2017 Major League Soccer, Knockout - Eastern Conf
Columbus Crew SC win 3-1 on penalties
Columbus Crew SC win 3-1 on penalties

Zack Steffen stars as Columbus beat Atlanta, advance to Eastern semis

Columbus Crew SC defeated Atlanta United 3-1 on penalties to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday.

Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen was the hero, saving Atlanta's first two penalty attempts, and seeing Atlanta's fourth hit the post, after the game ended scoreless following regulation and extra time.

The result caps a stressful 10 days for the club, with the knockout round win coming shortly after reports surfaced that the club's owner, Anthony Precourt, could move the franchise to Austin, Texas at the end of next season.

Meanwhile, Atlanta saw its impressive inaugural season end at the first post in front of a playoff-record crowd of 67,221 at the Mercedes Benz Arena.

The first 45 minutes ended scoreless, though not without some quality chances.

After 11 minutes, Miguel Almiron's wonderful curling shot from outside of the box was sensationally tipped onto the crossbar by an outstanding Steffen in the Columbus goal.

Brad Guzan made a fine one-on-one save after Pedro Santos was played in on the U.S. international goalkeeper in the 31st minute.

And Columbus was again denied what could have been a goal by the assistant referee, who appeared to wrongly judge Santos offside when the ball was played to him behind the defense five minutes before the break.

Atlanta piled on the pressure in the second half and, after some wild attempts from Almiron, forced a diving save from Steffen after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez's powerful header of a looping corner kick.

Minutes later, substitute Kekuta Manneh crashed his well-hit left-footed shot past Guzan and off the crossbar to signal the visitors' intent after a shaky restart.

Josef Martinez returned the favor soon after, when he steered Hector Villalba's inviting low cross onto the post and back into play after running off the back shoulder of a defender.

Steffen again came to the rescue in second-half stoppage time with a point-blank save of a Hector Villalba effort after the forward was played in down the right channel.

The game then went to extra-time, where Federico Higuain tested the waters first with a diving header right at Guzan.

Harrison Afful nearly snatched an opener just before the extra-time break with a sweetly hit volley that beat Guzan but not the crossbar.

Second-half sub Michael Parkhurst saved Atlanta late into the second extra-time period with a timely goal line clearance after Afful beat a charging Guzan to a long pass and sent the ball toward the empty net.

In the penalty shootout, Steffen stood tall as Atlanta failed on three of their four attempts, while Higuain, Villalba and Adam Jahn converted for Columbus, who will face NYCFC next week.

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