The Crew ended the regular season almost as poorly as they began it. Fortunately for Columbus, the middle was so strong that the team still secured the Supporters' Shield and the top seed in the MLS playoffs beginning this week.

The Crew ended the regular season almost as poorly as they began it. Fortunately for Columbus, the middle was so strong that the team still secured the Supporters' Shield and the top seed in the MLS playoffs beginning this week.

Still, this team is stumbling into the postseason with all the grace of a hobo a dozen guzzles deep.

They racked up a 1-3 record in league play throughout October, during which their only goal came by accident off the foot of defender Gino Padula. Two of those losses came in the once impenetrable fortress of Crew Stadium.

Whether Columbus has been comfortably coasting or just stuck in a rut, they need to snap out of it fast if they hope to repeat as MLS Cup champions. A two-game aggregate-goals playoff series begins Saturday.

The Crew faces a Real Salt Like squad that, despite their obnoxious name, has a lot going for them. Back in April, Jason Kreis' team delivered the nadir of Columbus' pitiful season-opening stretch, battering the Crew 4-1. (Columbus later answered with a 3-1 win at home.)

Real begins the series at home, where they tallied a 9-1-5 record this season. And they're riding the momentum of a convincing 3-0 victory over rival Colorado to clinch a playoff spot.

This should be much tighter than your average No. 1-vs.-No. 8 matchup. Who to keep an eye on:

Robbie Findley, F, Real Salt Lake Crew-killer Findley is responsible for four of Salt Lake's five goals against Columbus this season, and he netted two against Colorado last weekend. Findley taunted the Nordecke during his last visit to Crew Stadium.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto, F, Columbus Schelotto led the Crew with 12 goals this year, but he's been inconsistent, a shadow of the player he was during last season's MVP campaign. Some of the Crew's most potent attacking performances happened with Schelotto on the bench, but in order to advance, they'll have to remember how to finish when Guille's on the pitch.

Kyle Beckerman, M, Real Salt Lake It'll be tough to miss Beckerman's nappy dreads and just as tough to neutralize the Salt Lake captain in central midfield. The Crew's core corps of Brian Carroll, Danny O'Rourke and Adam Moffat will have their work cut out for them.

William Hesmer, G, Columbus Hesmer has been nursing injuries for weeks. What's worse, the usually formidable goalkeeper seems to be playing a bit scared lately and allowing some weak goals. He'll have to recapture his mojo to combat Salt Lake's powerful attack.