Ben Speas scored his first MLS goal in the second half to provide the winning margin on the afternoon.
Columbus bossed the early proceedings and got its reward with an early goal off a free kick. Tyson Wahl whipped in an inviting ball which Josh Williams headed up and over Bill Hamid, who was caught off his line.
The home side struck back just minutes later, however, in spectacular fashion. Debutant striker Rafael spun his defender on a bouncing ball, looked up, and buried a long-range volley with some style after seeing Andy Gruenebaum off his line.
There was a moment of controversy just prior to the half, when it appeared D.C. United had taken the lead. Lionard Pajoy was in an offside position, but let the ball run past him. As the linesman's flag went up, Kyle Porter went past the switched-off Crew defense to score. After initially giving the goal, referee Allen Chapman waived it off.
The Crew took advantage of the let off 15 minutes into the second half when Hamid failed to catch an inswinging free kick. The ensuing rebound was cleared only as far as Ben Speas, who teed up a stinging one-time shot that flew into the back of the net.
Despite several United opportunities, Gruenebaum pulled off several big stops down the stretch to ensure the win.