MLS weekend preview: Will there be any more upsets in the semi-finals?

Upsets have been the theme of the MLS Cup Playoffs so far as both top seeds have been eliminated...

The Supporters' Shield-winning New England Revolution (East) and Colorado Rapids (West) were defeated by respective Conference semi-finalists New York City FC and Portland Timbers.

The final four are upon us this weekend as Real Salt Lake (No.7) takes on the Timbers in the Western Conference final while New York City FC play Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference.

One of these four teams will claim the 2021 MLS Cup on December 11 and it will see a team from the East play in their first-ever final. Real Salt Lake and Portland have both been to the final twice and have tasted glory in 2009 and 2015, respectively.

None of the four teams remaining have ever hosted an MLS Cup Final with Portland winning in Columbus and losing in Atlanta while Real Salt Lake won in Seattle and lost in Kansas City.

Portland set to host

The play-offs have broken beautifully for the Timbers so far as they came from behind to beat Minnesota United at home 3-1 in the first round before upsetting top-seeded Colorado Rapids 1-0 on the road. With Real Salt Lake knocking off both Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas (ranked second and third in the seeding), City, Portland gets to host as the highest seed remaining.

Real Salt Lake is the true Cinderella story of the MLS season. Their owner was forced to sell the team more than a year ago after multiple accusations of racism, sexism, and a toxic culture with both Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals of the NWSL.

The league has not yet sold the team so technically they have played all season without an owner.

Already without a true bonafide superstar, Real Salt Lake are also without a permanent manager as Freddy Juarez up and left in August to become an assistant manager in Seattle. They got their revenge by sending Juarez and the Sounders packing with a shootout win in the first round two weeks ago.

Not only that but Real Salt Lake needed a goal from Damir Kreilach in the 95th minute of the final regular-season game just to make the play-offs.

They didn't take a single shot while parking the bus to beat Seattle in penalties in the first round and Bobby Wood's stoppage-time winner in Kansas City on Sunday was their MLS-leading eighth stoppage-time goal of the season.

Portland will have the talent advantage over a team with the smallest budget in the league. But they will be without superstar Sebastian Blanco who pulled his hamstring in the second half of Sunday's win in Colorado.

Blanco had two goals in the first-round win and without him, the Timbers could look more like a counter-attacking team on Saturday.

According to the bookies, the Timbers are the favourites at 5/6 to win the competition and they have experience lifting trophies as winners of the MLS is Back tournament in 2020.

Real Salt Lake are 11/4 to win on Saturday with a draw after 90 minutes listed at 13/5.

Union, NYCFC look to make history

Relative newcomers to the MLS Cup playoffs, both the Union and New York City FC have had spectacular regular seasons in their tenures but neither has ever made the MLS Cup final.

The Union won the Supporters Shield in 2020 but lost in the first round of the playoffs while NYCFC set a then-MLS points record in 2019 but also lost their first play-off game.

These teams met in the final regular-season game just three weeks ago and drew 1-1 in New York. They split two games in Philadelphia this season with the visitors winning 2-0 early in the season and the Union winning 1-0 in August.

New York City showed they can win on the road as they went to New England and stunned the Revolution in penalties on Tuesday.

That was the only road win thus far in the East but the Pigeons lost Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos to a red-card suspension for Sunday's game and will have to adapt offensively.

The Union got past Nashville last weekend with a goal from Daniel Gazdag and then shootout heroics from keeper Andre Blake. Meanwhile, Sean Johnson kept New York City in the game against a potent Revolution squad and after surrendering the tying goal in the 119th minute, he too inspired a shootout win.

Planet Sport Bet has the Union at 5/4 to win this matchup. The visitors from New York are 15/8 and a draw after 90 minutes is 23/10.

Read more: North-east reunited - It's just 9/4 for Magpies and Sunderland to join Boro in 2022/23 Championship

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