When the Columbus Crew and the Portland Timbers lineup for the 2015 Audi MLS Cup, some higher ups in the MLS offices might be banging their heads against the wall. Not because the Crew or the Timbers aren’t deserving of playing in the 2015 MLS Cup final, they finished tied for third in the overall standings and the Crew won the home field advantage based off goal difference.
No, what might lead to headaches for MLS higher ups is the fact that all year they’ve sold MLS as a league of stars, both international and American. At the start of the season the likes of Kaka, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey filled billboards and MLS ads as the star attractions someone would see in the domestic league. Halfway through the season it was a new crop of players that gave the league more stars to show off with the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Andrea Pirlo joining the fun. Finally, it was the Mexican Giovani Dos Santos who came into the league and MLS could keep the marketing machine going and showoff their muscle as a league that can bring in former world class talent.
As the summer days turned into fall nights and the regular season came to a close and the playoffs started, the star players and their teams came and went. Kaka’s Orlando didn’t make the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. Neither did the star studded New York F.C. with Villa, Lampard, and Pirlo. By the wildcard round, Toronto who had the likes of Giovinco, Bradley, and Altidore were sent on vacation by Montreal Impact.
On the west coast, whether MLS will admit to it or not, their worst nightmare happened as their two most star studded and marketed teams faced off with each other as the Seattle Sounders eliminated the Los Angeles Galaxy. In the semifinals, the young upstarts, F.C. Dallas knocked out those same Sounders and the Crew beat Didier Drogba and Montreal, leaving MLS with only one big market with the other New York team, the Red Bulls. After two weeks and 180 minutes, MLS lost their biggest market in the city of New York and now have Columbus and Portland going head to head.
Darlington Nagbe, who recently earned his first cap for the USMNT, is a young star on the rise outside of Portland.
There a high chance that the viewing numbers for this final won’t be that impressive, partly because after showing all the star players all year, the final consists of the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, Columbus and Portland. The biggest names on Sunday are probably the Crew’s Federico Higuain who is the only player in the finals who is in the top 20 in paid players (17th highest paid) in the league, and Darlington Nagbe, who just earned his first cap for the United States. The Timbers designated player, Liam Ridgewell was more use to fighting for relegation and promotion in the EPL than Champion League titles or EPL trophies.
The MLS Cup might lack big time names, but both teams still possess great players. Higuain is a quality playmaker who can create some magic with the ball at his feet. Kei Kamara, his attacking partner, finished tied for the most goals this season. While in the last two months of the season, Nagbe and Diego Valeri make up one of the best attacking midfield combos in the whole league for Portland. Both teams love to attack and have their defenders join the attack out wide. Leaving for the potential for a very open and back and forth encounter.
The big marquee names might be gone, the TV numbers might not be the best because of it, but don’t let the lack of familiar names fool you, the stadium atmosphere is set to be electric with both fan bases set to be well represented. The ability of the 22 players and the overall team quality, and the team philosophies set for an entertaining MLS Cup. It will be small market soccer on display on Sunday, and also big time fireworks and a high octane 2015 Audi MLS Cup.