The Columbus Crew were hoping that the 2010 postseason would be a coronation of sorts. Winners of MLS Cup in 2008 and the Supporters' Shield in 2008 and 2009, they finished second in the Eastern Conference last year and thought that if they could blast through the playoffs to win another MLS Cup they could go down as a dynasty. Then the Colorado Rapids came to town in the conference semifinals and bested them in penalties to end their big dreams. Of course, that proved to be just the start of the Rapids' big dreams as they went on to surprise everyone and win the MLS Cup.
It's a year later now and a round earlier. There's a new wild card round and instead of the two-legged tie that they played in a year ago, it is just one match and it is in Colorado. It's still the same teams though. It's the Rapids and the Crew. One match on Thursday evening at Dicks Sporting Goods Park for a spot in the conference semifinals.
Columbus won't be motivated so much by their loss to Colorado a year ago though. The reason why? Most of that team from a year ago is gone. More than half of the team that heads into Denver wasn't in a Crew shirt a year ago. This is a far different Crew team than the one from a year ago.
The home-standing Rapids are a very different team too. That isn't because the roster has changed that much, because it hasn't, but because their front line looks nothing like it did last year. Omar Cummings was a superstar last season, tearing apart defenses at will. This year he's been injured and sometimes uninterested and all-around flummoxing. His striker partner a year ago, Conor Casey, tore his Achilles and has been out for months. So what was the top striker partnership in the league is now just a shadow of what it once was and this for a team that plays two defensive midfielders so they're not blessed with attacking threats from the midfield. Yeah, this is a different Rapids team.
What will also be different is the weather. It's expected to snow on Wednesday evening and be in the 20's for Thursday's match. There is no snow in the forecast for the match so they might not have to break out the orange balls, but the field could still be slick from the earlier snow and the cold could affect the play.
At the very least, the weather will add the spectacle and with it a "win or go home" match, the urgency will certainly be there from both sides. The question is whether the quality will. No Casey, a struggling Cummings and the less than gorgeous Crew don't figure to make for an overly pretty match. The playoffs aren't about pretty though. It's about results and Thursday's result will end one team's season.