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Player-by-player breakdown of the MLS Cup final

Who has the advantage at each position?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

(Note: these lineups are projected, not certain.)


Columbus Crew SC: Steve Clark

Portland Timbers: Adam Kwarsey

Which one? Both of these keepers were obviously good enough to lead their team to the MLS Cup final, so it's hard to pick to favor one over the other. Each have strengths and weaknesses, for example Clark struggles when coming off his line on crosses, but overall, they are pretty equal.

Right back

Crew: Harrison Afful

Timbers: Alvas Powell

Which one? This one has to be Harrison Afful. The Ghanaian has been very good in the postseason thus far, providing an option up the field for Ethan Finlay and excelling in isolation circumstances. He has an argument to make for an appearance on the team of the year, with full-back being an unimpressive position this season. Powell has a tendency to lag back on defense and can be exploited when he pushes too high up.


Crew: Gaston Sauro, Michael Parkhurst

Timbers: Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell (questionable)

Which one? Both teams have been stout defensively in the playoffs, and center-backs have been a key part of that. For the Crew, Sauro provides physicality and should get time on Fanendo Adi, while Parkhurst is tactically aware and will be focused on preventing balls from getting through. In Portland, Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell have shined this postseason, but the question is whether Ridgewell will play after missing last week's game with a minor calf strain. If he plays, Portland have the advantage.

Left back

Crew: Waylon Francis

Timbers: Jorge Villafaña

Which one? Villafaña has done what he's had to for the Timbers, but Francis takes the cake here. The Costa Rican constantly is overlapping and crossing the ball for guys like Kei Kamara and Finlay to get a hold of. He did a really good job neutralizing Red Bulls' right mid Lloyd Sam by shutting him down when they went at each other one-v-one. Chances are, he will be able to do that against Dairon Asprilla or Lucas Melano.

Center defensive midfield

Crew: Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani

Timbers: Diego Chara

Which one? The difference in formations (Crew play a 4-2-3-1, Timbers a 4-3-3) makes for an uneven amount in center defensive midfield, but the Timbers still have an edge. Diego Chara acts as a pure number-six, standing in front of the backline and cutting out promising attacks. He's strong, physical, and is smart enough to stop counters by cutting off passing lanes. Tchani has similar qualities as the Colombian, but simply doesn't have the defensive influence that Chara has. Trapp is more attacking, being the main distributor from the back. When defending, he can pushed around physically.

Center attacking midfield

Crew: Federico Higuain

Timbers: Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri

Which one? Another tough one. Higuain is one of the better number-10s in MLS, while Nagbe and Valeri act as box-to-box midfielders who can be deadly on the attack, especially in open space. Valeri can rip a defense apart with his expert passing, but Higuain is also pretty threatening in that area. The Timbers' duo are a tiny bit better, if only because of their counter-attacking prowess.

Right midfield/wing

Crew: Ethan Finlay

Timbers: Dairon Asprilla/Lucas Melano

Which one? I have to go with Finlay on this one. He is a fast, old-style winger who will sprint at the defense and find holes, causing trouble down in the corner and then with his crosses into the box. Finlay does all of these at a high level, and while he could make improvements (for example, his first touch when on the counter can go array at times), he does a lot of damage for the Crew. Asprilla or Melano will start at this position and both have been good there, but aside from Asprilla's wonder-goal two weeks ago, neither have done what Finlay's done.

Left midfield/wing

Crew: Justin Meram

Timbers: Rodney Wallace

Which one? This could go either way. Both have been solid this season and provide a nice option down the flanks and centrally, but Meram has the advantage by way of goals. While they are equal in terms of postseason scores, the Iraq-international netted six more than Wallace in the regular season.


Crew: Kei Kamara

Timbers: Fanendo Adi

Which one? Both of these are viable lone strikers, making it hard to choose one. They each use their physicality to muscle opponents around and score lots of goals, while also holding up play very well. Adi and Kamara, both natives of Africa, will be battling all day with the opposition's defense. Kamara is the better of the two, though, shown by his MVP-caliber campaign in the regular season and continued excellence in the playoffs.