Just like last year, the Columbus Crew came out blazing in the home leg of its opening round playoff series, only to flame out in crunch time.

Just like last year, the Columbus Crew came out blazing in the home leg of its opening round playoff series, only to flame out in crunch time.

After Columbus seized a 2-1 series lead on goals by Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers, they let the Colorado Rapids back into contention by surrendering a late Conor Casey goal. After two scoreless overtime periods, the Crew crumbled in the shootout when Brian Carroll's deciding kick soared miles above the crossbar.

Now Columbus must figure out how to tinker this core of players back to championship status - or where to position the explosives when they blow things up and start over.

Some pressing issues:

(1) Finishing. Even in the glory days of 2008, the Crew lacked an assassin to rack up double-digit goals. The lack of finishing prowess came back to bite them Saturday. The Crew opened with an offensive onslaught that should have left them up 5-0, but they failed to convert some golden chances. Acquiring a born goal-scorer must be a priority.

(2) Outside backs. Veteran defenders Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula are fading, and based on his embarrassing performance Saturday, rookie Shaun Francis might not be a long-term solution. Furthermore, three months ago the Crew traded Jed Zayner, who went on to become DC United's defender of the year, for a measly draft pick. With the cupboard bare, that trade looks dumber than ever.

(3) What to do about Guillermo? Former MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto told South American publication Ole he was leaning toward retirement but later said he would like to return next year. Is he in the Crew's plans?

Schelotto played like a champ Saturday, but he seemed to lose some sparkle this season, causing coach Robert Warzycha to express frustration. Crew brass should think long and hard about how they handle their living legend.

"Leastern Conference"

The Western Conference was significantly stronger than the East this year, and MLS playoff seeds reflected that disparity, with all four wild card squads hailing from the West. Now that Columbus and New York lost in the Eastern semifinals, all four remaining playoff teams hail from the West. Bizarrely, that means Colorado and San Jose will square off for the Eastern Conference title Saturday, a day before Los Angeles and Dallas spar for the Western crown.

The Crew's Jason Garey hits the ground during a playoff game against the Colorado Rapids. Fred Squillante/Dispatch photo