It's the dream matchup only the #MACtion gods could have dreamt up. Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter will return to Ohio this week to try and claim his first MLS Cup as a MLS coach when the Timbers play Columbus Crew SC this Sunday.
Porter coached at Akron from 2006-12, winning the National Championship in the 2010-11 season and going down in MAC history as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the conference. Now he is back in Ohio and looking to bring some silverware back to the Rose City.
That certainly won't please any of the home fans, a few of whom may have watched Porter coach at Akron and are familiar with his possession-based attack and staunch defense. But MAC fans will be more focused on the players that Porter used to coach. The ones who tore through the MAC in years prior and helped the conference win its only national championship in men's soccer.
Of the Akron players still in the league, four will be present at the MLS Cup final: Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp, Michael Nanchoff and Ben Zemanski.
Nanchoff and Zemanski look to play little to no part in the festivities, as Zemanski suffered a torn ACL just before the beginning of the season and Nanchoff has found a spot in the crowded Timbers' midfield hard to come by.
It is Nagbe and Trapp who will look to steal the show Sunday, though in very different ways.
The two players may both wish to play through the center, but that is about where the similarities stop. Nagbe is the dynamic engine of Portland's midfield. He truly encapsulates what a typical "box-to-box" midfielder is supposed to be by occasionally dropping back to regain possession before breaking forward at pace to try and unlock the opposing team's defense.
Trapp is a defensive midfielder, often sitting in front of Gaston Sauro and Michael Parkhurst and providing the shield from which few MLS playoff teams have been able to unlock this postseason. Trapp can also be a nuisance going forward, and his longballs can often aid Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara to hold up the ball for Columbus' wingers to run onto.
It will be quite interesting to see Nagbe try and use his pace and guile to get past Trapp, who narrowly missed playing with Nagbe on the National Championship winning side by a year. And since Porter knows all about Trapps' skills and weakness, it will be interesting to see how he uses his typical tactics to try and outsmart an old friend.
All-in-all it should be an amazing game, made even more so by the fact that the two teams seem to have changed identities. Portland, typically known for its stout defense and slow build-up play has experienced an offensive explosion in the playoffs, while Crew SC, who typically look to outscore opponents rather than keep them off the scoresheet, suddenly have a solid defense behind Sauro, Parkhurst and full-backs Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful.
The result is sure to be fantastic, and #MACtion will be in full effect Sunday come 4 p.m. in Mapfre Stadium.