The hottest team in Major League Soccer went down to the underdogs as Columbus Crew SC defeated D.C. United in the knockout round of the playoffs. The game went to extra time at 1-1, before both teams scored in the 30-minute extra period. Crew SC eventually advanced on penalty kicks 3-2. Federico Higuain’s brace powered Columbus to the next round of the MLS Playoffs in a physical game against old playoff rivals.
Crew SC got the first shot on goal in the 17th minute with Wil Trapp swinging in a long pass into the box. Gyasi Zardes broke away from his marker and powered a header at goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Hamid patted the shot away and collapsed on the rebound to end the chance.
As the frenetic pace continued, United struck first in the 21st moment on a questionable call and a goalkeeper error. Justin Meram got called for a foul on Paul Arriola. Wayne Rooney sent in a long free kick into the box that Luciano Acosta eventually tracked down. Zack Steffen attempted to catch his cross, but spilled it. Frederic Brillant pounced on the goal line to power it in to make it 1-0.
Columbus scrambled to climb back into the game, but the United defense held Crew SC to mostly helpless crosses. The Black & Gold eventually broke through reverting to the ball-moving attack that created chances all year. Milton Valenzuela slipped a ball into the penalty box that Justin Meram tracked down. He then cut inside and centered the ball. United struggled to clear the low driven ball and Higuain poked the ball into the net to tie the game in the 30th minute.
Meram and Columbus had a golden chance to take the lead in the 36th minute. Harrison Afful sent in a deep cross from the right. Meram slipped the United defense to get free right in front of the D.C. net, but sent his shot well over the bar from inside the six-yard box. It was a shocking miss and a rare chance to take the lead on the road.
Neither side would get another chance as the half closed out with both teams stymied.
The defensive battle would turn to a war of attrition in the second half. Referee Alan Chapman was content to let the teams play and the players responded with more physicality. Crew SC picked up nine fouls in the second half and United earned nine of their own.
While neither team found any offensive flow, they each had a near winner in regulation through some outstanding individual effort.
Pedro Santos nearly won the game in in the 85th minute. With United trying to clear the danger, Jonathan Mensah picked up the ball at midfield and sent a short pass to Santos. He took a touch and let fly with a shot from distance and force Hamid to tip the ball wide.
United nearly got a late winner in regulation as well. Acosta drove into the attacking half and played a one-two sequence with Rooney at the top of the penalty box. He then ripped a shot that forced a Steffen save to keep the score tied in the 90th minute.
It didn’t take long for Columbus to pull ahead in extra time. In the 96th minute, Crew SC pushed forward with Afful getting the ball in the right channel after a touch from Higuain. He settled the pass and fired in a cross. Higuain met the ball after running in from midfield and sent a glancing header into the net and a 2-1 Crew SC lead.
United wouldn’t go down quietly. After earning a free kick near midfield in the 116th minute, Rooney launched a deep service into the penalty box. Columbus initially cleared, but ball came back at the Crew SC goal. Zardes headed the ball out, but Nick Deleon volleyed the clearance at the top of the penalty area and tied the game 2-2 with minutes to go in the game.
Neither side was able to find a winner as tired legs drew the game towards penalties. Crew SC took first with Higuain making his. Steffen saved Rooney’s shot. Trapp guided his penalty into the corner with a deft touch and Yamil Asad replied to make it 2-1 after two rounds. Zardes soft penalty would be saved by Hamid and Zoltan Stieber made it 2-2 after three rounds. Niko Hansen made his attempt while Acosta’s shot was saved and Crew SC were up 3-2 after the fourth round. Patrick Mullins failed to win it as his attempt pinged off the upright, but the hero of extra time, Deleon, sent his shot over and Columbus moved on.
Columbus scored 11 goals in 17 road games during the MLS regular season. This is a team that struggled on the road and struggled to get goals from anyone not named Gyasi Zardes. They scored twice against the previously red-hot United and both goals came from someone other than the team’s Golden Boot winner. Zardes worked hard, often isolated in attack, but it was Higuain that pushed the team to the brink.
Higuain’s last two-goal game came on June 24th of last year. Pretty big moment to change that. #CrewSC.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) November 2, 2018
This is the second year in a row that Columbus entered a hostile stadium and silenced the home crowd. Since the addition of the knockout games in 2015, five lower seeded teams have won in 15 attempts. Crew SC has two of those wins.
Gregg Berhalter and the staff came in with a game plan to slow down Rooney and Acosta and the defense executed. It’s the second straight year that coaching met execution and Columbus is moving on.
Atlanta invented losing to Columbus on penalties and irresponsibly throwing beer on the field— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) November 2, 2018
It’s a home-and-home with the MLS Supporters Shield winners New York Red Bulls. The first game of the series is at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 4. Crew SC will be heading to Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on Sunday, Nov. 11.