It's not exactly a Joe Namath-style guarantee of victory, but Ethan Finlay gave the Portland Timbers an early bit of bulletin-board material in an interview with Sports Illustrated's “SI Now” on Monday.
Asked by host Maggie Gray to break down potential weaknesses of his team's MLS Cup opponents, the Columbus Crew SC winger predicted rich attacking opportunities for the Black-and-Gold when they clash with the Timbers' rearguard.
“I think we really match up well with them defensively,” said Finlay. “Our front four, the mix-up we have of different types of players we have and our strengths – I love my matchup with [Jorge] Villafana. No one in the league can cover Kei Kamara, he's the best guy in the air.
“Federico Higuain is probably going to be licking his chops, because he's the man that controls the tempo.”
Conversely, Finlay was highly complimentary of Portland's front line.
“Offensively, they're a really strong team. A guy in Darlington Nagbe, who just got his first [US] national team cap, controls the tempo of the game for them along with [Diego] Valeri, who has had some really great seasons in the past, and Adi's a handful up top,” he said following a brief discussion of his own USMNT ambitions.
“So they're definitely a handful going forward, but I think we feel the same way about our group. The way we've been playing defensively has been great and I think we've been one of the best teams in this playoff stretch defensively, so we hope to continue that come Sunday.”
Portland allowed 36 goals in 34 regular-season matches, tied for third-fewest in the league, while Crew SC scored 58, second-best in MLS.
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In the postseason, PTFC have conceded five goals in five games, and notched clean sheets in both legs of their Western Conference Semifinal meeting with Vancouver. Columbus' playoff numbers are nearly identical, as they've allowed four goals in four games thus far, including a crucial shutout of New York in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship.
Columbus will welcome Portland to MAPFRE Stadium for MLS Cup 2015 on Sunday (4 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás, TSN and RDS2 in Canada).