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Columbus shocks Red Bulls with 1-0 first-leg win

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A Gyasi Zardes goal was the lone strike in a surprising result as the Major League Soccer playoffs get under way.

New York, fresh off its last-day Supporters’ Shield victory, was held goalless in the first leg of its matchup against Columbus on Sunday. Bradley Wright-Phillips nearly netted a last-gasp equalizer that would have completely changed the complexity of the matchup, but New York instead heads back home with work to do.

The lone goal came in the 67th minute as Milton Valenzuela threaded a pinpoint pass to Federico Higuain who had come off the bench at halftime. The Crew star produced a fabulous assist, back-heeling to a streaking Zardes who finished one-on-one.

There were two moments late that could have defined the match. First, Luis Robles was there to produce a stop on Pedro Santos in the 89th minute that would have left New York with even more ground to make up back home. Then, in the 93rd minute, Wright-Phillips got his head to a wonderful Kaku delivery into the box and flicked the ball towards the corner, but Zack Steffan made a brilliant diving save to turn the effort away and preserve the victory.

New York was a significant favorite in the two-legged match, having clipped Atlanta United on the final day of the regular season for the most points in the league. They collected 22 wins over the course of the season, but struggled against Columbus, earning just a single point in their two meetings, including a 1-1 road draw and a 3-2 loss at Red Bull Arena in late July.

Columbus kept New York at bay by holding 58% of the possession and conceding just nine total shots, two on target. The home side generated just six shots of its own, but managed to put one of its two on target into the back of the net.

Columbus beats DC in MLS Cup Playoffs thriller

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Penalty prodigy Zack Steffen stopped two penalty kicks to help lead Columbus past DC United at Audi Field on Thursday in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

The sides were level 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 through 120. Columbus scored thrice to DC’s two goals in PKs.

Steffen stopped Wayne Rooney‘s opening attempt of penalty kicks, but Bill Hamid stymied Gyasi Zardes’ third round bid.

Steffen then stopped Luciano Acosta, but the ball bobbled on Patrick Mullins’ chance to win it for the Crew.

So it came down to DeLeon to tie it, and he sent it way over the bar.

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Federico Higuain bagged a brace for Columbus, while Nick DeLeon and Frederic Brillant scored for the Black and Red.

Columbus/DC moves on to face the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals, a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals.

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DC hit the scoreboard first thanks to a rare error from Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

The USMNT No. 1 backstop couldn’t hold onto a rising cross, which spilled out of his hands for Brillant to tap into the goal.

DC’s lead didn’t last long, thanks to 34-year-old Higuain (You thought he was older, didn’t you?)

Like Brillant, the Argentine was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some rough play from the opposition.

Columbus had a few very good chances to retake the lead.

Justin Meram hit a volley over the goal, and Bill Hamid thwarted Pedro Santos’ ambitious distance effort with a flying save in the 85th.

Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta then combined atop the 18, but Steffen made a fine save of his own to force extra time.

It didn’t take long for the visitors to get their first lead of the night, with Higuain heading a pinpoint cross from Afful inside the far post.

Yet that wasn’t it!

A foul far from goal saw Rooney presiding over a deep free kick. He sent it to the back post, it was headed to the top of the 18 by Gyasi Zardes, and De Leon punched it through traffic and inside the near post with a dynamic shot.

Loving the idea of Berhalter for USMNT, but hating the process

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Let’s get the ugly out of the way early: The appearance of nepotism is garbage, and U.S. Soccer will have made the latest of several ego-driven, tone deaf, unforced errors if and when it announces the hiring of Gregg Berhalter without having spoken with a number of top candidates.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day ]

It’s only going to look like they had their guy all along, the brother of the federation’s chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter, and that their new general manager either wasn’t allowed to conduct a full interview process or hire a new USMNT manager without his hand being held.

Again, that’s probably not what happened, but U.S. Soccer not caring how it looks shows that very little’s changed since Sunil Gulati left office channeling Gordon Bombay’s “quarter of an inch” logic.

So, again, U.S. Soccer didn’t interview Tata Martino, who may be off for the Mexican gig, and that knowledge triggered a pretty healthy discussion on Twitter with the knowledge that Sporting KC mastermind Peter Vermes, 2016 MLS Coach of the Year Oscar Pareja, RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch, and former El Tri boss Juan Carlos Osorio also were not interviewed. Doug McIntyre adds ex-USMNT coach Bob Bradley and longtime U-20 boss Tab Ramos to the list.

Assuming the reports are all true, that’s a problem. It also doesn’t mean that Berhalter isn’t a good, if not great, candidate for the job (and maybe Stewart was hired after saying, “I’d take Gregg as my No. 1 guy.”)

The 45-year-old knows the importance of both testing himself overseas and keeping himself sharp in MLS, having player in the Netherlands, England, and Germany before finishing his career with the Galaxy.

In management, he got his start assisting Bruce Arena before taking a head job in Sweden and losing just 11 of 46 matches for Hammarby.

Moving to Columbus in 2013, he’s led the a team which has never spent much to supply a team under his eye. According to Spotrac, the Crew have spent the 22nd (2018), 17th, 17th, 13th, and 17th most dollars on player salaries in the league. Here’s how those teams performed in the league:

That’s outstanding, and when you throw in the fact that he’s done that with the distraction of owner Anthony Precourt at times literally trying to keep fans from making the stands look full for a playoff game so he could engineer a move to Austin? Insane!

Even if Columbus loses on Sunday and is passed by Montreal for a playoff spot, that’s still impressive.

You could reasonably argue that fans should want his hire as much as any other American candidate and many from outside the continent, too. Shoot, as long as an interview doesn’t drop where Berhalter claims an MLS All Star Team would dominate the top tiers of England, Germany, Spain, and Italy, and that Gyasi Zardes is like-for-like with Roberto Firmino

Anyway… what I’m saying is there would be plenty of reasons to be excited with the Berhalter hire, who has show he knows when to drop off and defend and when to lay his foot on the pedal. There are only two things to really dislike about him, and one assumes Martino is off to Mexico.

  1. Berhalter is 0-4 against Martino in MLS play
  2. Unfortunately we hearken back to the top of the post, and the knowledge that the USSF will have put its new boss in a precarious position amongst its supporters and “shareholders.”

It won’t change how Berhalter does his job — the guy looks like he’d rather chew through a 2×4 than deal with speculation — but it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the other aspects of how the federation has dealt with an improbable World Cup qualifying failure in one of the most forgiving confederations on Earth.

Then again, maybe they’ll announce Zinedine Zidane on Nov. 1. What do we know?

MLS Decision Day Preview: One chance left for Galaxy, Montreal, Crew

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Here’s your cheat sheet for Decision Day, the final match day of the Major League Soccer regular season.

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Supporters’ Shield, East top seed: The Supporters’ Shield will learn its new home this Sunday, as Atlanta United heads to Toronto and the New York Red Bulls hope for a win of its own and failure from the Georgian outfit in Canada.

West top seed: The Western Conference No. 1 seed still has plenty of intrigue. Sporting KC hosts LAFC in a beauty which will go a long way toward deciding things. KC has a 2-point lead on LAFC, and a draw would be enough unless FC Dallas hangs a record blowout on Colorado.

West’s final playoff spot: If LA Galaxy beats Houston, it leapfrogs Real Salt Lake. Anything else, and RSL skates into the playoffs on its couch as a bye week witness.

East’s final playoff spot: Columbus gets into the playoffs with a home win over lowly Minnesota, but a draw or loss opens the door for Montreal to snag the sixth seed with a win in New England.

Steffen leaves USMNT camp; Horvath, Guzan remain

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USMNT backstop Zack Steffen has been sent back to Columbus for precautionary reasons ahead of the Crew’s MLS run-in.

U.S. Soccer announced that tightness in the goalkeeper’s right hamstring would keep him away from the team for Tuesday’s match against Peru in Connecticut.Steffen, 23, allowed four goals in Thursday’s loss to Colombia, but at least three of them won’t give him much pause (James Rodriguez was on fire).

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That leaves Brad Guzan and Ethan Horvath as the keepers for Tuesday, and Dave Sarachan will be tasked with choosing between the veteran and a one-time presumed GK of the future.

Guzan, 34, has eight clean sheets in 31 matches for Atlanta United this season. He’s earned 58 caps for the USMNT and won the Golden Glove at the 2015 Gold Cup (so much gold!).

Horvath, 23, has two caps but has found his playing time scarce since transferring from Molde to Club Brugge in 2017. He has 24 appearances with five clean sheets, but is second choice to an even younger backstop in former Hajduk Split man Karlo Letica.