Welcome back to the Thursday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being Sunday's MLS Cup between the Columbus Crew SC and Portland Timbers (4 pm ET; ESPN | WatchESPN | UniMas | TSN | RDS2) – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
I'll have a full tactical preview coming on Friday that will delve into a number of the below issues in detail. Today, however, I'm throwing a bunch of stuff I'm thinking about ahead of Sunday's game at the wall, and asking you to do the same.
1. How will the Columbus center backs handle the physicality of Fanendo Adi?
I actually think this is the defining play of the last couple of months, from any team:
Yeah, there's a million little Portland attackers flitting around, and one of them -- Diego Chara, who's actually a d-mid, not an attacker -- gets the goal. But it's Adi who is the fulcrum of the play, and he's able to be the fulcrum because he bends the defense toward him, not toward the ball. Omar Gonzalez stays on his back the entire time and never makes a move to play one of the passing lanes, and this is something Adi has done to every subsequent central defender he's faced.
2. Will Gregg Berhalter flip Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram at times?
Meram plays inverted on the left while Finlay stays high and wide on the right, trying hard to hit the gap between the opposing left back and left central defender. If you look at their numbers, you'll see pretty plainly that it works.
However, Portland's left side of Rodney Wallace, Jorge Villafana and Liam Ridgewell has a much better understanding of compactness and defensive positioning than the likely right side of Lucas Melano and Alvas Powell. Those two guys can't help themselves -- they're going to push forward, and when Powell gets disconnected from right central defender Nat Borchers, 1) there is space to run into, and 2) Borchers is forced to defend on an island.
This is an ideal set-up for Finlay, but not necessarily so for Meram. Berhalter didn't tinker much during the season, but he showed in the Eastern Conference Championship that he's willing to make adjustments if he thinks they're necessary.
3. Can Federico Higuain pull Chara out of the hole?
Everyone -- me included -- thinks it's like that Portland will go with the 4-3-3 that's been their first choice of late, putting Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe in box-to-box roles and leaving Chara as a de facto lone No. 6. This really has been their best lineup.
However, Columbus have a well-known penchant for overwhelming opposition that plays with a lone d-mid, and it's because of the movement of their own No. 10, Higuain. No other playmaker puts in as many miles, and even a team as well-drilled as the Red Bulls had trouble tracking him in their series:
McCarty is literally everywhere. He's assigned to Higuain, covering over Lawrence & creating in the attacking 3rd. pic.twitter.com/k9yGDCd1WB— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) November 22, 2015
More than anything else it was Higuain's movement that forced Dax McCarty into his worst game of 2015 in the first leg of that series, and if Crew SC can do the same to Chara they'll put themselves in a good spot to take home their second MLS Cup crown.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company! Enjoy MLS Cup this Sunday.