Columbus Crew SC repeated last season’s postseason heroics and secured a penalty kick victory in a road game in the Knockout Round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the Black & Gold prevailed 3-2 from the penalty spot over the D.C. United after a 2-2 tie in extra time.
It was a game of ups and downs for Columbus, but the team ultimately got the job done at the Audi Field. Here is how each player performed:
Zack Steffen (7) – The goalkeeper made a terrible early mistake by releasing the ball inside the six-yard box on D.C.’s goal. He bounced back well, though, having a safe night from that point on, highlighted by a save in a long-range shot of Luciano Acosta near the end. In the penalty kick shootout, Steffen came out as a hero again with two saves.
Harrison Afful (8) – The Ghanaian had a rough start, being targeted by every cross launched towards Columbus’ penalty box, but he reacted well, containing Yamil Asad and registering four tackles, four clearances and three interceptions. Afful was also an effective offensive weapon, finding Higuain in position to score the team’s second goal with a perfectly-timed cross.
Jonathan Mensah (7.5) – The World Cup veteran was a stud for Crew SC, protecting the team’s goal with impressive nine clearances. The Ghanaian has some key actions inside the penalty box and had a good chance to score on the offensive end, but his header was way too high.
Gaston Sauro (7.5) – The Argentinean was the surprise of Berhalter’s lineup but he proved he was up to task, forming a solid center back pairing with Jonathan. The physical defender outmuscled Wayne Rooney and dominated the penalty box with five clearances and four interceptions.
Milton Valenzuela (7) – The Young Designated Player had a solid playoff debut, protecting his side of the field and proving some support offensively. The Argentinean had five crosses and played a very smart pass to Meram on the team’s first goal.
Wil Trapp © (7.5) – The captain played a solid game, registering four tackles in the center of the field and distributing the ball smartly. He also had a solid offensive presence, finding Zardes with an accurate cross and firing a dangerous shot that was deflected by D.C.’s defense in the first half. Trapp also converted his penalty kick with an accurate shot.
Artur (6.5) – The Brazilian seemed a little nervous during the game, making some unnecessary fouls and arguing with some D.C. players. He did, however, keep his usual work rate in the center of the field, even though his passing accuracy was not as good as in other matches.
Pedro Santos (6) – The Portuguese did more of what he’s been doing for the entire season — enormous hustle and help on the defensive end, but not much production in the final third. His resilience was important in Higuain’s first goal and he almost scored on a long-distance effort.
Federico Higuain (9) – Pipa activated his playoff version and led the team with a brace and great vision to connect with his teammates in the offensive third. His presence inside the penalty box was massive and his finishing was sharp when the team most needed him, including during the penalty kick shootout.
Justin Meram (6.5) – The winger was very active at the start of the match, but made some bad choices with the ball on his feet. He was pivotal on Higuain’s first goal with smart movement behind D.C.’s backline, but wasted a clear chance inside the six-yard box.
Gyasi Zardes (5.5) – Zardes played and important tactical role, fighting to control several long passes and to keep possession. His movement generated some interesting spacing for Columbus’ offense to operate, but he had an on-and-off finishing day, missing a point-blank header and his penalty kick. His attempt to clear the ball on D.C.’s second goal was poor.
Niko Hansen (6) – The winger came in for Meram and brought a lot of effort, but not much inspiration from the bench. He was confident and efficient to convert his penalty kick.
Hector Jimenez (6) – The versatile player entered the game when the team was looking to protect its lead and he did a fine job helping Valenzuela on the left side, but D.C. eventually scored.
Patrick Mullins (5) – The forward was brought in strictly to take a penalty kick and he missed it after and odd situation where the wind moved the ball right before his shot.
Gregg Berhalter (7) – His game strategy focused on overloading D.C.’s right side to take advantage of Paul Arriola playing out of position and it paid off with the first goal. His center back selection also proved to be correct, but there’s clearly some work to be done on defensive set pieces.