It all ended prematurely in 2014. Columbus Crew SC came into the MLS Cup Playoffs with high hopes and big dreams and the door was slammed shut on all of those.
"Our first playoff game, we were a little naïve, we didn't show up well, and we paid the price," captain and center defender Michael Parkhurst said of last year. "It was almost over after those 90 minutes realistically."
Despite being one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer to end the season, the Black & Gold ran into a buzz saw with more experience in the New England Revolution in the opening round.
A 4-2 loss in the home leg of the series was not what head coach Gregg Berhalter and his team envisioned as they prepared for the club's first playoff game since 2011.
While a 4-2 loss at home was bad, the second leg in New England was even worse. Columbus lost the second leg 3-1, including a red card to midfielder Justin Meram, sending Crew SC packing from the playoffs with their tails between their legs.
It was a learning experience for a team that had little understand of the how the playoffs worked and how you have to approach the games.
"We definitely learned from it," Parkhurst said. "It's tough to have success in this league in the postseason without experience and we learned it last year."
Sometimes it takes being knocked down for a team to really get back up. This year, the Black & Gold have used last year's disappointment and the way it felt sitting in the bowels of Gillette Stadium losers as motivation.
"For me, coming into this team last year and seeing the way the team ended up in the playoffs and really unhappy and felt like they should have had more," forward Kei Kamara said. "That was definitely a motivation going into preseason and the way we've played all year."
While Kamara wasn't officially on the Columbus roster for the playoff debacle due to the international transfer window, he had been working with the team for some time. He saw how letdown his teammates were and worked hard to make sure that didn't happen again this year.
The addition of Kamara and his 22 goals this season certainly helped Crew SC in its quest to return to the playoffs, but the team as a whole had a drive that may not have been there a year ago.
Not everything went smoothly in 2015. As is true in nearly every sports season, there were bumps in the road, but the players never waivered from the belief that this team was something special.
Throughout the year, the team never changed its approach and they finished the regular season better in points and positioning than the previous campaign.
"We've played some of the best soccer in the whole league and the way we translate that, there's no reason why we shouldn't be in the Final," Kamara said.
The Black & Gold dispatched of the league's hottest team, the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before sending home the Supporter's Shield-winning New York Red Bulls to book a place in the Final.
Saturday against the Portland Timbers will mark the first time Crew SC has been in the MLS Cup Final since the club won in 2008. This is where the Black & Gold believe they belong and have used their year of experience and some disappointment to catapult to this point.