It's nearly time for the 14 clubs that earned an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs place to start battling for MLS Cup, and there's just one thing we can say for certain at this juncture: only one will lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy in utter elation on Dec. 11. The other 13 will feel a disappointment that's bound to last until the 2022 season's first kick rolls around (or beyond).

But along that emotional spectrum, some clubs need to win MLS Cup. Like now. As we always do about this time, let's talk about three outfits feeling most desperate to finally get the job done this go-around.

As you continue on in this article, you'll surely notice all three top spots in the "end the misery!" index compete in the Eastern Conference. Before you Westerners angrily break out any tales of woe, do allow me to explain. The reality is that five of the West's playoff entrants have combined to take home half of the last dozen MLS Cup crowns, it's too soon for Minnesota United supporters to be so jaded and, well, few expected much from Vancouver when 2021 began. Basically, there's a lot of house money going on the table from that conference.

Not quite in the East, where they boast one serious case of championship yearning, and two other clubs headed in that direction via the postseason heartbreak express lane.

Eastern Conference Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs preview

Thanks to alphabetical order, we begin with the obvious choice, the club whose collective heart will hurt the most if their playoff run concludes with anything other than a confetti-laden trophy ceremony at Gillette Stadium. Revs fans waited just shy of 26 whole seasons for the team to claim its first league trophy, and MLS Cup near-misses have darn near become this franchise's calling card.

Only the Galaxy have featured in more title matches than New England (five so far), and no one has settled for as many as their five runner-up finishes. And for the younger MLS fans reading this, trust me when I say the Revs have found about every heartbreaking way to lose an MLS Cup that one can think up. Extra time (three times actually), penalty shootout, sudden late collapse... you name it.

That quick history lesson brings us up to the current side, which just completed the best-ever regular season via a record-setting 73 points. Led by boss-level MLS trophy hunter Bruce Arena, they've already earned their first Supporters' Shield and a 2022 Concacaf Champions League spot. There's a very good chance a couple individual awards will soon enough follow. They'll enter the postseason on a rampant 15W-2L-4D run. So yeah, heading home empty-handed yet again will hurt like a dagger to the soul Mariana Trench-deep.

For those who don't know, I'm a lifelong St. Louis Blues diehard. For a half-century, that meant routinely watching them be one of the NHL's best regular-season teams and even more routinely watching them find miserable ways to blow it big time when the playoffs start. Now, NYCFC fans certainly don't have that long a track record of postseason letdown, but I'm quite sure they see clearly where I was going with that.

The Bronx bombers have now posted six consecutive winning seasons, and have not finished lower than eighth in the overall MLS table since their expansion campaign back in 2015. They've twice been Supporters' Shield runners-up and have finished among the East's top three sides four times. And in that span, they've chalked up one playoff round win. Over the last five seasons, that's fewer postseason wins than Montréal, fewer than Houston and the same amount as both Orlando City and Vancouver. Not counting 2020's Play-In round, each of those teams have made it to the playoffs just one time during the span in question.

If NYCFC backers weren't feeling cursed before that last paragraph, they definitely are now. As a St. Louis Blues fan who often replays the glory of their supremely cathartic 2019 Stanley Cup win and the resulting parade celebration of a lifetime with misty eyes and a newfound sense of calm, I can promise there's only one way to shake that icky cursed feeling. And it's best to do it before it gets way out of hand.

The Union are the only team to hold their place from last year's list of the desperate three, and for very good reason. They followed up 2020's historic Supporters' Shield capture by face-planting out of the playoffs at the first hurdle. That harsh episode extended a trend that has seen the franchise come up with a grand total of one postseason victory in its 11 years of existence. Can you say "WOOF"?

Add all that onto their US Open Cup traumas (three dropped finals) and one can easily see why this franchise has a major knockouts monkey to get off their back. Of course, they also have one of the best defenses in the league, a deep and impactful midfield that is a serious handful for any opponent and a netminder capable of eliminating foes single-handedly in Andre Blake. They also have an attack that seems to be peaking at the right time (1.88 goals per game over their last eight, after netting 1.27 over the first 26 games of the season).

In other words, Jim Curtin's boys are quite capable. This time around, Philadelphia enter postseason play as the No. 2 seed. They could have a great opportunity to exact revenge on New England for last year's rude home ouster (provided no one else knocks the Revs out before the Conference Final). They ride into the playoffs on solid form, and should fully understand why their home city won't be so brotherly if they toss another postseason flop on the pile.