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Columbus Crew SC pulls off knockout round upset in penalties

For the second year in a row, Columbus Crew SC went on the road in the first round of the MLS playoffs as underdogs against a trendy team in a new stadium. And for the second year in a row, they emerged victorious.

Crew SC advanced 3-2 on a penalty kick shootout after tying D.C. United 2-2 Thursday night at Audi Field. Columbus will host the New York Red Bulls, who broke the record for regular season points this year, in an Eastern Conference semifinal Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium.

Columbus was not favored to win against D.C. United. Ever since signing Wayne Rooney midseason, D.C. had been on a tear. The club was unbeaten over its last 10 games, picking up seven wins in that span.

United looked to take advantage early when Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen couldn’t collect a cross, allowing D.C. defender Frederic Brillant to charge into the box and slam the ball into the net. The lead didn’t last long. In the 30th minute, just nine minutes after the opening goal, Federico Higuain scored the equalizer after D.C. couldn’t clear a ball bouncing around inside the box. 

In the second half, there was no scoring at all. The game became chippy as the intensity of fouls increased and strange situations occurred. Luciano Acosta gave Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter a shove as the manager attempted to collect a ball that had gone out of bounds.

As the game headed to extra time after remaining tied 1-1 at the end regulation, the heat only increased.

Nov 1, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) passes s Columbus Crew forward Federico Higuain (10) defends during the first half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Higuain scored again on a header from 12 yards out to give the Crew an extra time lead. Columbus midfielder Eduardo Sosa, who did not play in the game, received a yellow card nonetheless for throwing a ball onto the field. Other subs warming up shouted at the match officials as they ran by. Undeterred by the antics, D.C. found an equalizer when Nick DeLeon scored in the 116th minute.

Just like the game in Atlanta last year, this one would be decided via shootout.

Steffen made two huge penalty saves on the two biggest stars for D.C., Rooney and Acosta. Still, United had a chance to keep the game going when DeLeon stepped up for the fifth kick. Unable to play the hero again, DeLeon skied his attempt over the crossbar, sending Columbus on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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