MLS Cup 101: What you need to know about the title game

MLS Cup Trophy - New trophy, not full image

After nine months of the 2015 MLS regular season and Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, only one game remains: MLS Cup.

Below, you'll find everything you need to know ahead of the big game. Most importantly, how Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers got here, and how you can watch the match on Sunday.

What is MLS Cup?

It's simple: MLS Cup decides the Major League Soccer champion.

Soccer is special because teams can play multiple competitions in addition to their league schedules (US Open Cup/Amway Canadian Championship, CONCACAF Champions League, plus regional rivalries such as Cascadia Cup). MLS Cup is the top prize in MLS. There is also the prestige of the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the regular season's best team, but MLS Cup is the prize for the team that stands atop the pack after the regular season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Who's in MLS Cup?

Columbus Crew SC will host the Portland Timbers at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 6 in MLS Cup 2015. MLS uses a conference system, with Crew SC representing the Eastern Conference and the Timbers the Western Conference.

Both teams reached MLS Cup through the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, with Crew SC finishing second in the East and the Timbers third in the West during the regular season. In bypassing the Knockout Round of the playoffs because of their high seed, Columbus played two two-leg, aggregate series in order to reach the big game, downing the Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls en route to the final.

Portland, meanwhile, survived a penalty kick shootout with Sporting KC in the Knockout Round then defeated the Western Conference's top two seeds, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas, to reach MLS Cup.

What's at stake?

Finals don't need too much explanation. Winning MLS Cup cements a team's legacy, and every club starts the season chasing the opportunity to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. The Timbers are seeking their first MLS Cup, as well as their first piece of major silverware since entering MLS in 2011.

Meanwhile, Columbus have an MLS Cup in their trophy cabinet, captured in 2008, the year they won the "double" after taking Supporters' Shield honors as regular-season champions. Seven years later, the roster and coaching staff is completely different from that 2008 group. And to add to the occasion, this is the second time Columbus will host MLS Cup, but the first time the home side will play in front of their Ohio faithful with the title on the line.

Beyond MLS Cup itself, both teams have something on the line. Most notably, the winner of MLS Cup will also qualify for the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League, the regional competition that pits MLS teams against the top Mexican, Central American and Caribbean teams. The MLS Cup loser won't get a consolation berth, either, as the other three slots for American teams have been decided.

Oh, and the winner of the CCL goes to the Club World Cup, too. There's a lot to play for.

What's the format?

MLS Cup is a one-off game – it's winner-take-all.

Away goals do not matter in this game, so if the game is tied after 90 minutes, it goes to extra time, like it did in 2014 when the LA Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution in extra time. If the game is still tied after 120 minutes, penalties will decide the champion, as in 2013 when Sporting Kansas City outlasted Real Salt Lake.

What else is left? One more thing...

How can I watch MLS Cup?

Tune in on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4 pm ET. In the United States, you can watch the game on ESPN, WatchESPN and UniMás. In Canada, catch it on TSN and RDS2.

If you live outside the United States or Canada, please check the international listings page to learn where you can watch in your country.