The format of the MLS playoffs gives underdogs teams the chance to make it into the finals and this year both New York City F.C. and Portland Timbers were the underdogs team in the MLS who will be headlining in this year’s MLS Final.
This will be the Timbers’ third trip to the MLS Cup final but the first time the final will be hosted at Providence Park. They have won the Western Conference three times since their inaugural season in 2009 and won the MLS Cup back in 2015 with a 2-1 upset victory against the Columbus Crew at the Columbus Crew Stadium.
As for NYCFC, they have made the playoffs the last six years, but never have made it further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The team that is owned by both Manchester City F.C and the New York Yankees, NYCFC have produced many talented and successful players in the MLS ever since making their inaugural season back in 2015. They have never finished lower than 5th place since 2016 but have never been Eastern Conference champions until this past Sunday.
Portland’s home field advantage
The Timbers have produced plenty of success in their 12 year tender in the league. With three Western Conference Champions, one MLS Cup, and winning the MLS is Back tournament in 2020, the Timbers have become a powerhouse team in the MLS.
However, the season did not start all off good for the Timbers, only producing a 6-1-9 record in the first few months of the season. They experienced a few blowout losses to rivals Seattle, Dallas, and to the new expansion team Austin F.C. However, the Timbers had a better second half of the season to secure the number four seed in the Western Conference.
One of the biggest shocks in the playoffs was when the Timbers defeated the number one seeded Colorado Rapids at Colorado. The Timbers failed to beat the Rapids during the regular season, but beat them when it mattered. Timbers are a high scoring team, totalling 56 goals this season, tied for the third most in the league. They have a perfect balance of attack and defense and score a lot of shots inside the 6 yard box, but tend to commit fouls inside the box.
Felipe Mora has been one of the players who flew under the radar this season. The Chilean international scored 12 goals and four assists this season, one of the goals being against Salt Lake City in the Western Conference finals. Mora joined the team last season on loan from Mexico and became a permanent member this season.
He is one of the more experienced international players in the league and he did not disappoint during his first full season as an official MLS player. He is quick and dangerous in the box and has the experience to perform well under pressure.
His teammate Sebastian Blanco is another experienced international player that can perform well under pressure. The Argentine international has been with the team since 2017 and has produced nine goals and two assists on the season. Already in his fourth season in the MLS, Blanco has transitioned to one of the top international players in the league. He also helped lead the Timbers to the MLS finals back in 2018.
The Timbers have a slight advantage over NYCFC on Saturday since they have home field advantage for maintaining a better record than NYCFC during the regular season. They have won 13 games at home with only four losses, two of the wins came in the playoffs against Minnesota and Salt Lake City.
How to stop NYCFC’s counter attacks
New York City F.C. finally won their first Major League Soccer trophy after winning the Eastern Conference on Sunday. Though making the playoffs the last six seasons, they have failed to make it to as far and the Eastern Conference finals until this season.
NYCFC had a great start to the season, winning eight out of 15 games to open up the season. They have had many blowout victories, including against their rivals D.C United. They also beat the number one team in the league New England Revolution back in August. However, the team struggled mid-season, losing six of twelve games and started to fall down in the standings late in the season. NYCFC managed to finish on a solid note, taking the fourth seed in the East.
They have been the best team in the league when it comes to counter attacking. They led the league in attacking assists and are tied for third in goals overall as a team this season. With their strong counter attacking, they also had a solid defense, letting in only 36 goals which is the third fewest in the league. NYCFC have also been able to maintain close games, with almost every game being a tight win or tight loss.
They are also a team that love to come from behind to win games. They managed to knock out the favorites and the Community Shield winning New England Revolution at home, as well as the Philadelphia Union at home from a come-from-behind victory in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
One of the star players for NYCFC this season and in the MLS has been Valentin Castellanos. He won the 2021 MLS Golden boot for ending the season with 19 goals and eight assists. The 23-year-old from Argentina started on the team when he was only 19 years old back in 2017.
Since then he has learned to become a star forward and has become one of the best forwards in the MLS. He dominates in the box and finds any opportunity to get the ball inside the net. Majority of Castellanos’ goals were assisted by forward Maxi Moralez, who had a total of 12 assists on the season.
The defense for NYCFC has been solid all season and a majority of it is because of veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Johnson came to the team back in 2017 and has become the captain and a huge figure to the team. He has recorded 10 clean sheets, third most in the league. His performance for the team in the last few seasons has given him call-ups to the USMNT.
History is on the line on Saturday
History is on the line on Saturday for both teams. If Portland wins, it will be their second MLS Cup and their first ever MLS Cup victory at Providence Park. If NYCFC come out with a win it will be the first a New York team will win an MLS Cup.
Though the Timbers have home field advantage, NYCFC have won their last two playoff games on the road and they are hungry for more. Both teams have solid defenses that also love to attack. It can be a high scoring game, or a low scoring game that can end up being decided in extra time. In the start of the MLS playoffs the Timbers had a +950 odds to win the cup and NYCFC had +1250 odds of winning.
NYCFC will get Castellanos back after he was forced to serve a one game suspension over his red card during the Eastern Conference semifinals against New England. Both teams look to be healthy and ready to play for Saturday’s matchup at Providence Park at 3pm EST/12PT.
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