It's all over. Thirty-four games and we've finally reached the MLS Cup Playoffs.
At the conclusion of the season, Columbus Crew SC finish the year with 15 wins on 53 points after a 5-0 thrashing of D.C. United on Major League Soccer's Decision Day.
The biggest win for Columbus since 2001, comes at a good time, as the team wants to ride this wave of momentum into the postseason. But not until after that bye through the Knockout Round.
Here are some of my thoughts from the big win in the regular-season finale.
Defense Wins Championships
All year we've watched as the Crew SC back line allowed a multitude of goals. You've read, and I've written, about how this defense needs to improve for this club to be a serious contender in the postseason.
Let me tell you now, this defense is much better.
I'm still not sure what went wrong with Emanuel Pogatetz and why he wasn't able to work as the center back partner to Michael Parkhurst. I am not one to trash on Tyson Wahl, but neither of those players have gotten the results with Parkhurst that Gaston Sauro has.
Credit head coach Gregg Berhalter for addressing the issue and making things work quickly. The Black & Gold enter the playoffs with back-to-back shutouts for the first time since April and that could bode well for the team, especially if the offense continues to produce the way it has. Speaking of the offense...
Holy Five-Goal Output Batman!
It was clear heading into this game that Crew SC wanted to make a statement. The player and coaches not only said the right things, but you could see it in the way they practiced. There was a determination to get second place in the East and avoid the Knockout Round.
Well statement made.
Even in the first half, when Columbus could only muster one goal, the offense looked sharp. The Black & Gold were creating chances and it seemed only a matter of time before Crew SC found the back of the net.
I don't know what was said in the locker room at halftime (either locker room frankly), but it obviously hit home. Meram, Finlay, Finlay, Schoenfeld, and nearly Finlay again! That's all folks.
We've known all year that we're dealing with a potent offense in Columbus, but Sunday's performance was scary to watch. Add in Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain.... I'm not going to speculate on where that could lead.
Depth is Not an Issue
My colleague Andrew already wrote about this, but I felt it needed to be hit in this piece as well (these are my thoughts after all). This team has built some serious depth.
No Kei Kamara, no problem. Who needs Federico Higuain anyway? Oh, Pipa's replacement is going to have to leave in the first half? That's okay, let's just bring a national team player off the bench.
The replacements for Kamara and Higauin combined on the first goal after Mohammed Saeid capitalized on a bad giveaway by United and found Jack McInerney with space. All the forward had to do was beat one of the league's best goalkeepers with a shot off the post to open the scoring.
McInerney was active throughout the game, pushing the offside line and causing all sorts of issues for the D.C. defense. He could have had another goal and maybe another assist as well.
Meanwhile, Kevan George played a role he doesn't typically fall into for the club - he was your Tony Tchani once Saeid went off - and did so well. If he strikes the ball a little cleaner at the beginning of the second half, he could have bagged his first MLS goal. The midfielder went in there and did his job, which is all you can ask of a player like that was called into duty far earlier than he imagined.
Depth can be a big factor in the postseason and Crew SC are proving to have it in bunches.
Possession is Real
The Black & Gold know how to kill off a game.
The stats only show Crew SC with 60.9-percent of the possession on the day, but the final third of the game was all Columbus on the ball.
On the television broadcast, Fox Sport's Alexi Lalas even made a comment about how D.C. needed to get the ball, or even touch it. I'm surprised there weren't more "Oley's" coming from the Nordecke over that final period.
This is again something that could be important heading into the playoffs. If Crew SC can get a lead in the later stages of one of their upcoming matches, possession can be key to turning that into a win, especially on the road.
While the back line looks better, the best Black & Gold defense has always been not allowing the other team the ball. They did that against United not. Not that it really mattered at that point.
Gregg Berhalter Knows What He's Doing
There were questions raised about the Crew SC head coach last year, but those quieted down around this time due to the run the team made to close out the regular season. In his second season in charge, a much more up-and-down season, more questions were asked.
Stop asking questions.
In his first year, Berhalter returned the Black & Gold to the postseason. In his second year, he took it a step forward by finishing a place ahead of where he did last year and a point better off.
The next step is winning a playoff series, but we'll worry about that in a few days. Columbus won't even know who the team faces until mid week.
D.C. Ain't Legit
This isn't your mom and pops' D.C. United team. While I don't want to take anything away from what Columbus did yesterday, it's never easy to put up five goals in a game, I'm not buying D.C. as a team capable of making a playoff run.
Yes, they were atop the Eastern Conference for four months of the regular season, but they just don't have whatever they did during that span any more. United has four wins since the beginning of August and just never looked dangerous yesterday.
While Crew SC certainly should be happy with a 5-0 win over any team going to the playoffs, I wouldn't be surprised if the New England Revolution take care of business in the nation's capital, setting up a rematch of last year's playoff series - yes, I believe in the Fighting Drogbas.