The Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact came into Saturday's MLS match rested, while the Columbus Crew were at the tail end of a brutal stretch of games.
But it was the Crew who came out strong in the early going and never looked back as Columbus snapped a three-game winless streak with an impressive 2-0 victory over Montreal.
Matias Sanchez scored in the sixth minute for Columbus and Dominic Oduro added another in the 22nd to snap the Impact's three-game winning.
Montreal played for the first time since June 1, while Columbus (5-5-5) was on the field for the sixth time in 21 days, including Thursday in Chicago, having lost two players to season-ending knee injuries during that stretch.
"They jumped on us," Impact midfielder Justin Mapp said. "We weren't really sharp the first 15 or 20 minutes. We gave up a couple of goals. On the road you're fighting an uphill battle.
"We made it hard on ourselves."
Oduro set up the opening goal by dishing the ball to Sanchez just after being fouled just outside the Montreal penalty area. Play was allowed to continue and Sanchez struck from 20 yards with a shot that deflected off Impact defender Jeb Brovsky and past a helpless Troy Perkins in the Montreal (8-3-2) goal.
"They came out hard and caught us flat-footed," Brovsky said. "That's something we talked about at halftime. We were pretty upset with ourselves for our start."
Montreal assistant coach Mauro Biello, filling in for the second time this season against Columbus because of a suspension to head coach Marco Schallibaum, wasn't sure if the long layoff was the culprit.
"We're a disappointed in the way we came out," Biello said. "We had a little bit of a break but we were expecting them to come out and press us.
"They showed that they wanted it a little bit more at that point of the game but we were able to still break them down and create chances."
Montreal nearly equalized in the 20th when Andrew Wenger found himself alone for a 17-yarder that forced Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum to make a kick save.
The play was pivotal because just two minutes later Oduro stripped Collen Warner and took off. Perkins came out to meet him at the top of the penalty area but Oduro slotted the ball past home for his seventh goal.
"(Warner) underestimated my speed," Oduro said, who now has two goals against Montreal this season. "I was able to take the ball away from him and there's was nothing but net for me to put the ball away."
A forgetful first half for the Impact concluded with Wenger missing a six-yard chance from a tight angle by sending his shot well past the far right upper corner.
Montreal showed more life in the second half and it resulted in a good chance in the 70th minute when Felipe Martins drew Gruenebaum out for a challenge as he dribbled toward the end line but his attempt rolled harmlessly wide.
The Crew responded immediately with Higuain setting up Oduro for a volley that Perkins saved at the right post.
Columbus improved to 2-3-2 at home despite having to bus home from Chicago, arriving at 2:20 a.m. local time Friday, following a loss in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Brovsky said it was more of how Montreal played than the Crew's performance.
"We can't play like that and expect teams to respect us because we're on top of the league," he said. "It doesn't work that way."
The Impact hosts Houston on Wednesday.