COLUMBUS, Ohio – Anything the Columbus Crew did in the regular season, the Champions League or the US Open was trumped by a 5-4 penalty-kick shootout loss to the Colorado Rapids in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Here’s what can be taken from the series and the year:
In 2004, the Supporters’ Shield-winning Crew carried an 18-game unbeaten streak into their conference semifinal opener at New England and lost 1-0. Columbus tied the return leg 1-1 on a late goal, but were left to rue two missed penalties earlier in the game in front of a stunned home crowd.
[inline_node:318812]Last year, the Crew again won the Supporters’ Shield and lost 1-0 at Real Salt Lake in their playoff opener. In the second leg, they took a 2-0 lead before yielding three goals and the series.
This year, the result was similar. Columbus opened the playoffs with a 1-0 loss at Colorado. In the second leg, the Crew again took a 2-0 lead only to see Conor Casey score in the 84th minute to tie the aggregate-goals series at 2-2.
In fact, apart from the 2008 postseason, opening the playoffs on the road as the higher seed has been a failing formula in Columbus.
Based on the performance of the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas – as well as the Columbus' semifinal opponent, Colorado – the Crew might want to take their feet off the gas in the regular season.
No 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League for Columbus
It’s no coincidence that Columbus have tailed off late in the season in the past two years.
This season, the burden of six extra games and travel outside the country, coupled with a US Open Cup final on Oct. 5 in a difficult stretch of their schedule, had the Crew running on empty.
None of the four MLS finalists this season played in the group stage of the Champions League, and 2010 marks the third straight year that no Champions League group participant will play for in the MLS Cup.
Though the Crew will not see action in the continental tournament, they will be participating in the 2011 SuperLiga. The SuperLiga schedule will likely open with three group games in late July, a semifinal in early August and the final before Labor Day. That leaves a more manageable schedule for the Crew in their last two months of the 2011 season – unless they make the US Open Cup final again.
When the Crew won MLS Cup in 2008, they had no outside competitions late in the season and finished 11-1-3, including a championship match win over the New York Red Bulls. The uncongested schedule can only help.
[inline_node:318351]The Young and the Feckless
Young and swift outside midfielders Robbie Rogers and Emanuel Ekpo were disappointments in the regular season, combining for one goal and one assist. Ekpo did, however, set up Rogers’ goal on Saturday.
Is that a sign of more to come in 2011 or does the staff look elsewhere?
With two straight playoff series losses to the visiting team – a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Seattle and club-record three straight home games without a goal – Crew Stadium is no longer a fortress.
In with the New
It will be a long offseason mentally, but short physically, with the first 2010-11 Champions League quarterfinal against Real Salt Lake set to take place between Feb. 22-24.
There could be new faces in the roster by then.
Sources say that if the Crew like what they see at the top of the MLS SuperDraft, they could offer a starter to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps, who have the No. 1 pick, or to second-selector Portland, another first-year team.