WASHINGTON — For the second straight year, Coatesville native Zack Steffen was the hero of a penalty shootout in the first round of the playoffs.
After stunning Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year, Steffen denied Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta to lead the Columbus Crew past D.C. United at Audi Field.
The 120 minutes of action before the shootout were dramatic enough, with two goals for each side.
Steffen made a brutal mistake on D.C.'s opener, allowing the ball to slip through his fingers as he jumped toward a cross in the 21st minute.
But his teammates redeemed him nine minutes later, as Federico Higuaín got the last touch in a goalmouth scramble to tie the game.
In the 90th minute, Steffen single-handedly kept the game alive with a brilliant save, leaping at full stretch to tip a 20-yard smash by Luciano Acosta over the crossbar.
Columbus had the better of the play for much of the second half, frustrating D.C's attack with a solid defensive block. That continued into extra time, and six minutes after the first period kicked off, the Crew struck again. Higuain rose high in a crowd to head home a service from Harrison Afful. For the first time all night, the electric sellout crowd of 20,600 went quiet.
D.C. manager Ben Olsen, a Harrisburg native, threw on two attacking substitutes after that. They helped turn momentum in the other direction. But the dam didn't break until the 116th minute, when Nick DeLeon pounced on a botched clearance by Gyasi Zardes and hammered in the equalizer from 18 yards. The roar that ensued could probably be heard clear across the Potomac River.
So it was off to penalties, and a duel between two of the U.S. national team pool's best shot-stoppers in Steffen and D.C.'s Bill Hamid. Three Crew players scored to United's two. Steffen made two saves, Hamid made one on Gyasi Zardes, and Columbus' Patrick Mullins hit the post. Nick DeLeon had the last attempt to keep D.C. alive, but blasted his shot over the crossbar.
Columbus, the Eastern Conference's No. 5 seed, will play the No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls in the semifinals.