Goals, drama, penalties, heartbreak, last night’s thrilling playoff showdowns had it all. Both games featured lots of goals. It was ultimately the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake that booked their places in the next round.
After a tumultuous year off the pitch for Columbus, it looked like it would be a night to forget for them as Steffen spilled a ball into the path of DC centre back Frederic Brillant to head home. As is the standard for Greg Berhalter’s side however they showed barrels of grit and determination and it was only ten minutes later that Federico Higuain, Gonzalo’s older brother, slid in following a fortunate rebound to tie up the match.
Justin Meram has lacked end product since his year spent in Orlando but even he was shocked as he managed to volley over a golden chance from less than five yards. Pedro Santos forced DC goaltender Bill Hamid into an excellent save from range, but it wasn’t until extra time that either side’s fans would see another goal.
Pipa Higuain Strikes
Pipa Higuain tore an iconic page from Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s book as he managed to flick a header off the back of his head and just off the outstretched fingertips of Bill Hamid and into the net to put the Crew one up in the 96th minute. But in the 116th minute, a fumbled Gyasi Zardes clearance fell straight to the feet of substitute Nick DeLeon, who’s volley from just outside the box found it’s way through the jumble in the area and into the bottom left. It was DeLeon’s first goal in over 2 years, and made him the hero as the game went to penalties.
Football can often have a cruel sense of irony however and heroes often become villains (and vice versa) and the footballing gods definitely had a hand in this one. Zach Steffen, who presented DC with their first goal, saved from both Wayne Rooney AND Luciano Acosta to put the pressure on DeLeon, who put his penalty kick over the bar and Columbus into the next round.
Kreilach the difference maker as RSL overcome the odds
Normally if your team is lacking goals or striking options, you may try a winger or at a push an attacking midfielder in the number nine role to see what works. Mike Petke however decided that Damir Kreilach, a man more comfortable at defensive mid than leading the line, was the man for the job. And what a game changing decision it was. Twelve regular season goals including a hat-trick against the LA Galaxy and two more tonight to send unfancied Real Salt Lake through to the next round of the play offs.
It was that man Kreilach who opened the scoring, being found in far too much space in the Black and Gold box to chest down and volley home in the 21st minute. LAFC defender Danilo Silva would save some face ten minutes later as he headed home from a set piece to tie the game, before in the 54th minute Christian Ramirez fired a great effort into the roof of the net from outside the area to put the Californians 2-1 to the good.
With LAFC fans and owner Will Ferrell already celebrating, the RSL side who only made the playoffs thanks to the other LA team’s unbelievable capitulation against Houston decided to make them work for it. Damir Kreilach again struck just four minutes after Ramirez, this time with an unbelievable karate kick volley that you need to see, in off the post to tie the fixture up once again.
It would be bad luck in LA’s eyes that ultimately cost them the fixture
An unfortunate deflection off defender Walker Zimmerman’s head found its way past keeper Tyler Miller to put Real back ahead with twenty minutes left to play. Nick Rimando shone in the Salt Lake net to keep them ahead and as the whistle went the “one in a million shot” coach Mike Petke had given the side of even making the playoffs suddenly looked a lot more favorable.
This means Columbus have booked themselves a home game in Ohio against Eastern champs New York Red Bulls, meanwhile Real Salt Lake will host the champions of the West in Sporting Kansas City. Meanwhile, we get that delicious double-legged Cascadia derby as Portland host Seattle and New York City welcome an Atlanta side with much to prove following their final day loss to Toronto.
The first leg of the MLS playoff semi-finals will all be played between 8pm and 3am GMT on November 4th/5th