(Reuters) - Columbus Crew took full advantage of playing with an extra man to score three second-half goals on the way to a 4-1 victory over New York City FC in the first leg of their Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semi-final showdown on Tuesday. Trailing 1-0, New York City defender Alexander Callens was shown a red card in the 52nd minute after a video review showed he had elbowed Justin Meram in the face, and the home side spared no mercy to seize control of the contest. Columbus had already taken an early lead when Ola Kamara netted a close-range effort in the sixth minute and the Crew pulled clear in the final 45 minutes. Artur scored from the middle of the penalty area in the 58th minute, before Meram added a third in the 69th minute and Harrison Afful capped the rout with an injury time strike. David Villa scored a 78th minute consolation goal for New York City, who now find themselves in a huge hole heading into the second leg at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. "No hill is big enough that we can't climb it," New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson told MLSSoccer.com. "We've got the guys; we've got a talented group and a mentally strong group. So I think we'll get back to it and we'll come out guns blazing."
The Crew received a special lift from their home crowd as fans responded to reports that owner Anthony Precourt was considering moving the team to Austin, Texas. Fans displayed "Save the Crew" signs around the Mapfre Stadium and cheered wildly.
"You could feel it, the atmosphere was unbelievable from the beginning," Kamara said.
"With everything around it too, it's a game that's (been) built up a lot. I think the fans came here today to show what they stand for, and for us to win 4-1 and be able to celebrate with the fans like that, it's a good feeling."
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien)