On to the semifinals: Crew silences 'El Volcán' with shootout victory over Tigres

América restores Liga MX pride by completing rout of New England Revolution
Maximilian Arfsten (top) and goalie Patrick Schulte celebrate after the Columbus Crew defeated Liga MX rival Tigres in a penalty shootout to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinals.
Maximilian Arfsten (top) and goalie Patrick Schulte celebrate after the Columbus Crew defeated Liga MX rival Tigres in a penalty shootout to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinals. / Azael Rodriguez/GettyImages

Defending MLS champion Columbus overcame a shaky start and the mystique of “El Volcán” to eliminate Liga MX giants Tigres in a penalty shootout and advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinals.

Playing in front of their rowdy home fans, Tigres got a dream start, scoring just 3 minutes in when Crew goalie Patrick Schulte dribbled himself into trouble right in front of his own net. André-Pierre Gignac said “Merci beaucoup” before tapping the ball into the empty net and Tigres were up 1-0.

Robert Siboldi’s surprise 5-4-1 formation confused Columbus and Tigres pounced in the early going, scoring twice more only to see each ruled out (properly) for offside.

With the new picket fence alignment, the Liga MX side reduced the spaces in between lines and between defenders, allowing Columbus considerable possession but rarely giving the Crew a glimpse at goal.

Wilfried Nancy’s men kept their poise – a trait that would prove advantageous into overtime and beyond – and kept probing, waiting for Tigres to make a mistake. And the Liga MX boys made plenty, but usually in areas that allowed deep defenders to clean up the mess.

In minute 37, Schulte made up for his gaffe, making a sprawling save on a Marcelo Flores shot after Fernando Gorriarán got behind the defense. Flores gathered in Gorriarán’s pass wide left, but tried to guide the ball into the vacant net instead of blasting it, and Schulte was able to scramble back for the save that probably saved the series for Columbus.

In minute 51, Columbus had a legitimate penalty complaint ignored by Guatemalan ref Bryan López and then survived several Tigres break-outs over the next 20 minutes.

For the most part, the Liga MX giants were their own worst enemy, squandering opportunities with bad decisions, rushed shots, unwisely going 1-on-1 and forcing passes into tight spaces.

Columbus made the hosts pay for their profligacy in minute 59, launching a lethal counterattack. “Cucho” Hernández beat Javier Aquino wide left with only one other defender back, raced toward the box and filtered a cross that reached Diego Torres at the back post. The Columbus captain did not hesitate, blasting a shot into the net to even the game 1-1 – and knotting up the series 2-2.

Six minutes later, Gignac muffed a glorious chance to restore Liga MX pride after Juan Brunetta squared a pass inside the box. The Frenchman was all alone at the top of the 6-yard box with time to pick a spot but instead rushed his shot, shanking it over the crossbar.

Gignac wasted another opportunity a few minutes later, scuffing a shot from the top of the box.

That was essentially the high-water mark for Tigres as they started to run out of gas. Through the rest of regulation and extra-time, Columbus patiently looked for a winner while Tigres gasped for air, their passing betraying them and their trademark discipline disappearing.

In the ensuing shootout, Schulte earned full redemption. The Columbus netminder saved Gignac’s spot kick then palmed aside Guido Pizarro’s effort and the Crew was up 2-0.

Tigres made it interesting, converting their next three shots while “Cucho” clanged his kick off the left post. That left it up to substitute Maximilian Arfsten and he cooly slotted home, sending Carlos Fernández right while banging his shot inside the opposite post.

Columbus advances to the CCC semifinals where they’ll face the winner of the Monterrey-Inter Miami quarterfinal series which will be decided tonight in Mexico. 

The Rayados got goals from Maxi Meza and Jorge Rodríguez to defeat The Herons 2-1 in Florida last week, but they’ll have to deal with Lionel Messi this time around. The Argentine genius missed the first leg while nursing a hamstring injury.

América makes sure Liga MX still has a shout

Defending Liga MX champion América is now a perfect 8-for-8 in Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinals.

The Aguilas completed their rout of the New England Revolution on Tuesday night, thrilling the Estadio Azteca crowd with another impressive display. "Los AzulCremas" spanked New England 5-2 to advance to the CCC semifinals after the 9-2 aggregate smackdown.


América seems certain to face Pachuca in the semis as the Tuzos open their second-leg match against Herediano with a 5-0 advantage from last week's first leg in Costa Rica.