The six best things about the best/worst season ever

Well, it had to happen eventually. The end — though not The End, thank the soccer gods — is upon us.

With a season-ending 3-0 shellacking by the New York Red Bulls, the Crew has crashed out of the MLS Cup playoffs — losing the Eastern Conference semi-finals 3-1 in aggregate.

The season is, sadly, over. The legend, however, remains, and the bond between club and players has only grown stronger.

WOW. What a team, what a season.

A year ago, did you ever think we'd have an ending like this? That we'd #SaveTheCrew? And that the team would then rally behind us and, feeling inspired, almost Goliath the Red Bulls, the greatest-ever MLS regular season team?

Even without hardware, I'm already nostalgic for this season. I know I'm going to be talking about it for the rest of my life.

As of now, these are my six favorite things from the 2018 Columbus Crew season. (Subject to change with age.)

Watching a penalty shootout with Zach Steffen in goal

I've probably never been as confident in anything as I was in watching a penalty kick shootout with Zach Steffen in goal and knowing the soon-to-be-struck ball would, most likely, not get past Zach Steffen.

Realizing Jonathan Mensah is growing on me

Look, I'm not saying Mensah was a reliable, rock-solid defender all year, or even for much of the season. But there was definitely a moment this season when I found myself more concerned over who was paired with Mensah than with Mensah himself being in the lineup. And that seemed like a revelation.

The anti-climactic return of Justin Meram

Few Crew returns have thrilled me like Meram's, so, yeah, I was completely convinced he'd return to his pre-Orlando production rate in his second stint here. This, of course, didn't happen. Meram didn't light the league on fire, or even, really, a single net. But Meram's black and gold through and through, and I'm still pleased as hell to have him back.

Growing confidence in the back line

The Crew's defense ended the season as one of the league's top 10 stingiest. And with everyone but, potentially, Steffen returning, I'm pretty thrilled. For once I don't have to spend an offseason amateur-scouting obscure Scandinavian teams or scouring South American continents for the Crew's next left back.

The gloriousness of Pipa's playoff beard

Not sure what else to say about this, frankly. It is what it is. The beard speaks for itself.

The least gut-punchy of losses

This isn't to say the playoff loss to the Red Bulls wasn't devastating — especially given my hopes heading into the game, which extended even deep into the second half. (Read my texts for receipts.) In fact, I was still hungover with grief all Monday morning. But I also recalled how, at a certain point this season, I was simply happy to have another Crew game to watch. Let alone entire future seasons.

And now that it's sunk in that the season is over, I'm realizing one more reason to celebrate: All future seasons will be Anthony Precourt-less seasons. After everything we've gone through this year, I'll be damned if that one doesn't feel like the biggest win of all.