Here are the 10 things we learned from the second legs of the MLS Conference Championships.
1. The Finalists Are Set
The Columbus Crew SC and Portland Timbers will contest MLS Cup 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4:00 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast by ESPN.
In Columbus and Portland, the league has two finalists it can be proud of. The Crew upset the New York Red Bulls in what was, save for incredible last-gasp drama, a convincing triumph. The Timbers knocked out FC Dallas thanks to a couple of stoppage time goals, set pieces, and a lot of Nat Borchers.
Columbus and Portland have taken fairly similar paths to the promised land. Both clubs have exuberant young owners in Anthony Precourt and Merritt Paulson, both believe strongly in philosophies crafted by young American coaches in Gregg Berhalter and Caleb Porter, and both have won without marquee star players.
This is the ultimate MLS 3.0 final. It might not get the biggest TV ratings, but the home of American soccer in Columbus will be packed, and we’re sure to get a fantastic game between two sides who have created and endured plenty of drama on their way to the Cup.
It’s been fun watching the LA Galaxy’s dominance over the last four years, but it’s hard not to like a league where teams from Columbus and Portland can win conference championships ahead of teams from much bigger markets with much bigger footprints.
2. Was That Exciting Enough?
The playoffs are always exciting, but most everyone can agree that these playoffs have been unusually fun.
The Timbers and Dallas took a while to really get going. The miserable weather in Dallas made for a subdued atmosphere, as did the new security measures at Toyota Stadium that kept fans waiting in line to get into the stadium until halftime. But Fanendo Adi’s goal opened the floodgates, and Dallas’s charge to send the match to extra time was quelled only by two heroic plays – Nat Borchers’ insane block on Blas Perez’s open volley, and Lucas Melano’s tap-dance around Jesse Gonzalez for the series-clinching goal.
There was nothing remotely subdued about the first half of New York–Columbus, which was almost uncomfortably high-octane and made the bust-up involving Tony Tchani and Felipe seem inevitable.
Columbus appeared to be costing through until stoppage time, when the Red Bulls pulled a goal back on a net mouth scramble and then came within a post-length of improbably sending the game to extra time.