On Sunday, the Portland Timbers will travel to MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio to take on the Columbus Crew in the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Final.
It has been a crazy playoff season for the Portland Timbers. They secured a playoff spot with a great run of form to end the season and then the madness started. Portland won a marathon penalty shootout against Sporting Kansas City in which both goalies took penalites and Adam Larsen Kwarasey made the game winning save. Then they made quick work of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Conference semifinal. However, Portland's biggest achievement was in the Conference finals as they neutralized a quick and dangerous FC Dallas attack and held off Dallas in a thrilling second leg where it took a late goal by Portland to seal the tie and get them a berth in the Cup final.
Meanwhile the Columbus Crew gave solid performances in the home legs of their two playoff series, which helped them advance to the Cup final. In their two series against Montreal and New York, the Crew used the home leg to their advantage as they outscored their opponents 5-1 in those games and those goals were a big part of their success. The quick starts by Columbus will be something to look forward to as the Crew look to pounce on the counterattack.
Portland will rely on their rock solid defense led by Jack Jewsbury and they will have to be on their A game as they will potentially have face a tough Columbus attack led by Kei Kamara. The Columbus striker picked up a knock in training on Saturday, and is a doubt for the final, which could leave the Crew without the league's joint-leading scorer. That is the second piece of good news Portland received from the injury list this week after learning that Liam Ridgewell, who was not available against Dallas, will be available for the final.
Kamara has scored 25 goals for Columbus and was a finalist for the Landon Donovan MVP award. He's also tallied six assists and has showed a willingless to pass it off to teammates when needed. If he cannot go, then the real key player for the Crew will be Federico Higuaín. The older brother of Napoli star Gonzalo Higuain, Federico is what holds the Columbus Crew together. Playing in an attacking midfield role, Higuain is the one who supplys the likes of Kamara. If he is not on his game, Columbus will struggle on offense.
This game will come down to a lot of X-factors. However, it could all come down to which team can handle their injuries better. Will Portland's ailing backline keep out the likes of Kamara (assuming he plays), Higuain and Ethan Finlay? Will Columbus be able to score if their talisman can't play?
Those questions and more will be answered on Sunday afternoon in Columbus. Stay tuned to VAVEL MLS for the latest from the Cup Final.