THE final act of the MLS season plays out on Sunday. Our man Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) looks to go out on a high.
Columbus Crew v Portland Timbers | Sunday 21:00 | Sky Sports 1
So here we are, 356 games later the 2015 MLS season comes to a close in Columbus on Sunday night. Just how important will that home advantage at the MAPFRE Stadium be for Crew? Hopefully I’ll give us the answer if you read on and manage to dissect my ramblings.
The Black and Gold of Columbus fought out a tight affair in the 2nd leg of the Eastern Conference Final last weekend but that’s all they had to do to progress such was the huge advantage of their two goal lead and not giving up an away goal from the reverse fixture.
It is slightly concerning that Crew didn’t score at the Red Bull Arena; they have been scoring with unerring regularity prior to that game but I believe it is more pleasing that their defence continues to develop.
Listening to Ethan Finlay in midweek it sounds like the squad has developed a good degree of confidence in their defensive ability which has for so long by awry at the club.
In fact MLS in general is not at all well known for its defensive prowess so for a team like Columbus to limit this season’s Supporter’s Shield winners and MLS Cup favourites to just one goal over two legs is a big achievement; and even that only came in the 3rd minute of stoppage time in the 2nd leg when the tie was all but over.
A lot of that improvement at the back is ode to mid-season signing Gaston Sauro who has been a rock and has that physical, commanding presence that they had been so badly missing.
Unfortunately for Crew they face a team that’s even better at the back than they are and probably the best in Major League Soccer at present. Portland Timbers also recorded the finest away record of the regular season so will have few problems with playing this MLS Cup Final on the road.
The Timbers main concern though will be the fitness of their defensive star Liam Ridgewell well known on these shores for his time at Birmingham City. Ridgewell suffered a hamstring strain in the 1st leg of the Western Conference Final and that certainly reduces Portland’s defensive strength.
Nat Borchers is a stalwart is the definition of a stalwart at the back for Portland but lining up alongside Norberto Paparatto is not ideal. Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell are two exciting full backs but this defence will have its work cut out trying to absorb the pressure of playing against MLS’ top scorer Kei Kamara.
The bearded beauty Nat Borchers will have to be on the top of his game dealing with crosses to stop Kamara who is hands down the best header of a ball in the country.
With Timbers defense not at full strength the Oregonians will look to their attack to continue its impressive form. The Timbers were the lowest scoring of all 12 of the Play-Off qualifiers but have since scored nine in five post season games. Fanendo Adi is the main threat but in recent weeks plenty of players have been influential from midfield.
So, we have two teams that are usually pretty good at the back but that are both in good scoring form. I’ve probably muddled your mind rather than made things clearer then! Let’s look to the history books to see if previous MLS Cup finals can point us in the right direction.
It’s no wonder everyone makes such a big deal out of home advantage; of the six MLS Cup Finals played at the home of one of the teams, the home side has won five of them. Six of the last seven MLS Cup Finals saw both sides score and six of the last 10 went to extra-time.
MLS Soccer’s official site reiterates just how close this match-up is. Six have gone for Portland and six have gone for Columbus. Three of them think the game will go to extra-time and 11 out of 12 of them think both sides will score.
Kei Kamara has three goals in the Play-Offs and Crew have had the most shots and shots on target of any team. With the home crowd on their side too I have to favour Columbus to lift the trophy. Ethan Finlay has been an ever-present this season, Felipe Martins of NYRB the only other outfield player to achieve that and so it’s no surprise to see how influential he’s been.
While Crew have made the most crosses in the league, Ethan Finlay also leads the cross accuracy in MLS and Gonzalo Higuaín’s brother Federico is equally as important and threatening.
I don’t think this will be a cagey game, that’s just not an American’s style more often than not and both clubs are managed by US coaches. No team in the league has scored more goals at home than Columbus Crew this season and that’s the deciding factor for me. Portland are making their MLS Cup Final debut here and whilst I don’t think they’ll win at the first attempt I do think they’ll be back to try again soon enough.
And finally, 12 of Columbus’ 18 wins in all competitions this season have seen both sides score. Portland as I’ve said look rejuvenated up front so it seems only logical to back the Black and Gold to win and Both Teams To Score at a tasty 10/3 with Bet365.
Colombus Crew v Portland Timbers – Columbus Crew To Lift The Trophy (4/6 Bet365)
Columbus Crew v Portland Timbers – Ethan Finlay To Score Anytime (15/4 Bet365)
Columbus Crew v Portland Timbers – Dairon Asprilla To Score Anytime (5/1 Bet365)
Columbus Crew v Portland Timbers – Columbus Crew To Win and Both Teams To Score (10/3 Bet365)
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