Columbus, Ohio is championship starved. Okay, it's no Cleveland so maybe starved isn't the right word, but the recent history of championships in Columbus is a little bleak.
In 2002, the Ohio State football team won their first national championship since 1970. In 2008, Columbus Crew SC captured its first MLS Cup. The Buckeyes' football and basketball teams have come close a few times, but were unable to bring home the glory and the Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff series in their existence.
On Monday, OSU won another national championship in football and appears setup to bring glory to Columbus for the foreseeable future, but what about Crew SC? Under first-year head coach Gregg Berhalter, the Black and Gold made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last year and the team is looking to build on that.
So how far away is Crew SC from being the next champion in Columbus?
With the way the team played last year, it appears they are not too far away. Berhalter installed a style of play that is not only attractive but gets results. Although 2014 began brightly (3-0 to start the campaign), it took a while for the players to grasp all the nuances of their new system.
As the regular season came to a conclusion, fans got to see how good this team could be. The Black and Gold lost only two of their last 11 games and surged from out of the playoffs to a third place finish in the Eastern Conference. During that stretch, they beat some of the league's best in the LA Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo, and the New England Revolution.
It was the playoffs where things unraveled. A young team with little postseason experience crumbled under the pressure in the conference semifinals, falling 7-3 on aggregate goals.
Despite the disappointing finish, both players and staff were proud of what they accomplished in 2014. At the team's end-of-season meetings, Berhalter discussed the importance of keep the core group of this team together, and through the majority of this offseason he has done that.
There are questions that hang over this team as they look for a championship in 2015. There is a need for a right back after multiple members of that revolving door are no longer with the team. There is a lack of depth on the defensive line and out wide that could be an issue as the season progresses.
What has arrived in Columbus is exciting. Kei Kamara, who signed with Crew SC in early October but was unavailable for the remainder of the season. He will provide the team with a proven goal scorer at forward, something they lacked last season.
The Black and Gold also added two midfielders in Mohammed Saeid and Kristinn Steindorsson as well as Homegrown player Ben Swanson. All of these players will help provide depth in the midfield, with Saeid and Swanson expected to play in the middle and Steindorsson hopeful to add depth on the outside.
Berhalter has made minor tweaks to what many believed to be a favorite for the MLS Cup heading into last year's playoffs. Another year of experience in the system should also help the players in their quest for glory.
As MLS has proven time and time again, it is nearly impossible to predict a champion, but Crew SC is a fairly safe bet. If they can build on what they started in the last third of 2014, Columbus may have another champion sooner than expected.