MLS Cup Playoffs, 2011: How The Columbus Crew Got Here

Eddie Gaven has been one of the few bright spots for a Columbus Crew team that has been on a roller-coaster rider of a season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Massive Report's Patrick Guldan details how the Columbus Crew managed to make the playoffs despite a very mediocre season.

The Crew finally arrived in the 2011 MLS Playoffs in true Columbus Crew fashion; it was an ugly and messy trip that was just enough to accomplish the goal. They have a negative goal differential (-1), trouble scoring (11th in MLS), and an average defense (11th in MLS). This is a team that epitomizes the average. Their record was even a symmetrical 13 wins, 13 losses and 8 ties.

With so many unknowns after an offseason of major changes, many didn't expect the new-look Crew to make any waves in the relatively weak Eastern Conference. The team lost several iconic stalwarts and replaced them with lower league signees, college draftees and the rare international. Everyone expected them to take some time to have all the pieces fit together. Instead, they had a strong April, setting the team's consecutive scoreless streak on defense, and moved to the upper tier of the table.

The stellar April was followed by a dismal May and they dropped down the conference table once again. Every time it looked like the team turned the corner, they seemed to take a step back. A late tie in New York was followed by a win at home against Real Salt Lake during the first week of June, which was followed by a listless loss against Chicago where the team didn't have a shot on goal.

The summer was a series of Jeckel and Hyde moments, rare wins on the road against Houston and RSL, but a tie to San Jose and losses at Los Angeles and Colorado. Despite the uneven results, the Crew had settled into a five-point lead and sat 1st place in the East by late August.

That cushion wasn't near enough to hold onto the top spot as the Crew's season came crashing down as the team would go winless in six games, getting outscored 15-7 as they came out of September with one tie and their playoff hopes looking weak. Eddie Gaven missed all six of these games due to injury and the defense didn't look the same as the impenetrable fortress earlier in the year. They looked like a team exposed as a playoff fraud.

With a playoff spot on the line, the team once again came to life with two wins (D.C. and at New England) to secure a playoff spot with a game to play. They had a chance to secure second in the Eastern Conference with a win against the Fire in the final regular season game, but true to 2011 form, they lost and slipped to the Wild Card spot.

Ultimately, the Crew can thank the new Garber playoff plan for their spot in the 2011 playoffs. They eased in with the 9th spot in MLS, a spot that didn't exist until this year. This team can look like a top tier team when everything falls into place, but can look just as miserable the next week. While a longshot to make it to MLS Cup, it wouldn't be surprising if they reach there. They can beat almost any team in the league, but they certainly showed they can lose to the teams at the bottom too. 

Patrick Guldan is the managing editor for Crew blog Massive Report. Follow him on Twitter at @GuldanMR.

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