Colorado Rapids Vs. Columbus Crew, MLS Cup Playoffs 2011: Defending Champions Battling History

The Colorado Rapids surprised everyone by winning the MLS Cup last year. They were a wild card team without much pedigree, no big names and never had home field advantage. They were supposed to have been out of the playoffs quickly, but they knocked off one team, then another, then one more and before we knew it they were MLS Cup champions.

This season they face many of the season obstacles as a year ago. They are a wild card team that still don't have much pedigree. They don't have any big names and while they have home field advantage on Thursday night, it is in the newly added wild card round. They won't have it again if they advance further. They also have one more thing going against them too. They are the defending champions and be it pressure, a curse or just bad luck, defending champions have not fared well of late. In fact, none of the last three defending champions have made it out of the first round.

Last season, Real Salt Lake were defending champions and were red hot coming into the postseason. They had gone 14 matches without a loss, but then the postseason came around and they were knocked out by FC Dallas, who went on to the MLS Cup final. In 2009, it was Salt Lake who did the first round ousting, knocking out the defending champion Columbus Crew en route to their first trophy. The year before, the Houston Dynamo were knocked out in the first round by the New York Red Bulls, who would also go on to the MLS Cup final.

Of course, when the Red Bulls knocked out the Dynamo, it ruined Houston's chance at a three-peat so there is precedent for defending champions succeeding and repeating, but the last three years say no. Not only do they say no, which would be a blow to the Rapids, but they say that the team who knocks out the defending champions will make it all the way to the final. So not only are the last three years a bad omen for the Rapids, but they also say to book the Crew's spot in this year's MLS Cup final at the Home Depot Center. Go on, Columbus.

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