In a match eerily similar to last season's postseason triumph over Atlanta United FC and nearly a year to the day, a brace from Federico Higuaín and penalty-kick heroics from Zack Steffen propelled Columbus Crew SC past D.C. United 3-2 in penalty kicks in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday, Nov. 1 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
Crew SC now hosts the New York Red Bulls in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. Leg 2 will be held at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, November 11, with the time to be determined following Sunday's match.
D.C. United, who had not lost in its last 10 matches - including five straight home wins - struck first via Frédéric Brillant after a Columbus defensive miscue at the goal line in the 21st minute.
Hungry to equalize, Crew SC turned to Higuaín just nine minutes later. Following a Justin Meram cross from the left flank, the veteran midfielder found himself in the right place at the right time inside the six-yard-box and toed in the equalizer, marking his third career postseason goal.
After over an hour of scoreless play, the match entered extra time tied at 1-1 before the Maestro struck again. This time, it was a whipping header from 13 yards out placed deftly inside the far post past a diving Bill Hamid.
D.C.'s attacking pressure eventually broke through in the second period of extra time as Nick DeLeon connected solidly on a well-placed strike following a heading clearance from Gyasi Zardes.
Tied at 2-2 entering PKs, Higuaín calmly converted for the night's first PK. Up next, Zack Steffen continued doing what Zack Steffen does in penalty kick shootouts, this time against Wayne Rooney.
Patrick Mullins stepped up with a chance to win the game against his former team, but was denied by the post.
Next for D.C. was DeLeon, the game-tying scorer with an opportunity to bring D.C. level and extend to a sixth round. With a quick approach, the veteran lifted his try over the frame, sealing Crew SC's second-straight Knockout Round road victory.
- Midfielder Federico Higuain recorded a brace in tonight’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Knockout Round match against D.C. United. His first goal came in the 30th minute as the Argentine drove a bouncing ball into the back of the net. Higuain’s second goal came in the 96th minute when he received a cross from Harrison Afful and redirected the ball past D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to put Crew SC in the lead 2-1. The goals are Higuain’s third and fourth in MLS Cup Playoffs action, tying him with Kei Kamara for third place on the all-time MLS Cup Playoffs goal-scoring list. Higuain has made 12 MLS postseason appearances (all starts) and provided four assists to go with his four goals. In the 2018 MLS regular season, Higuain scored six goals and provided a team-high nine assists in 30 regular-season appearances (27 starts).
- Forward Gyasi Zardes, defender Milton Valenzuela and forward Patrick Mullins all registered their first Crew SC MLS Cup Playoffs appearance in tonight’s Eastern Conference Knockout Round Match against D.C. United. Zardes, who played for the LA Galaxy from 2014-2017, started in tonight’s contest and registered 49 touches, created two scoring chances and took two shots (one on goal). Valenzuela also started in tonight’s match and registered 89 touches, attempted 51 passes and made two tackles. Mullins, who played for D.C. United from 2016 until July 11, 2018, came into the match as a substitute for Harrison Afful in stoppage time of the second half of extra time.
- Harrison Afful recorded an assist in tonight’s match against D.C. United. His assist came in the 96th minute when the Ghanaian received a back-heel pass from Federico Higuain and then sent a cross back to him for the goal. The helper is Afful’s first MLS postseason assist in 11 appearances (all starts). In the 2018 MLS regular season, Afful made 32 appearances (all starts), tallying two goals and six assists.
- Zack Steffen made two saves during tonight’s penalty-kick shootout, saving attempts by Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta. This was the second occasion in which Steffen participated in an MLS Cup Playoffs penalty-kick shootout, with his first appearance coming against Atlanta United FC on October 26, 2017. On that occasion, Steffen made saved two penalty kick attempts to help Crew SC advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
- With tonight’s result against D.C. United, Crew SC advances to take on the New York Red Bulls in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals. Leg 1 will be held at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. ET. Leg 2 will be held at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, November 11, with the time to be determined following Sunday's match.