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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Twenty minutes into a game at scuffling Columbus Saturday night, the surging Sounders had endured a red card, an injury to do-it-all midfielder Brad Evans and a lightning storm that delayed kickoff 90 minutes.

Yet it was the Sounders who held an unlikely lead after an Eddie Johnson goal capped a frenzied first 14 minutes.

Seattle, playing a man down for 83 minutes plus stoppage time, made it stand.

Johnson’s third goal in his past four games was the only one in a gritty 1-0 Sounders victory, and it kept Seattle unbeaten (3-0-1) in Columbus Crew Stadium before a crowd of 20,392.

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Of greater importance was what three more points did for Seattle (12-8-4) in the Western Conference race.

The Sounders, winners of five of their past six, entered the game in the fifth and final playoff spot but jumped Colorado and Portland into third place. The Sounders have at least two — and as many as four — games in hand on every other team currently in playoff position in the Western Conference.

“We showed a lot of character,” Johnson said. “This team, two months ago, we lose this game. But we showed when our backs are against the wall we’re going to grind and try to get something out of the game.”

Seattle seemed unlikely to get much out of it after defender Leo Gonzalez was sent off with a straight red card in the seventh minute when he yanked Crew forward Ryan Finley to the turf during a solo breakaway.

Coach Sigi Schmid said he thought it was a soft call, but it was not dooming.

Moments later, Johnson floated through the penalty area and headed in a Mauro Rosales free kick.

The assist was the 33rd for Rosales as a Sounder, one shy of Fredy Montero’s club record of 34. It was a fine send-off for Johnson, who will depart for Miami on Sunday along with Clint Dempsey for a brief U.S. national-team training camp in advance of a pair of World Cup qualifiers at Costa Rica (Friday) and against Mexico in Columbus (Sept. 10).

Evans, who pulled his left calf muscle in the 19th minute and was immediately replaced by Servando Carrasco, was also named to the U.S. roster. Evans was questionable to make the trip to Florida, though it seems likely national-team coach Jurgen Klinsmann will want Evans to be evaluated by his staff.

“I just felt it in my calf a little bit,” Evans said. “I’m planning to fly (to Miami) as of now.

“(Calf injuries) have always nagged me, and every once in a while it just flares up. I’m hoping it’s like the others where I sit out this game and give myself some rest, and be ready in a week.”

Dempsey (back) and Johnson (hamstring) also were sore afterward, though both said they will still join the national team on Sunday. The weather delay that forced both teams to warm up twice contributed to the injuries, Dempsey said.

And the red card?

“It made the game pretty boring,” Dempsey said. “It made it a difficult game. We had to stay compact defensively and try to catch them on a counter. But we showed a lot of character and got the right result.”

The Crew (8-13-5) outshot the Sounders 24-7 but failed to finish a multitude of chances, including a header by midfielder Konrad Warzycha that hit the cross bar in the 76th minute.

Columbus had multiple looks at empty nets by drawing keeper Michael Gspurning off his line, but lacked a scoring touch.

“We feel good about it,” Schmid said of Seattle’s recent success. “But we’ve got to continue to get wins. Wednesday (against visiting Chivas USA) is one of those game-in-hand games, and if we don’t get points out of that then it becomes a useless game.”

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