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The Games They Play: Penalty Kicks

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Penalty kicks are one of the more difficult and rewarding parts of soccer and helped the Crew on Saturday.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

When the center official blows his whistle and points to the penalty spot two reactions occur. For the team that earned the spot kick, it is joy at a golden opportunity and for their opposition, fear.

There is little worse than conceding a penalty kick in soccer. It pits the goalkeeper with a shooter, who lines the ball up 12 yards from the net and has a 75% chance of scoring at the professional level. It's a mental game to be certain and Saturday night's Columbus Crew match demonstrated why.

In the 56th minute of the contest against the Montreal Impact, referee Sorin Stocia awarded the Black and Gold a penalty kick for a foul off the ball. For Columbus, it was elation at a chance to double their lead. For the Impact, fear and frustration were the evident feelings from the players and especially head coach Frank Klopas.

As soon as the whistle blew, the games began. Just a week ago, the Crew's normal penalty kick taker missed from 12 yards out from the south side of the stadium.

"He still has a responsibility to take the penalty kicks and we trust him fully," Berhalter said after the 1-0 win over the New England Revolution after Higuain was unable to double the lead.

"I don't think there's anyone more disappointed than himself that he missed. So we'll evaluate it and move forward accordingly."

In a similar situation, where the Black and Gold only led by one goal, the Crew's number 10 once again stepped to the spot, looking to block out the pressure from a week ago.

"To me there was never a doubt and you never lose faith in a guy like Federico," Berhalter said.

The maestro proved his coach right this time, as he put the ball in the side netting, beating Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush, despite Bush guessing the correct way.

In the closing seconds of the game, Stocia awarded another a penalty kick, this time to the Impact. If converted, the stoppage time goal likely wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome, but would have taken some shine off the Crew's performance and spoiled their shutout.

The games began again as second half substitute Marco Di Vaio lined up to take the shot. The forward prepared for his first attempt of the season, facing Steve Clark, who has come up big on several occasions already this year for Columbus. He did so again on this occasion, diving to his right to keep the clean sheet.

"Today was a fantastic effort by Steve Clark to preserve the shutout," Berhalter said. "Normally Marco Di Vaio scores that penalty and it's not a shutout."

Clark's big saves all year have come from his reactions, but he credited this save to preparation and his goalkeeper coach.

"A lot of that stuff and me saving it is Pat Onstad. The whole year, he's been fantastic and he keeps all the goalkeepers at such a high level," Clark said after the game.

"Pat's given me this great intel, it's like our goalkeeping unit's so solid. Really the tip goes to Pat for all his hard work in keeping us sharp.

"He's the Jedi Master. I can't give up our secrets but Pat Onstad does a good job."

The combination of Higuain and Clark won the game with their penalty spot efforts. If the attempts had gone an inch or two the other way, the Black and Gold's 2-0 win could have been a 1-1 tie and a big loss of two points by the Crew.

How different things can be on one short kick.