MLS Team of the Playoffs — Stars of MLS Cup Playoffs 2015

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That’s it. It’s all over. MLS Cup 2015 was won by the Portland Timbers on Sunday, bringing to end the 2015 Major League Soccer season.

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Not without one final MLS Team of the Week Playoffs, though. Unsurprisingly, this year’s Team of the Playoffs is heavy on players from the Timbers and Columbus Crew SC, Sunday’s finalists, with a few conference semifinalists sprinkled throughout.

[ MORE: Timbers top Crew SC to lift first MLS Cup trophy ]

Kei Kamara‘s four goals scored during the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs were twice as many as any other player — one of which was Portland’s Fanendo Adi. Diego Valeri bagged four assists in five games played, which is mighty impressive until you read on and realize Mauro Diaz hit the same mark in just four games played. And then there was the two-way midfield work of Diego Chara, whose work rate was otherworldly en route to Portland’s first MLS title. Throw in defenders Nat Borchers and Jorge Villafana, and it becomes clear just why Portland were crowned champions.

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

MLS Team of the Week — MLS Cup playoffs

Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew SC), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jorge Villafana (Portland Timbers)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Andreas Ivanschitz (Seattle Sounders)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)

MLS Forwards

Early goals, toothless Crew SC send Timbers to MLS Cup coronation

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From being inches — literally, on not one, but two posts, on the same kick of the ball — away from elimination in the first round of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs more than a month ago, to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at midfield of MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, the 2015 postseason was one Portland Timbers fans won’t soon remember forget.

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Sunday’s triumph over Columbus Crew SC in the 2015 MLS Cup final was yet another example of a crazy, unpredictable title-decider, in that it went completely against everything we thought we could forecast for this game. That tends to happen, though, when less than 30 seconds are on the clock and one team has already scored, doesn’t it?

Timbers quickest out of the blocks

Which is where we’ll begin our anlysis tonight. Portland weren’t just quickest out of the starting blocks on Sunday; they were the quickest team on the scoreboard in MLS Cup’s 20-year history. Diego Valeri’s goal 27 seconds into Sunday’s final was a sucker-punch to the proverbial jaw of Crew SC. Such a confident team all season, free-flowing and wide open with the belief that a goal was always just around the corner, Crew SC were shell-shocked and never really recovered from the early blow. They conceded the eventual winner six minutes later.

Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter:

“I think you could see a little bit of nerves. Steve [Clark] gets hundreds of balls, thousands of balls played to him during the course of the season and he rarely makes a mistake like that and you have to live with it. We support him and mistakes are part of the game. The start wasn’t good, the start was certainly not good. What I am pleased about is that we didn’t give up.

In fairness to Portland, the early goal won’t have changed all that much about Crew SC’s gameplan — they wanted to play quickly and aggressively beforehand, so nothing debilitating there — but it did allow the Timbers to defend with numbers, rather than to engage the Black and Gold in a counter-attacking track meet.

[ FULL RECAP: Timbers top Crew SC to take home first MLS Cup ]

They helped Diego Chara — a whole lot

My biggest worry for Portland ahead of the game was that Chara would be but a lone man constantly contending with a quartet of dangerous attackers, and would eventually succumb through no real fault of his own. As a knock-on effect of the early goal, those defensive numbers aided Chara more than anyone else in Green and Gold. Darlington Nagbe (and Valeri, to a degree) sagged deeper and deeper into midfield and forced Federico Higuain into a dismal performance when his side needed him at his most sublime.

Rodney Wallace and Lucas Melano provided serious cover for the full backs, Jorge Villafana, who was absolutely immense, and Alvas Powell. In the end, it was a full-team defensive effort from Portland, when the threat of them being stretched wide and made to chase the game seemed so real prior to kickoff. Crew SC, a side that led MLS in shots on target during the regular season (5.3 per game) managed just one in the biggest game of the season. Set pieces, of which there were alarmingly few for Crew SC, also failed them on Sunday when they had been such a weapon all season long.

[ MORE: PST staff predicts MLS Cup 2015 — how’d we do? ]

Timbers’ defensive shape picture-perfect

My other gigantic worry for Portland was that center backs Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, neither of whom are particularly quick or athletic, would be torched when dragged out into open space to defend wingers Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram, both of whom were exceptionally poor by their standards and subbed off in the second half. The entire “why” for that duo, which combined for 18 goals and 18 assists during the regular season, being so poor was the defensive shape of the Timbers’ backline.

Villafana and Powell rarely ventured forward — thanks again, early goals! — and put in their best defensive shifts of the season. That meant Borchers and Ridgewell, 34 and 31 respectively, weren’t rushing out into space to emergency-defend against Finlay and Meram. Those two largely nullified, Kei Kamara, who scored 22 times during the regular season and three more times in the playoffs before Sunday, and he was feeding on scraps. Kamara managed just one shot all night — his goal — on 31 total touches over 90 minutes.

Champions! Timbers top Crew SC to lift 2015 MLS Cup

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For the first time in club history, the Portland Timbers are Major League Soccer champions after knocking off Columbus Crew SC, 2-1, in the 2015 MLS Cup final at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace will go down in Timbers lore as the scorers of the Rose City’s Cup-winning goals, 27 seconds and seven minutes into the game respectively, lifting Caleb Porter’s side to to the MLS mountaintop.

Valeri, who was named Most Valuable Player of Sunday’s final,  opened the scoring with just 27 seconds on the clock (fastest in MLS Cup history – WATCH HERE), when he capitalized on a shocking error by Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark inside his own penalty area. Clark let the ball run across his body in an attempt to play it out of the back, but a poor first touch saw it run behind him. He attempted to recover quickly, but Valeri sensed the gaffe and was quick to close down the space. When Clark finally attempted to boot it out wide, Valeri came in with the sliding challenge and swept the ball into the back of the net.

Portland quickly doubled their lead after another spell of poor Crew SC defending and a massively blown no-call by an assistant referee. Diego Chara played the ball out wide — too wide, in fact, as in, out of play by a two or three feet — to Alvas Powell, but the assistant referee on that side of the field didn’t signal for the throw-in that should have been given (WATCH HERE). Play continued, Darlington Nagbe weaved his way through midfield, played Lucas Melano through out wide and he crossed for Wallace at the back post, where he headed past Clark for 2-0.

[ MORE: Valeri opens the scoring with MLS Cup record-breaking goal ]

Crew SC pulled a goal back through Kei Kamara (WATCH HERE), scorer of 22 regular-season goals and three more in the MLS Cup Playoffs en route to Sunday’s final, in the 18th minute. A mad scramble inside the Timbers’ penalty area began with a failed punch by Adam Kwarasey, and finished with Kamara dancing his way around a sea of defenders and firing a low, bouncing shot past Kwarasey for 2-1.

Lucas Melano had the best chance to re-establish Portland’s two-goal lead in the 54th minute, but the Argentine newcomer dwelled on the ball far too long inside the penalty area, where he was briefly one-on-one against Clark, allowing Michael Parkhurst to recover and block the untimely shot on goal. Parkhurst came up with another massive block in the 60th minute, making a last-ditch, sliding block against Fanendo Adi.

A moment of pure madness followed on the ensuing corner kick. The ball was whipped into the Crew SC penalty area, where Parkhurst made one goal-line clearance with his forehead, then another with his left arm after the ball caromed off the crossbar. No penalty given, no red card, no yellow card, no whistle blown — nothing.

[ MORE: PST staff predicts MLS Cup 2015 — how’d we do? ]

A header by Adi went inches from doubling the lead in the 71st minute, but the big Nigerian striker could only watch helplessly as the ball hit the inside of the post and bounced back into play, catching Clark completely off-guard, hitting him in the midsection and very nearly deflecting into the goal, but ultimately only going out of play for a corner kick. Scenes. Absolute scenes.

Crew SC mustered very little late on with the game and their season on the line, with Portland effectively seeing out the game en route to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in front of more than 2,000 traveling fans clad in Green and Gold. Sunday’s MLS Cup triumph makes the Timbers the 10th different MLS franchise to win the title.

VIDEO: Valeri scores fastest goal in MLS Cup history to open 2015 final

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The 2015 MLS Cup final is underway (FOLLOW LIVE HERE), and oh my goodness, there’s 27 seconds on the clock and we’ve already seen a goal scored (below video).

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Diego Valeri was the man who put the Portland Timbers ahead of Columbus Crew SC less than a half-minute into Sunday’s final, and the Argentine playmaker has Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark to thank for the opportunity.

[ MORE: MLS Cup 2015 roundtable — storylines, keys and predictions ]

Clark fancies himself a player, rather than just a goalkeeper, one who can play with the ball at his feet and build attacks out of the back. He’s put himself into a handful of sticky situations in 2014 and 2015, but nothing like this, on this stage.

Portland added a second goal shortly after, in the 7th minute, through Rodney Wallace, to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.

FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup 2015 — Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers

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Today is the day. This is the big one. For all the marbles. It all comes down to this: MLS Cup 2015.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Sunday’s final is scheduled for a 4 p.m. ET kickoff. Starting lineups for both sides can be found below. Kei Kamara, who was injured in Crew SC’s final training session yesterday afternoon, starts up for the Black and Gold. For Portland, Liam Ridgewell returns from a calf injury to start alongside Nat Borchers in defense, while Caleb Porter has opted for Lucas Melano over Dairon Asprilla on the wing.

Follow along with Sunday’s MLS Cup final action at the link below.

FOLLOW LIVE — Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers — MLS Cup 2015