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Columbus Crew SC looking to build on the 2017 experience

Every step of this year will help the club to come back stronger next season.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York City at Columbus Crew Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC is still with heavy hearths as the team had its second MLS Cup run in three years stopped, this time by Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 1-0 defeat at BMO Field on Wednesday ended the dream, but did not erase the accomplishments the Black & Gold achieved in 2017.

Last season, at this same time of the year, Crew SC was on vacations for over a month as the team failed to reach the playoffs for the first time under head coach Gregg Berhalter’.

The Black & Gold bounced back strongly in 2017, collecting 18 more points than in last year’s disappointing regular season campaign and falling to the best team in MLS history by the slimmest of the margins.

“I think we did a good job of building something throughout the course of this year,” Berhalter commented following the defeat. “MLS is tough, the Eastern Conference was brutal, really tough. For us to go through some of the teams we did and end up on this position was good, but, to be honest, we are not satisfied. We believed that we could win, we believed that we could be in the final and we are not and that hurts.”

Crew SC was tasked with challenging series in the playoffs and responded well, even in the elimination against Toronto. In the first round, the Black & Gold strived against the ultra-hyped Atlanta United, sustaining a scoreless draw on regular time and overtime to advance in the penalty kicks in front of over 67,000 rival fans in Georgia.

In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Crew SC impressed in the first leg against a David Villa-led New York City FC playing high-level soccer and building a comfortable 4-1 lead. The team struggled in the second leg, but ultimately showed resilience to get the job done.

And against Toronto, the balance prevailed for 150 minutes, until a play involving three difference-makers in the league gave the Canadians the only goal of the series, which sent them to the MLS Cup Final.

“These games mean so much,” defender Josh Williams said. “You can't buy stuff like this, you can't teach stuff like this, you can't learn this on a training pitch. You've got to be battling out there, you've got to experience the environment, you've got to be 1-0 down and trying to push, you've got to defend a lead in New York, those are all things that are building blocks and I think those are things to build on”.

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to take a deep breath and move forward. But it’s definitely reassuring to give the next step when you have something to build from and that’s the case for Crew SC.

Captain Wil Trapp, one of steadiest players for the Black & Gold during the season, was extremely realistic when assessing the team’s progress in 2017 — which included a 12-match unbeaten run — and how it will impact whatever Crew SC targets next season.

“There's lots of positives to take away but there's a lot of things we can improve on,” he said. “I think it's good that we're disappointed, it shows how much belief we had, how in this season we have progressed as a group in our camaraderie, in our spirit, and our faith on each other continuing to grow until the last minute. It's by no means an ending point for us, it's a lot of new guys this year and I think it's only going to improve”.

Between now and the start of the new season, though, there is still the offseason. It will be an important period of time, especially for the coaching staff and the front office as the team will lose some players, add others and make adjustments for 2018.

To goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who came up big when Crew SC most needed him, it’s important that the team picks up where it left off and that means remaining sharp and focused, even with the next game likely not scheduled for three months from now.

“There's always ups and downs and we have to go back and look at those little pieces that we might need,” the shot-stopped noted. “We are going to come back and try to transition this year into next year and come out in the season and start sort of hot.

“I'm going to take a few weeks off, but then I'm going to get back on the horse. I want to get better, I want to be in the final next year, we all do. I know it's going to be a quick offseason and it's good. “

With everything in place and the 2017 experience to build from, the plan for Crew SC to the next season is very clear.

"We get better,” Berhalter stated. “Every time you want to get better, every season you want to get better and our job now is to get better and build a better team for next season”.