Ghosts of playoffs past

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

With the Crew in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, memories of the days

when Columbus was a perennial postseason staple might have become cloudy. But the club actually has a significant playoff history. As the regular season winds down and a shot at glory looms, let's revisit the times the team fell just short. --Chris DeVille

1996: After rattling off 10 straight wins to qualify on the last day of the season, just making the playoffs seemed like an accomplishment. (At the time, only two of the league's 10 teams missed the postseason, so really, to be eliminated would have been a tougher task.) Roy Lassiter, Carlos Valderrama and the first-place Tampa Bay Mutiny ended that magical run in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beating the Crew 4-1 in the rubber match of a three-game series.

1997: The Crew swept Tampa Bay, avenging the previous year's playoffs, then faced defending champion DC United in the conference finals. DC dispatched Columbus with ease, winning 3-2 and 1-0 en route to hoisting a second straight MLS Cup.

1998: After sweeping New York out of the playoffs, Columbus met DC again for a chance at the MLS Cup. Despite winning 4-2 in the series' second match, the Crew collapsed in the crucial third outing and United prevailed again.

1999: Another year, another loss in the conference finals to hated nemesis DC United. This time even the Crew's 5-1 victory in the series' second game wasn't enough to keep DC from downing Columbus.

2001: After missing the postseason for the first time in 2000, the Crew was back in contention in 2001. A new playoff configuration that disregarded geography found them facing West Coast foe the San Jose Earthquakes in the first round, only to be swept by a young Landon Donovan and the eventual champions.

2002: Columbus knocked out San Jose in businesslike fashion but suffered through a bizarre three-game series that found them tying twice at New England and dropping a home match to the Revolution 1-0. (Why they allowed ties in a three-game series remains one of the league's great mysteries.)

2004: The Crew finished with the league's best record and was riding a 17-game unbeaten streak. (Yeah, nine of those results were ties, but the feat remains a league record.) By now, MLS had adopted its current playoff system, which pits teams in soccer's traditional two-game, home-and-home aggregate series. After losing 1-0 in New England, Columbus needed to win by one in the series' home leg to force an overtime period or by two to win outright. But the beloved Ross Paule and the hated Tony Sanneh both squandered penalty kicks as a 1-1 tie eliminated Columbus.