2018 Major League Soccer, Knockout - Eastern Conf
  • Frédéric Brillant (21')
  • Nick DeLeon (116')
  • Federico Higuaín (30', 96')
Columbus Crew win 3-2 on penalties
Columbus Crew win 3-2 on penalties

Crew beat Wayne Rooney, D.C. United on penalties to advance in MLS playoffs

Federico Higuain scored twice and Zack Steffen made two saves in the penalty tiebreak as the visiting Columbus Crew advanced past D.C. United in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs following a 2-2 draw on Thursday night at Audi Field.

Higuain, Wil Trapp and Niko Hansen converted penalties for Columbus, which also advanced on PKs last season at the same stage following a 0-0 draw at Atlanta United.

Steffen saved penalties from Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, D.C.'s top two offensive producers this season, before Nick DeLeon fired the final kick high to give the Crew the 3-2 win in the tiebreak.

Columbus will play the New York Red Bulls in a two-game, conference semifinal series beginning Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium.

"It's disappointing losing on penalties but as a team we can be extremely proud of what we have achieved in the last few months," Rooney told reporters.

"In today's game the crowd, the atmosphere was fantastic and it shows the team are coming along great and they are proud of our performances. We'll try and build on this next season."

DeLeon tied it late in extra time for D.C., which had only reached the postseason by putting together a 10-game unbeaten run to end the regular season. Frederic Brillant also scored early for United, which was also knocked out in the 2016 knockout round in a loss to Montreal, their last playoff appearance.

Higuain gave Columbus the lead six minutes into the first extra time. After 90 minutes of regulation where space had been tough to come by, he worked himself free inside the penalty area and easily met Harrison Afful's cross from the left, nodding it between goalkeeper Bill Hamid and his right post.

That held until four minutes from full time, when DeLeon struck for his first goal of any kind since August of 2016. After Steve Birnbaum won a header inside the penalty area, Gyasi Zardes tried to head the loose ball clear. But it bounced up perfectly for DeLeon, who ripped a thunderous half volley beyond goalkeeper Steffen to send the capacity crowd at RFK Stadium into rapture.

Brillant put the hosts ahead in the 21st minute with a hard-nosed goal that was his first in a D.C. jersey and only his third in MLS regular- or post-season play.

Rooney's long diagonal free kick sailed beyond a mass of people in the penalty area and fell to Acosta at the back post. Acosta sent in a cross that Steffen tried to catch at full stretch, but dropped. Brillant was first to the loose ball, heading it in from close range before he was clattered by Crew SC defender Milton Valenzuela.

Columbus were level only nine minutes later on an attack that began with Valenzuela's ball down the left for Justin Meram, who dragged a cross back from the byline toward the penalty spot. United's Joseph Mora tried to clear it, but it deflected to Higuain, who slotted home a simple finish from close range.

Crew SC should have had the lead six minutes later when Afful's cross fell perfectly for Meram at about the 6-yard box. But Meram poorly timed his volley, sending the ball well over the crossbar.

After a tense second half, both teams had opportunities in the dying stages of regulation. Columbus' Pedro Santos unfurled a shot from distance that forced Hamid into a diving save at full stretch. Then on the other end, Acosta had two looks from long range. Steffen leaped to tip the first over the crossbar in the 90th minute, and the second rolled just wide of his right post in stoppage time.