Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

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When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

What we love about Tottenham

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up is Tottenham.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Time to take a closer look at Spurs.


Harry Kane: Since emerging in the first-team scene under Mauricio Pochettino during the 2014-15 campaign, Harry Kane has skyrocketed in Tottenham’s list of greats. The Spurs youth product hit the ground running under the Argentine, finishing as the club’s leading goalscorer of the aforementioned season, and becoming an instant fan favorite.

Kane – who is currently recovering from a left hamstring injury – didn’t stop there; he made sure he was far removed from being a one-hit wonder. As a result, the 26-year-old has lead Spurs in scoring for five straight seasons, placing him third in Tottenham’s all-time goalscoring list. Outside of Jermaine Defoe, no other player in Spurs’ modern day history has had such impact on the offensive side of the game. 

Jose Mourinho: Wherever Jose Mourinho goes, the lights and cameras follow. That reality is no different at Tottenham, as the storied Portuguese manager has brought all of his pros and cons with him to Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium.

After runs with Chelsea and Manchester United, one might have thought that his and Spurs’ paths would never cross, but in November 2019, after Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking, Mourinho became the boss at Tottenham. Life thus far at the helm of the north London side hasn’t been ideal for him, crashing out of Champions League play and sitting eighth on the table. But a manager of Mourinho’s stature is definitely not worth crossing off – whether he’d be at Chelsea, Manchester United ⬇️or Spurs.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: In addition to having a proven goalscorer and manager in their ranks, Tottenham have the privilege of playing home games in England’s newest and most technologically advanced football stadium: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The 62,000-capacity state-of-the-art stadium features a retractable field, a microbrewery, an in-house bakery, heated seats with USB ports, the longest bar in the UK among others unimaginable extras for a sports venue. The stadium opened in April 2019, and replaced the legendary White Hart Lane.

What we love about Watford

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up is Watford.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Time to take a closer look at the Hornets.


Troy Deeney: Troy Deeney is – and has been – the face of Watford since his move from Walsall in 2010. A move that came about after Deeney, a Birmingham native and Birmingham City supporter growing up, submitted a written transfer request to exit a then-League One side to make his way to the Championship. His first year at Vicarage, however, was rough. The striker managed to score only two goals in 36 league appearances, raising questions about whether or not Deeney was built survive outside England’s third division.

Since that trying first year with the Hornets, Deeney hasn’t looked back, making his way into the “Watford’s best players ever” conversation with a remarkable 129 goals in 388 appearances. Only club legends Luther Blissett – considered by many as the best Hornet ever – and John Barnes have more top-flight gals than Deeney himself. 

Historical, last-gasp win against Leicester City: May 2013, Vicarage Road. Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert goes down in the box after minimal contact with a Watford defender. A penalty is called in the visitor’s favor. The aggregate stands at 2-2 as the clocks ticks the final seconds of a two-legged Championship play-off semifinal between the Hornets and the Foxes. Knockaert’s shot from the spot – directed right down the middle, with pace – is blocked. His second chance as well. Watford recover and immediately go back the other way.

 

Only seconds remain before the head official sends the match to penalty kicks, but Watford is looking for the final blow. Fernando Forestieri desperately sends a textbook cross inside the box. Jonathan Hogg meets the ball midair and heads it into an incoming Deeney, who seals a goal – and celebration – for the ages.

The Watford-Elton John connection: While Manchester City may have Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher rooting them on, Watford count on the support of multi-generational musician Elton John. A lifelong Hornet supporter, the English rock legend has done more than just “support” the club from the stands, though. 

In 1976, Elton John became Watford’s chairman and director. He eventually sold the club in 1987 before re-purchasing it a decade later from Jack Petchey. John no longer owns his childhood team, but he remains a part of the club as the honorary life-president.

Premier League Rivalries: North London derby

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One of England’s longest-running and most competitive encounters, the North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal makes for one of greatest rivalries in Premier League.

The matchup dates back to the early 20th century and has added tons of thrilling chapters to its book of history. Since the start of the Premier League era, both clubs are constantly competing not only to outdo one another but to make a name for themselves at the top echelons of European football.

The North London derby is much more than two rivals facing off for 90 minutes, it’s the dichotomy between the two ways of living in modern-day north London.

Pro Soccer Talk’s Joe Prince-Wright dives into the derbies origin, its development and its actual reality.

The 2 Robbies Podcast: Adapting to life without football

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Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe touch base on how their each adapting to day-to-day life without any professional football action worldwide amid the coronavirus pandemic (0:40), how the game moves forward from here (4:50) and what certain players, coaches and teams have done to help out amid trying times (14:00). Plus, discussion on what they’ve been doing to stay active and healthy while living safely in isolation (23:00).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]