a shaky start in Portland, the University of Maryland product has regained the confidence he showed at the end of the 2011 campaign. Though he only notched one official save, MacMath seized many key crosses and corner kicks that came into his area.

While the Crew defense recovered from their 4-1 defeat to Red Bull New York, the offense was shut out for the second time in 2012. They will return to Crew Stadium a week from today to host the Houston Dynamo. Houston hasn’t played in 3 weeks, but will first face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park tomorrow evening.

The Union will try to build on their two game home stand, where they earned 4 points against Vancouver and Columbus. They travel cross-country to face a Chivas USA team that has won 3 of their last 4 matches (including their only loss to hot Sporting Kansas City). While the Goats haven’t been scoring goals prolifically, they seem to have bolstered their defense, something that may hinder a Union team struggling in the final third. The match is the late start on Saturday night.