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Here's what you need to know about the biggest night in US soccer

It’s Columbus Crew versus Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup this evening.

Image: Julio Cortez/AP/Press Association Images

THE 2015 MLS season comes to a close tonight as the Columbus Crew face Portland Timbers in the Cup final (Sky Sports 1, 9.15pm).

Don’t fret if you’ve not seen much Major League Soccer before. Here’s some key information about this evening’s decider that should fill in some gaps.

What are the teams like?

It’s a bit of an unfashionable pairing but the Crew have been here before and are the much more successful franchise.

In 2008, they beat the New York Red Bulls 3-1 and were crowned MLS champions.

They have claimed a number of other trophies down through the years too, including the Supporter’s Shield (awarded to the team with the best points total in the regular season) on three occasions.

This term, they finished second in the Eastern Conference regular season but did extremely well in the play-offs, beating Didier Drogba’s Montreal Impact in the semi-finals and then hanging on to sneak past the Red Bulls in the conference decider.

Timbers Preview Soccer Source: Don Ryan/AP/Press Association Images

Portland have only been a part of MLS since 2011 but have been pretty eye-catching, namely because of their intense support.

That area of the Pacific Northwest is a real hotbed and with Portland, Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps, there’s a steady rivalry and massive fan-base.

The Timbers enjoyed a superb campaign in 2013, finishing top of the Western Conference before getting knocked out in the play-off semi-finals.

This season, they finished third in the Western Conference’s regular season and narrowly sneaked past Sporting Kansas City on penalties in the first round of the play-offs. They pushed past local rivals Vancouver in the Conference semis before a terrific 5-3 aggregate victory over FC Dallas in the Conference final.

Who are the players to watch?

The Crew’s Kei Kamara, who was with Norwich and Middlesbrough between 2013 and 2014, was shortlisted for the league’s MVP award but inevitably lost out to Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco.

He’s been in superb form, netting 22 goals, and is key to how the Crew operate.

Ethan Finlay was pretty prolific for the side in the regular season, scoring 12 and adding a further 13 assists but he’s found it tougher to be influential in the play-offs. Still, he’s a threat that the Timbers can’t afford to ignore.

For Portland, one familiar name is Liam Ridgewell – the former Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom defender who has been with the side since July of last year.

Others to watch include midfielder Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe, who has a tendency to score the odd spectacular goal.

NagbeGoal

Who’s going to win this?

On paper, Columbus are favourites. They’re much more prolific in front of goal and have a dependable target man in Kamara. They know how to win finals and they’ve attained success before. Perhaps most importantly, the game is being played at their stadium.

A lot probably depends on how the Timbers handle the occasion. Should the pressure get to them, the Crew will probably pick them off.

Both sides have shown plenty of grit to get here. Portland won a sudden-death penalty shootout in the play-off knockout round and squeezed past through local rivals Vancouver in the derby atmosphere of a Conference semi-finals.

Columbus came up against two very solid sides in the post-season – Montreal and New York Red Bulls and pushed through.

Ultimately, MLS hasn’t conjured many shocks down through the years though this has all the hallmarks of a tight affair.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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