Thirty MLS matches. Eight CONCACAF Champions League contests. Four U.S. Open Cup games. One exhausted Crew.

Thirty MLS matches. Eight CONCACAF Champions League contests. Four U.S. Open Cup games. One exhausted Crew.

After a grueling seven months that ran Columbus ragged, the playoffs are here at last.

While the Crew dominated MLS in 2009 only to get burned by sub-.500 Real Salt Lake in the playoffs, the Black and Gold may be poised to use the fresh start to their advantage this year. A mojo-restoring 3-1 win over Philadelphia in Sunday's season finale seemed to reverse the 0-3-3 freefall that cost Columbus the Eastern Conference title.

They'll test their renewed mettle against the wild card Colorado Rapids in a two-game home-and-home series decided by adding up the scores from both games. Whoever advances will face the winner of the New York-San Jose series in the East championship en route to the MLS Cup on Nov. 21 in Toronto.

Columbus Crew

14-8-8, 50 points (2nd in Eastern Conference)

Colorado Rapids

12-8-10, 46 points (5th in Western Conference)

Momentum: The Crew looked electric in downing expansion Philadelphia 3-1 in the season's final match. Columbus may be regaining form just in time for a playoff run. The Rapids enter on the heels of a stomach-punch collapse against rival Real Salt Lake.

Keeper concerns: William Hesmer, who started all 30 MLS matches for Columbus, exited Sunday's match with a fractured shoulder (leaving midfielder Eddie Gaven to hilariously don the keeper's jersey for the last 10 minutes) and will miss the playoffs.

Good thing backup Andy Gruenebaum started 10 Champions League and Open Cup contests. Colorado's Matt Pickens may be shaken after his blunder let Salt Lake back into the game Saturday.

Home - field advantage: Colorado must make the most of its home game, and several factors suggest they will. The Crew has traditionally played poorly in Denver, tallying a 3-8-4 all-time road record versus the Rapids. And a trip out West for the opening leg of last year's playoffs left Columbus in a hole against Real Salt Lake. Furthermore, the last thing the road-weary Crew needs is another short week followed by a long journey.

Prediction: Columbus guts out a draw in the Rockies and returns home for a commanding victory. Next stop: Red Bull Arena.