Timbers, Crew meet in MLS Cup finals rematch
PORTLAND — Columbus is looking for a different outcome when the Crew visits Portland today in a season-opening rematch of last year's title game.
It has been three months since the Timbers beat the Crew 2-1 in Columbus to claim the 2015 MLS Cup. Diego Valeri scored 27 seconds into the match for the fastest goal in MLS Cup history, and Rodney Wallace added a quick second goal some seven minutes later to give Portland its first championship since joining Major League Soccer in 2011.
That match was not without controversy.
Just before Wallace scored, Crew midfielder Tony Tchani and several teammates stopped playing when the ball rolled several feet over the right boundary. Instead of a stoppage for a throw-in, Portland's Darlington Nagbe kept going with the ball and sent a pass wide to Lucas Melano, who found Wallace for the header.
So, yeah, you can't blame the Crew for looking to avenge that match in Portland.
"This one's gonna matter a little more because we're familiar with the opponent, it's the last team we faced," Crew midfielder Ethan Finlay said. "There's a little bit extra motivation. You're going to see the guys that took something away that you wanted."
The match at Providence Park will highlight Soccer Sunday, with all 20 Major League Soccer teams opening the league's 21st season.
What to look for when the Timbers host the Crew to kick off the season:
SCOUTING THE TIMBERS: The Timbers, who went 15-11-8 last season, didn't make a lot of roster moves in the offseason, preferring not to mess too much with success. The biggest loss is the departure of Wallace, a fan favorite who is now playing with Arouca in the Portuguese Premier League.
Portland coach Caleb Porter found a good combination with Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri at central midfield and striker Fanendo Adi up top, and the Timbers will no doubt stay with that this season.
Perhaps the biggest move is one that hasn't yet been formally announced but was reported this week. According to The Oregonian, Portland has struck a deal to bring in young winger Jack Barmby from Leicester City's system.
SCOUTING THE CREW: Two words: Kei Kamara.
The forward scored 22 goals last season, matching Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco for the league lead, and the Crew finished 15-11-8 and second in the Eastern Conference. Giovinco edged Kamara for the league's Golden Boot award with more assists.
Kamara, named the team's designated player this week, was also the top scorer in the MLS playoffs with four goals, including the Crew's lone goal in the final against the Timbers.
No MLS player has ever had back-to-back 20-goal seasons.
The Crew didn't make all that many changes from last season, but brought in free agents Conor Casey and Corey Ashe. The team will look for improved defense as Harrison Afful and Gaston Sauro get more comfortable in their roles on the backline.
SUPPORTERS UNITE! One of the memorable off-the-pitch moments in the MLS Cup came in the postgame celebration as MLS Commissioner Don Garber thanked the Crew supporters on live television and a young lady flipped off the camera. That fan, known on Twitter as Savannah_Bee, will be at today's game thanks to a GoFundMe campaign — started by a Timbers Army supporter — that raised $1,835. Even Timbers owner Merritt Paulson got into the effort to get her to the game, giving her free tickets.
"This has been the best day. I am so thankful for everyone who made this trip to (hashtag) PDX happen! You are amazing people!" she posted to Twitter.
Overall, Columbus is expected to have one of the biggest groups of supporters at Providence Park that the Crew has ever seen for an away match.