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

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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.

[ MORE: Men in Blazers — MLS Cup preview special with Borchers, Kamara ]

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)

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

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.

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.

Benfica: Atletico Madrid make $143 million bid for Felix

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The legend of Joao Felix appears to have reached full market value potential.

The 19-year-old Portuguese striker is coming off a breakout year for Benfica, and now the Portuguese giants have received an impressive $143 million offer from Atletico Madrid for Felix. The club confirmed the offer in a statement on its website, stating it was analyzing the deal. Felix has a $136.5 million release clause in his contract, but it appears the additional $7 million is in processing costs.

[READ: Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid]

Felix was outstanding at Benfica last year, scoring 15 goals with seven assists in 26 league games and three goals and one assist in five Europa League game. Felix has already made his international debut for Portugal.

If confirmed, Felix would become the fifth-most expensive transfer in world history, and the second-most expensive transfer for a teenager behind Kylian Mbappe.