Sporting Kansas City moved into first 1 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
With the win, Sporting (44 points) jumps ahead of Columbus (41 points) and the Houston Dynamo (42 points) to take the pole position in the East for the playoff hunt.
Kei Kamara and Emilio Renteria traded goals in the first half, and an own goal from Julius James in the second half handed Sporting all three points.
Sporting took the lead in the 15th minute after Chad Marshall tripped C.J. Sapong in the box. Kamara converted from the spot for his ninth goal of the season.
Renteria equalized for Columbus ten minutes before the half, collecting a through ball from Robbie Rogers before ripping a shot past Jimmy Nielsen into the side-netting.
Chance Myers nearly handed Sporting the go-ahead goal early in the second half, but his deflected shot rebounded off the post and was cleared out of play.
But Sporting did eventually take the lead, and it came in unconventional fashion. A 74th-minute throw-in from Matt Besler was met by James, whose header sailed into the upper corner of his own net to gift Kansas City the victory.
It is the third straight loss for the Crew, who are winless in their last six regular season matches. They are 0-5-1 over that stretch, dropping them to third place in the East.
Sporting (11-9-11) will try to strengthen its lead in the table on Saturday when it travels to Buck Shaw Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes, while Columbus (11-12-8) returns to action on Sunday when it hosts D.C. United in another crucial Eastern Conference match.