East coast take on west coast in MLS Cup final as Porland Timbers host New York City

New York City and Portland are the last two teams standing following a gruelling play-off campaign. This Saturday, one of them will lift the MLS Cup.

For New York City, this will be their very first appearance in the MLS play-off final. The Timbers, on the other hand, won the cup in 2015 and finished as runners-up in 2018. They also won the MLS is Back tournament in 2020 and reached the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021.

These teams have not met often since New York joined MLS; in fact, they last played in August 2020. Portland won that match 3-1 in the MLS is Back Tournament quarter-finals. Overall, they have met just six times, with Portland winning five and NYCFC picking up a victory in May 2016.

Castellanos returns for New York

New York City FC midfielder VALENTIN CASTELLANOS #11 celebrates his overtime goal during a MLS cup playoff game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

The Pigeons and manager Ronny Deila had to survive without Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos in the Eastern Conference final.

They were fortunate that the Philadelphia Union were short-handed following a Covid-19 outbreak, and now NYCFC get Castellanos back from his red-card suspension.

Castellanos is what makes the offence tick and is regarded by many as the best number nine in the MLS.

New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila (left) celebrates with teammates after defeating Orlando City at Yankee Stadium.

Without him last week, the Pigeons had no one on the end of balls in the box and also lacked the pressing of defenders that he applies. He scored 19 goals in the regular season and put NYCFC on top in the 109th minute in the upset over New England in the semi-finals.

New York's style is to possess the ball as much as possible, and they will do so in the final as well. Portland ranked last in the league in ball possession percentage this season and are way more comfortable on the counter.

The defence for NYCFC - led by Alexander Calles, Maxime Chanot and James Sands in front of keeper Sean Johnson - will have their hands full. The Timbers have scored 2.2 goals per game in their last 12 contests, while the Pigeons have allowed more than one goal in a game just once since September.

Options for Timbers

Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese thanks the fans after the Portland Timbers game Minnesota United first round MLS Cup Playoffs match on November 21, 2021, at Providence Park

This has been a dream run for Giovanni Savarese and the Timbers. They knocked off Minnesota United at home with two goals from Sebastian Blanco, then went on the road and beat top-seed Colorado Rapids.

Thanks to both Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders facing shock defeats, Portland got to host the Western Conference final against Real Sal Lake and won 2-0.

With New England and Philadelphia eliminated, the Timbers will get to host the MLS Cup Final for the first time.

Portland Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco (10) signals to his team during the MSL game between Houston Dynamo FC and Portland Timbers at BBVA Stadium on Friday, September 3, 2021

Portland didn't use Blanco last week after he picked up a hamstring injury against Colorado. The star midfielder may not be able to give a full 90 on Saturday, but he could still have an impact as a substitute courtesy of his on-ball skill.

The Timbers also get Dairon Asprilla back from a red-card suspension. The player was replaced by 21-year old Santiago Moreno against Real Salt Lake who scored the second goal of that game. Both men will be firmly in contention for a starting shirt.

The other difficult decision for Savarese will be who to start up top. It was Jaroslaw Niezgoda against Colorado Rapids and Felipe Mora against Real Salt Lake. Niezgoda has three goals and one assist on the season, while Mora has 11 goals and four assists.

Strong goalkeepers

Portland Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark (12) during a MLS soccer game against the LAFC, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

Both teams have strong veteran goalkeepers to count on in the final.

Portland's Steve Clark started 24 games this season and picked up 13 wins with seven clean sheets. He has allowed just one goal in 270 play-off minutes and was key to Portland picking up the MLS is Back trophy in the summer of 2020.

Johnson is the Pigeons captain and has started 29 games this season with 11 wins and nine clean sheets. He's allowed three goals in three play-off games and stood tall in the penalty shoot-out win over New England in the conference semi-finals.

MLS Cup Final odds

According to Planet Sport Bet, the Timbers are 13/8 to win the Cup inside 90 minutes. New York, on the other hand, are 6/4 while the draw after 90 minutes is 11/5. With regards to lifting the cup, Timbers are 10/11 while NYCFC are 5/6.

Looking at the goals market, Portland are priced at 11/10 to score the opener while NYCFC are available at 1/1.

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