The Columbus Crew will host the Portland Timbers in the 2015 MLS Cup on Sunday, as the visitors seek their first MLS Cup win and the hosts will try to win the trophy for the first time since 2008.
Kickoff is at 4 p.m. ET, and ESPN will carry full TV coverage of the event, with live streams available via the WatchESPN app.
Columbus have the experience and raw firepower to blow the Timbers out of the water, but the visitors have momentum on their side after a dominant showing against FC Dallas. Here's everything you need to know about Sunday's final.
Date: Sunday, December 6
Time: 4 p.m. ET/ 9 p.m. GMT
Venue: Mapfre Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Tickets: Check with ScoreBig.com
TV, Live Stream Info: ESPN, WatchESPN
Columbus and Portland were both underdogs entering the play-offs, but after strong showings in the conference finals, few neutral fans will be upset to see the two sides clash in the MLS Cup. The Crew have been among the top attacking teams all season long, while Portland's balance and crisp passing game should make for an exciting matchup.
The Timbers managed to get past FC Dallas without the services of star defender Liam Ridgewell in the return leg, but the captain believes he'll be ready in time for the MLS Cup, as he told Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy:
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.
His return would be a huge boost for the visitors, who will need every bit of help they can get to stop star forward Kei Kamara. The Sierra Leonean would have been the strong favourite to win the MVP award if Sebastian Giovinco hadn't joined Toronto FC from Juventus, thanks to his 25 goals in 36 appearances so far.
Kamara is a mobile, physical striker who isn't afraid to shoot at the first sight of goal but always keeps his eyes up and tries to pick out team-mates. And with midfielders such as Ethan Finlay crashing the box, he usually has plenty of passing outlets to work with.
As shared by the MLS' official Twitter account, the Columbus players credit their great teamwork as one of the reasons for their success:
Finlay and Wil Trapp hand Columbus the edge in midfield, but Portland undoubtedly have the better defence, led by Ridgewell and backed by Adam Kwarasey, who has been spectacular all year.
Per MLS' official Twitter account, the Ghanaian rightly won this year's Save of the Year award for this incredible stop:
Portland were happy to hand the ball to Dallas in the return leg of the conference finals and sit deep and aim for the counterattack, but that might not be such a great tactic against Columbus. Kamara has been in such dominant form that it's probably best to keep him and the ball as far away from goal as possible.
Instead, expect both teams to focus on the battle in midfield, as Trapp and Finlay go head-to-head with Diego Chara and Diego Valeri. If the visitors can neutralise Trapp's distribution, they'll have a great chance of shocking the hosts and winning their first MLS Cup.
Prediction: Columbus Crew 2-2 Portland Timbers, Timbers win in extra time/penalties.