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How MLS Cup came to Columbus instead of Portland

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Every goal counted for the Timbers and Columbus when it came to hosting MLS Cup.

Aaron Schoenfeld did his part to bring the Cup final to Columbus.
Aaron Schoenfeld did his part to bring the Cup final to Columbus.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2012, MLS Cup has been hosted by the team with the best regular season record. Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew SC finished 15-11-8 with 53 points. The Western champion, Portland Timbers, finished 15-11-8 with 53 points, the same exact record. As both teams were tied on the first two tiebreakers, it fell to the third tiebreaker, goal differential. Crew SC had a goal differential of plus five, the Timbers finished at plus two.

Crew SC's edge was paper thin and the Cup final easily could have been headed to Portland if the results on the final day of the regular season had been a little different. A look at the Supporters Shield table on Decision Day underscored how tight the difference was.

Position Club PTS W GD GF
1 New York Red Bulls 57 17 18 60
2 FC Dallas 57 17 12 50
3 D.C. United 51 15 3 43
4 LA Galaxy 51 14 11 55
5 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 50 15 6 42
6 Columbus Crew SC 50 14 0 53
7 Portland Timbers 50 14 -1 37
8 Toronto FC 49 15 1 57

The Black & Gold were in sixth place with 50 points and edging Portland by one in goal differential. Columbus was facing a sagging D.C. United team while the Timbers faced a terrible Colorado Rapids team with nothing to play for. Both teams wanted to win to climb up the standings and get a better seed. Crew SC was third in the East while the Timbers were fourth out West.

Both games would be a shootout. Crew SC finished their 5-0 domination of D.C. by the time the Timbers kicked off, but the combined score sheet from both games shows how important the second half surge from Columbus was.

Minute Scorer Team Crew SC GD Timbers GD
5 Nagbe Timbers 0 0
13 Badji Rapids 0 -1
25 McInerney Crew SC 1 -1
33 Nagbe Timbers 1 0
54 Meram Crew SC 2 0
63 Villafaña Timbers 2 1
66 Finlay Crew SC 3 1
67 Finlay Crew SC 4 1
80 Schoenfeld Crew SC 5 1
88 Adi Timbers 5 2

Columbus pulled away in goal differential with their three goals in the second half. Without that, Portland was close to overcoming Crew SC's significant advantage. Columbus did have the next tiebreaker in goals scored, but a 1-0 win or a few late United goals would have seen the game head to Portland instead of Columbus.

The final standings show how close the margin ended up being.

Position Club PTS W GD GF
1 New York Red Bulls 60 18 19 62
2 FC Dallas 60 18 13 52
3 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 53 16 9 45
4 Columbus Crew SC 53 15 5 58
5 Portland Timbers 53 15 2 41
6 Seattle Sounders FC 51 15 8 44
7 Montreal Impact 51 15 4 48
8 D.C. United 51 15 -2 43

Home field advantage has been helpful since MLS moved to the current format. LA Galaxy beat Houston in 2012. Sporting Kansas City won the Cup on their home field as the second best team in MLS in 2013. The LA Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution, a matchup of two versus five in the Supporters Shield Standings last year. Now Columbus Crew SC hosts the Portland Timbers on Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium and it came down to the final day of the regular season.