MLS Cup 2015 preview: Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers

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Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers
When: Sunday, 4 p.m. ET
Where: MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Live updates: NBCSports.com

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This. Is. It. On Sunday, nine months to the day from when the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire kicked off the 2015 Major League Soccer season, Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers will do battle for the 2015 MLS Cup trophy at MAPFRE Stadium, putting to bed the 20th MLS season. Two decades of soccer, over just like that.

We’ve already talked at great length about who’s the favorite in Sunday’s showdown (READ HERE), what winning a championship in their first MLS Cup appearance would mean for the Timbers (READ HERE), and the challenges Crew SC pose to one of the league’s stingiest defenses all season (READ HERE).

On one side you’ve Crew SC, led by Kei Kamara‘s 22 goals during the regular season (three more during the playoffs, including series-winners in each of the conference semifinals and conference finals), and Ethan Finlay’s 13 assists (5th-most in the regular season) and 12 goals. Federico Higuain (8 goals, 9 assists) and Justin Meram (6 goals, 5 assists) round out one of the most potent attacking quartets in all of MLS. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, arguably the best midfield duo in MLS, provide the foundation for everything from deep in midfield. Don’t mistake full backs Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful for wingers, though they’ll spend a good chunk of Sunday’s game overlapping into the final third. Michael Parkhurst and Gaston Sauro are the men in the middle of defense, with Steve Clark in goal.

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For the Timbers, Fanendo Adi is the main man, with 16 goals during the regular season and two more during the playoffs. From there, it’s a massive drop-off in production, but not quality — Darlington Nagbe (5 and 5), ever the enigma, and Diego Valeri (8 and 2) check in with a combined 20 goals scored and assisted. Rodney Wallace (1 and 7) and Dairon Asprilla (1 and 2 during the regular season; 1 and 3 during the playoffs) provide the width and service for the big Nigerian striker. It’ll be Diego Chara on something of an island deeper in midfield, counted on to shield the center backs, Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, who’s expected to be available after a calf injury forced him to miss the second leg of the conference finals, from the Crew SC quartet of attackers. Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell are the full backs who, like their counterparts, will be all-action up and down the flanks all game long. MLS Save of the Year-winner Adam Kwarasey is the man between the posts.

There will be wide-open soccer; there will be lots of chances for both sides; there will even be a handful of goals on Sunday — it won’t be like the typical cagey affair in a Cup final where both sides spend forever feeling each other out and are afraid to make a mistake. Forcing mistakes and pouncing on them is the name of the game for both of these sides.

Regular season: Crew SC 1-2 Timbers — Sept. 26 (Goalscorers: Kamara, Adi – x2)
Injuries: CLB — QUESTIONABL: Kristinn Steindorsson (knee), Romain Gall (hip) | POR — QUESTIONABLE: Ben Zemanski (knee), Liam Ridgewell (calf)

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Prediction: Crew SC 3-1 Timbers — Too much offensive firepower, paired with a rabid defensive approach, from Crew SC will too much for the Timbers to handle. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a world in which Kamara doesn’t score a goal (or two) in this game. There’s also multiple set-piece goals waiting to be scored in this one.