Zack Steffen 'Saved The Crew,' and gave Columbus a night to remember

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/columbus-crew/" data-ylk="slk:Columbus Crew">Columbus Crew</a> goalkeeper <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/zackary-steffen/" data-ylk="slk:Zack Steffen">Zack Steffen</a> (23) defends the goal during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer game against Atlanta United, in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) defends the goal during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer game against Atlanta United, in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

At the end of the most difficult, controversial and gut-wrenching 10 days in Columbus Crew history, there was silence. Then a smattering of boos. And then, in one penalty box of the massive Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there was a small circle of pandemonium.

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The Crew, nine days after owner Anthony Precourt officially announced that he was exploring relocating the club to Austin, came out of 120 exhilarating, nonsensical minutes with no goals – but with one of the most emotional victories in club history. And they have their 22-year-old American goalkeeper, Zack Steffen, to thank.

They will now head back to Columbus for their first home game since Precourt’s announcement, against New York City FC in the conference semifinals on Tuesday. And that entire day will be surreal. But regardless of what it brings on the field, and regardless of what the future holds, Columbus will always have Thursday. It will always have an MLS playoff match for the ages.

It is difficult to describe the 120 minutes, other than by saying it is difficult to comprehend how they ended scoreless. Below are just a few of the many chances they brought. Steffen tipped Miguel Almiron’s 30-yard shot onto the crossbar early:

In all, the various posts were struck at least four times. Josef Martinez’s close-range effort somehow stayed out in the second half:

Harrison Afful struck the bar in extra time:

And both Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst and goalkeeper Brad Guzan came up with vital saves late to keep the hosts alive in front of over 67,000 fans:

There was also controversy. The Crew had a perfectly good goal ruled out late in the first half by an erroneous raise of a flag from an assistant referee.

Both sides had countless other chances, but penalties seemed inevitable when it became clear that the ball just would not cross either goal line. Muscles tightened. Nerves heightened.

And in the shootout, Steffen did just what fans have been rallying to do since Precourt’s announcement. He Saved The Crew. He saved from Julian Gressel diving to his right to set Columbus off on the right foot.

He then stood tall to keep out Atlanta’s second penalty as well. He was heroic.

He mirrored the heroism and resilience that the city had shown since Precourt’s announcement. Crew fans have started a full-blown movement. The hashtag #SaveTheCrew has trended on social media. They have vowed to keep their team in their city. And even if their efforts end up being futile, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that in some indirect way, they already have a reward for their resistance.

An official statement from Alex Fischer – the president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a group of local business leaders trying to keep the club at home – put that feeling into words:

“Despite our owner and the front office of MLS abandoning us – all of our Crew nation: fans, players, and this entire community kept the faith and stayed strong,” he wrote. “This team never quit and neither will our community. Grateful to the entire soccer world for supporting us in this fight to keep the Crew where it belongs. We could not be more proud of this team and our entire community. I know everyone will be ready after tonight’s huge win to welcome the Crew back home to the City where they belong.”

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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