The conclusion to the 2014 season was a disappointment for the Columbus Crew falling 7-3 on aggregate to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals. While those associated with the team will never be happy with how it ended, they are pleased with how the season went in its entirety.
"A phrase that's stuck to my mind is we should be proud of the work that we accomplished, but we're not satisfied," midfielder/defender Bernardo Anor said before leaving the training ground for the final time this year.
"I still think we can give a lot of more qualities. We can make things happen. We know it's in us and we've just got to work harder for it next season and hopefully we get further."
After the best start in club history - 3-0 to begin the season - the team struggled throughout most of the summer to find wins, yet found ways to get results more often than not. Over the final third of the season, Columbus was one of the hottest teams in the league, winning eight of their final 11 games to earn the third seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The team is happy with what they accomplished but know they can achieve more in the future.
"I think the process that the team went through was good. I think we've learned a lot as a team, we've improved as a team," head coach Gregg Berhalter said.
"I think there's a good understanding of how we play and there's some things we need to address moving forward to make us better. But I think the foundation is there and that's what I'd say is, looking at these games, there's certainly a foundation."
Despite playing their best soccer at the end of the campaign, the Black and Gold ran into an opponent playing even better in the playoffs. The Revolution came in losers of just one of their last 12 games and were on a mission to dismantle the Crew - the last team to defeat them.
After a 4-2 victory at Columbus Crew Stadium in the first leg, New England cruised to a series-clinching 3-1 win at home. The Black and Gold finished with just nine men as Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram each were sent to early showers with a red card.
Despite the disappointing conclusion to the year, the Columbus players and staff look back at the playoff as valuable experience.
"It was huge even for myself. It was a learning experience, it really was," Berhalter said after some time to reflect.
"I think that you have visions of what the game's going to look like, specifically that home game, and without really looking at other scenarios and thinking how it can go otherwise. I think that was important. I personally learned a lot from that and I know the guys will be better prepared both from an individual standpoint and from a team standpoint next time."
The offseason has begun earlier than desired for the club, but the players remain positive. Although they finished on a sour note, everyone is motivated to improve and come back better next year.