Since that massive and magical 2008 season, the Crew has been the class of MLS.

Since that massive and magical 2008 season, the Crew has been the class of MLS.

They won the Supporters Shield (best regular-season record) and MLS Cup in ’08 and followed with another Supporters Shield in ’09 before flaming out of the playoffs at the hands of eventual cup-winners Real Salt Lake. Meanwhile, Columbus was the only MLS team to advance past the group stage of CONCACAF Champions League play in 2009.

Goalkeeper William Hesmer made a good point earlier this year when he noted that although Salt Lake eliminated Columbus last season, a sub-.500 team that got hot in the playoffs shouldn’t be viewed as the cream of the crop, trophy or no trophy.

Though Hesmer’s remarks rang true, Salt Lake later used them as bulletin board fare. And the concept might come back to bite the Crew now that they’ve been trounced twice in a row by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

L.A. topped the Crew in Columbus on May 29, nabbing an early goal and withstanding a game-long barrage before an insurance goal sealed a 2-0 win. It was a classic grind-out road victory that suggested the Crew’s position atop MLS might be slipping.

The stakes were higher Saturday at the Home Depot Center, with control of the Supporters Shield race at risk. Perched atop their respective conferences, Columbus and L.A. brought identical 13-5-5 records into the game, but any illusions of equality were put to rest with a decisive 3-1 Galaxy triumph.

On the same field where they were officially anointed MLS champs, Columbus ceded its reputation as top dog. At this point, there’s little question that Bruce Arena’s Galaxy is the team to beat.

Columbus could still rebound to win the Supporters Shield, but unless they topple L.A. in the MLS Cup, it’s going to be tough to take the Crew seriously as the league’s finest. And with the superstar-infused New York Red Bulls creeping up in the Eastern standings and the memory of last year’s playoff collapse still lingering, there’s no guarantee of even making it to the MLS Cup.

Yes, the Crew has been knocked off the MLS throne, and they’ll have to regain that massive poise and tenacity to claw their way back.