The Columbus Crew said they weren’t scared going anywhere or playing anybody. They proved that at Atlanta United tonight.
Crew SC took Atlanta's best shots, all 23 of them, but Zack Steffen just stopped them. Every last one to push Columbus on 0-0, 3-1 in penalties.
The massive performance in front of a large and loud hostile crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium earns the Black & Gold a date with New York City FC and a home playoff game on Tuesday.
Both sides came out with a burst of energy, feeding off the large and loud crowd in the winner take all playoff game. Neither team created a real chance early as both were both misfiring a bit off the nervous energy. That would change quickly.
The first big chance came off a midfield turnover by Crew SC’s Artur in the 11th minute. The home side pushed the ball forward quickly and Miguel Almiron fired a shot from 25 yards that goalkeeper Zack Steffen touched to carom off the crossbar. It wouldn't be the last time that Steffen would come up big or the post would play a role.
The keeper would parry a Chris McCann shot over the bar in the 20th minute. The Crew got their first half chance 10 minutes later when Brad Guzan was called upon to stop a Pedro Santos chance.
Columbus should have gotten their goal just before halftime, but there was an egregious blown offside call. Santos was played in and tapped the ball accross for an easy finish to Ola Kamara, but the referee blew the whistle and called offside. With the whistle, the play wasn't reviewable by video.
The game opened up in the second half even more. Kekuta Manneh would get his chance, but it too hit the bar in the 67th with Almiron countering with post ringing shot in the 71st.
The game winded on into extra time where the drama didn't end.
Harrison Afful rang the crossbar in the 105th minute, but it failed to break the deadlock. Wil Trapp and Afful nearly combined for the winner in the 117th minute with a beautiful long ball and header that was cleared off the line by Michael Parkhurst.
As the game moved to penalties, the focus went to the goalkeepers.
Brad Guzan has been a U.S. National Team mainstay, but Steffen stepped up again with two more massive saves.
He made a nearly impossible save on Julian Gressel in round one to allow the Crew to go up as Higuain Panenka’d to open the scoring. He’d stop Gonzslez Pirez’s attempt down the middle before Hector Villalba tallied to even the score.
Rookie Niko Hansen icily restored the Crew’s lead in the second half of the third round of PKs. Adam Jahn’s first touch of the game secured the win after Jeff Larentowicz sent his shot off the post earlier in the fourth round.
It was a massive effort by the young ‘keeper as he recored eight saves and stopped two more during the penalties.
Stats: 41 shots, 13 shots on goal, 0 goals. Both teams combined for some spectacular displays all over the field.
When it was over: This game was never going to end. It was a back and forth affair with too many close calls to count. It was invariably going to end on penalties and it came down to the very last when Jahn buried his penalty to send Columbus back home.
What’s next: It’s on to MAPFRE for the first leg of the home and home with New York City FC on Tuesday, October 31st at 8:00 PM. After the demoralizing news of October 16th and the mobilization to fight to #SaveTheCrew, Black & Gold faithful will once again have a chance to fill the stands and cheer on the Yellow Soccer Team.