After 34 matches in 32 weeks, the MLS Cup Playoffs are finally upon us, and the Crew is in the mix despite a major offseason overhaul that left many doubting whether they could compete this year.

After 34 matches in 32 weeks, the MLS Cup Playoffs are finally upon us, and the Crew is in the mix despite a major offseason overhaul that left many doubting whether they could compete this year.

It was rarely pretty, but this new-look Crew held its own and then some. The plucky squad of rookies, journeymen and oddballs climbed all the way to the top of the (admittedly inferior) Eastern Conference for a good chunk of the season before evening out their fortunes with a late-season swoon that nearly cost them their playoff spot.

When all was said and done, they made it to the playoffs - barely. And barely is all it takes, particularly in MLS.

Columbus could have guaranteed a home playoff appearance this weekend by winning at Chicago last Saturday. Having fallen to the Fire 3-2, the Crew was reduced to wild card status, which means their postseason begins Thursday in Denver.

It could end Thursday, unless they can avenge last year's playoff loss to the Colorado Rapids. They'll attempt that feat in potential sub-freezing temperatures, at high altitude, in a traditionally unwelcoming locale (all-time record at Colorado: 3-11-4), without suspended midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who earned his second yellow card Saturday for plowing butt-first into Chicago's Dominic Oduro.

Should they survive the trip to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the Crew will host the first leg of a home-and-home series with one of the conference champions Sunday. That hypothetical contest would be the Crew's only home game of the playoffs, after which they'd need to take care of business on the road twice more to qualify for MLS Cup.

It's a rough road, but if any professional tournament is primed for a downright gory streak of upheavals, it's the MLS Cup Playoffs, which have been prone to a March Madness-like excess of upsets in recent years. Consider last year's champion Rapids, the seventh seed out of eight teams, and 2009 cup winners Real Salt Lake, seeded eighth out of eight.

In that light, the Crew's chances are as good as anybody's in these playoffs. Back in March, nobody thought they would be in the playoffs; now, nobody thinks they'll hoist MLS Cup. But barely is all it takes.