By: McLeod Brown
So it all comes down to this. The MLS Cup final will take place on Sunday at 4 p.m. as the Columbus Crew will play host to the Portland Timbers. Neither team entered the playoffs as the number one seed in their respective conferences. And neither team got to this point easily, with each being extremely close to elimination in the semifinals.
The Timbers held off a furious rally from FC Dallas in the second leg of their series, with Dallas forcing Portland’s hand when they cut the aggregate score to 4-3 on Blas Perez’s goal late in the game. Lucas Melano provided the finisher for the visitors, however, as he literally dribbled the ball into the net following some beautiful footwork, sending the No. 3 seed from the Western Conference to their first even MLS Cup final.
The Crew were even closer to being ousted in the semifinals, as they clung to a 2-0 aggregate lead entering their second leg against the No. 1-seeded New York Red Bulls. After holding off the Red Bulls for most of the game, the home team notched a goal off of Anatole Abang’s header three minutes into stoppage time. The Crew avoided a serious collapse just minutes later, when Bradley Wright-Phillips’ header came within literally inches of sending the game into overtime, only to bounce off the right post and rip the hearts out of the New York faithful.
So brings us to your 2015 MLS Cup final. The teams played each other once during the regular season, with the Timbers prevailing 2-1 when Fanendo Ali’s second goal of the afternoon pushed them ahead in the 50th minute.
Each team has progressed excessively since that late September meeting however, with each riding obvious hot streaks to the final.
The two teams really couldn’t be much more of polar opposites on the pitch, with Columbus scoring the most goals of any team in the regular season, while the Timbers scored less than all but three squads. What the Timbers lack in scoring, though, they make up in a stud backline headed by Nat Borchers and his glorious beard alongside ex-Premier League star Liam Ridgwell.
The X-factor for Portland, albeit not really much of a surprise since he led the team in scoring this season with 16 goals, will be Adi. The man who pushed the Timbers ahead of the Crew in their last meeting will need to be just as threatening in his team’s most important game of, not only their season, but in their history to date. Adi was forced to leave the team’s game against Dallas in the 85th minute with a stinger, but is reported to be good to go for Sunday.
For Columbus, Michael Parkhurst is the man to watch for the home team. While Kei Kamara and the Crew attackers receive much of the praise, you’d be hard-pressed to find a harder worker than the defender Parkhurst. A possible reason why he always seems to be sprinting relentlessly? Parkhurst has 20 games of playoff experience, but no championship to show for it. The defender went to three consecutive MLS Cup Finals with the New England Revolution in the mid-2000s, but lost each time. That’ll make anyone determined to reverse their fortunes.
So who’s the supposed favorite to win the 2015 MLS Cup? It’s hard to say, and that’s what makes this game so exciting. Both teams specialize in completely different areas, the Timbers on defense, the Crew on offense. One will be forced to break Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPN. Just do yourself a favor and be sure to tune in and watch. Soccer is growing rapidly in the United States. Sunday will show you why.