D.C. United Comes Up Short in Penalty Kicks in Knockout Round

Photo: D.C. United

Thursday night the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington D.C. was the place to be. The fans of D.C. United BROUGHT THE NOISE throught the game and it was hard to pinpoint a single empty seat. In an intense atmopshere, and a wild game, the first ever playoff game at Audi Field had everything a soccer fan could want. The only thing that was unfortunate for those fans residing in the DMV is that D.C. United came up short. They fell to the Columbus Crew by a final of 2 (3) – 2 (2) in a contest that went to penalty kicks.

D.C. United rode the energy of the crowd immediately from kickoff. They had a few early chances. First in the eighth minute, Wayne Rooney charged toward the net before Jonathan Mensah made a great play to snatch the ball.

On the other end, the Columbus Crew had a few chances as well. Some great defense here from Russell Canouse as he stretched out his right foot to defelct away a cross pass from Federico Higuain.

D.C. United goalie Bill Hamid got in on the action in the 17th minute. With the road team threatening, Gyasi Zardes had a header but Hamid made the save.

That early big save led to history four minutes later. More history for Audi Field in a list that has kept on growing throughout the course of the season. This one was the first playoff goal. Rooney fed a free kick to the left side of the net to Luciano Acosta. Crew goalie Zack Steffen had a piece of Acosta’s shot but couldn’t corral it and Frederic Brillant made him pay with a header for his first goal since July of 2017 to put the home club up 1-0.

The Crew tied the game in the 30th minute with a goal by Higuain.

The tally was excactly what the Crew needed for momentum. Scoring in one of the toughest places to play gave them a boost and they tried to take the lead before the half. They weren’t successful with D.C. United defenders protecting Hamid. Canouse made another great swipe, taking the ball from Zardes in the 37th minute.

In the 45th minute, Higuain was shown the yellow card for not retreating. The score would be square at one at the end of the first half. The Crew outshot D.C. United 7-4 in the first half and 2-1 on target.

Coming out of the half, D.C. United kept pressing. Rooney had a touch but the Columbus began to get stingy.

The Crew had two chances to get ahead. The first one came in the 63rd minute. Higuain shot the ball but Hamid lunged to his left to make a big save.

An even bigger save from Hamid came in the 85th minute. Pedro Santos had the shot from up top but Hamid dove to keep the ball from landing in the net. Instead it ended up out of play.

D.C. United made one final push in the 90th minute. A tic-tac-toe type play from Luciano Acosta to Rooney, back to Acosta gave him a clean look. But it wasn’t meant to be. After three minutes of stoppage time that followed, the game would require overtime.

In the regular season contests would typically end in a draw. But the playoffs are a different animal. Especially the knockout round. The rules require two 15-minute halves and if it’s still tied there would be the both exciting and stressful penalty kicks.

In the 96th minute, the Crew jumped out in front with Higuain’s second goal of the match.

There was tension in the crowd, nerves everywhere. The first half of the extra time ended with D.C. United down 2-1. Once the brief halftime ended, the black and red had their backs to the wall. But they refused to go home. With under five minutes to go Nick DeLeon, just like he did in 2012 against the Red Bulls, scored a clutch goal. This one knotted the score and the just like that the fortress was rocking.

It would take penalty kicks to decide who will advance to play the New York Red Bulls in the semifinals. The road team put the pressure on United with a goal from Higuain. Rooney missed the chance to equalize in the first round. Wil Trapp scored to begin round two, putting DCU in a 2-0 hole until the gap began to close when Yamil Asad responded with a goal.

Hamid settled down and saved a shot from Gyasi Zardes and D.C. United tied it with a goal from Zoltan Stieber. Niko Hansen put the Crew back in front, 3-2, to begin the fourth round. Acosta wasn’t able to answer.

Then it was the fifth round. Do or die. Patrick Mullins had a chance to end it but missed the net. Then it was up to the hero of the night, DeLeon who was the reason this game would even require PK’s. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. DeLeon shot the ball high above the crossbar and that was it. The historic season for the black and red had come to an end.

Despite coming up short in their goal for a fifth MLS Cup there is no reason for D.C. United to hang their heads. Flashback to July 14 when Audi Field opened it’s doors. D.C. United had just two wins heading into that game. That’s when the magic and the Wayne Rooney effect happened. Part of the early-season struggle was a road-heavy first half while Audi Field was under constructin. They did play a pair of “home games” at Maryland Soccer Plex and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium but it didn’t have the feel of an RFK Stadium or Audi Field.

Since the new stadium opened it’s doors, the club went 12-2-1, riding the black and red wave of their diehard supporters and even generating new fan interest. D.C. United headed into Thursday’s game on a 10-match unbeaten streak. It was a memorable season and the future of D.C. United is brighter than ever.

One thing D.C. United will be looking forward to next season is no wacky schedules of a first half road majority and a second half home majority. They’ll be able to have a better scheduling balance like all the other MLS teams. The biggest goal in the regular season will be maintaining a level of consistency the whole way through. The ultimate goal will be even bigger than just simply making the playoffs. That goal will be to win an MLS Cup for the first time since 2004. Rooney and company can look at this season’s second half magical run as a springboard for more success to come in the future.


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