Federico Higuaín scored twice and Zack Steffen made two saves in a penalty-kick shootout as the visiting Columbus Crew advanced past D.C. United in the knockout round of the M.L.S. playoffs following a 2-2 draw on Thursday night at Audi Field.
Higuaín, Wil Trapp and Niko Hansen converted penalties for Columbus, which also advanced in a shootout 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 shootout.
Columbus will play the Red Bulls in a two-game, Eastern Conference Semifinal series beginning Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium.
DeLeon tied it late in extra time for United, which had only reached the postseason by putting together a 10-game unbeaten run to end the regular season. Frederic Brillant scored early for United, which was also knocked out in the 2016 knockout round by Montreal — their last playoff appearance before this season.
After regulation time ended with the score tied, 1-1, Higuaín gave Columbus the lead six minutes into the first period of extra time. After 90 minutes of regulation during which 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 the end of extra time, when DeLeon scored his first goal of any kind since August 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 Steffen to send the capacity crowd 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 M.L.S. 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 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 Higuaín, who slotted home a simple finish from close range.
Columbus 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.