Columbus Crew vs. Portland Timbers: Team News, Preview, TV for MLS Cup Final

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 4, 2015

Sep 26, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA;Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers (7) celebrates the win with the fans after the final whistle in the game against the Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium. The Portland Timbers beat the Columbus Crew SC by the score of 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer's 20th season concludes on Sunday with the MLS Cup at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. 

The Columbus Crew, who entered the playoffs as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, will host the Portland Timbers, who advanced to the final as the third seed from the Western Conference. 

Although it isn't the matchup many predicted for the championship match at the start of the yearor even at the beginning of the postseasonSunday's showdown in Columbus should produce a thrilling 90 minutes or more of soccer. 

Below is all the information you need to know heading into the 2015 MLS Cup Final.

 

Date: Sunday, December 6

Time: 4 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Recent Form and MLS Cup History

Columbus enters the final contest of the MLS season off two hard-fought series victories over the Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls.

The Crew downed the Didier Drogba-led Impact 4-3 on aggregate, and they defeated the Supporters' Shield winners 2-1 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Final.

During the regular season, Columbus posted a 9-4-4 record at home. 

Nov 29, 2015; Harrison, NJ, USA; The Columbus Crew gather on the field and celebrate a victory in the second half of leg two of the Eastern Conference championship against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. The Columbus Crew won with an aggregate s
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday marks the second time Columbus will appear in the MLS Cup. The Crew won the title in 2008 over the New York Red Bulls 3-1. Alejandro Moreno, Chad Marshall and Frankie Hejduk scored at the then-Home Depot Center in Carson, California. 

Portland makes its first venture into the MLS Cup on Sunday after wins over Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver and FC Dallas in the postseason. The Timbers almost didn't make it out of the knockout round, but they ended up winning 7-6 on penalties over Sporting KC. 

Nov 29, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi (9) celebrates scoring a goal in against FC Dallas in the second half of leg two of the Western Conference championship at Toyota Stadium. The matched ends in 2-2 draw. The Timbers advanc
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Timbers used their stellar road form to get past Vancouver in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal before they outlasted No. 1 seed FC Dallas 5-3 on aggregate in the final. Portland was one of the best road teams in the regular season with a 7-8-2 record on its travels. 

 

Team News

The biggest bit of team news to come out of both camps this week is the health of Portland center back Liam Ridgewell. 

The former Premier League defender missed out on the second leg of the Western Conference Final due to a right calf injury. However, the center back told reporters upon Portland's arrival in Ohio on Thursday that he should be good to go for Sunday. 

Sep 20, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) kicks the ball during the first half of the game against the New York Red Bulls at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Per Kyle McCarthy of Fox Sports, Ridgewell said:

I’m feeling very well. I’m fit, ready to be selected and ready to go, to be honest.

It’s been a bit of a rough 10 days missing out on the game last week. I’ve just been trying to concentrate on getting my calf right and trying to make sure I’m fit.

It’s been a bit of a struggle, but, hopefully, it’ll be there.

With Ridgewell fit, Portland should trot out a full-strength squad in Columbus on Sunday.

Adam Kwarasey will start in net with Nat Borchers, Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell filling out the back four. Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe will play in a three-man midfield with Rodney Wallace, Fanendo Adi and Dairon Asprilla up front in Caleb Porter's 4-3-3 formation. 

Columbus should also bring its first-team starting 11 to the field on Sunday. Steve Clark will start in net with Harrison Afful, Michael Parkhurst, Gaston Sauro and Waylon Francis in front of him in defense. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani will start in the defensive midfield roles of the 4-2-3-1 formation with Federico Higuain as the No. 10. Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will look to provide forward Kei Kamara with service from their wing positions. 

 

Key Battles To Watch

Darlington Nagbe vs. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani

There is a strong chance Nagbe, Trapp and Tchani will be teammates on the United States men's national team in the future, but they will be foes fighting for one trophy on Sunday. 

Nagbe has been a vital part of the Portland attack in the playoffs, but Trapp and Tchani will pose the biggest threat to his productivity this postseason. 

Nov 22, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers forward/midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) advances the ball in the first half against the FC Dallas in leg one of the Western Conference championship at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TO
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In the two legs against the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Final, Columbus' pair of defensive midfielders were all over the pitch clogging passing lanes and making key tackles in front of the their own penalty area. 

 

Diego Chara vs. Federico Higuain

Portland possesses a midfield destroyer of its own in Colombian Diego Chara, who has found an uptick in form since Porter shifted to a lone defensive midfielder late in the regular season. 

Chara's main job is to disrupt the rhythm of the opponent's top playmaker in the middle of the pitch. The Portland man does this with his physical style of play. Do not be surprised if Chara makes his presence known with a strong tackle or two early in the match. 

Nov 1, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Columbus Crew forward Federico Higuain (10) controls the ball in the first half against the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo. The Impact defeated the Columbus Crew 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Higuain will have to break free from the grip of Chara in order to spread out the Columbus attack. If the Argentine can't get going in midfield, the Crew may end up relying too much on their wing players. 

 

Nat Borchers vs. Kei Kamara

Both matchups between the forwards and center backs are intriguing, but the one that sticks out the most is the battle between Borchers and Kamara. 

Sep 26, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA;  Columbus Crew SC forward Kei Kamara (23) dribbles the ball between Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) and  defender Nat Borchers (7) in the first half of the game at MAPFRE Stadium. The Portland Timbers beat th
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The acquisition of Borchers from Real Salt Lake in the offseason is turning out to be one of the top moves in the league over the last 12 months. The bearded center back is a menace in the air, but he will have his hands full with the Sierra Leone international. 

Kamara is capable of striking in a instant with his incredible aerial ability. If he wins a few aerial battles early in the match, he will set the tone for how the Crew attack through the wings. However, if Borchers shuts down Kamara in the air, Columbus will be forced to play on the ground and in the middle of the field to open up space. 

 

Prediction

Columbus has home-field advantage, but that gets thrown out the window due to Portland's road form and its win over the Crew on September 26 at Mapfre Stadium.

The key to victory for the Crew will be the play of Kamara, while the actions of Nagbe and Valeri on the pitch will decide the final result for Portland. 

Our prediction is a 2-1 win by Columbus with Kamara winning the MLS Cup Most Valuable Player with a late game-winner for the hosts.

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90