MLS Cup Final Preview
Portland Timbers and New York City FC will battle for glory in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday. The game will take place at Providence Park in Portland, as the Timbers had a stronger regular season record than NYCFC.
Both of these teams were underdogs heading into the playoffs, but they have repeatedly defied expectations. They are now both surging with momentum, so it promises to be a fascinating clash.
Portland Timbers Route to the MLS Cup Final
Portland finished fourth in the Western Conference after winning 17 of its 34 games during the regular season. Its reward was a home game against Minnesota United in the First Round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Portland had the best home record in the west, with 11 wins, three draws and three defeats from 17 games at Providence Park, so it was expected to beat a Minnesota team with an underwhelming away record. The Timbers duly delivered a 3-1 win. Franco Gragapane put Minnesota 1-0 up, by Larrys Mabiala fired in an equalizer on the stroke of half-time, and Sebastián Blanco hit a brace after the break.
Portland went on the road to face Colorado Rapids in the Conference Semifinals. Its away record was poor in the regular season, with nine defeats from 17 games, so it was the clear underdog. However, the defense held firm, and a last-gasp goal from Mabiala earned it a famous 1-0 win.
The Timbers were back at Providence Park for the Western Conference Final, where they took on Real Salt Lake, the surprise package of the playoffs. RSL had beaten Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC, two of the best teams in the west, but it was no match for Portland, and goals from Felipe Mora and Santiago Moreno handed the Timbers a 2-0 win.
New York City FC Route to the MLS Cup Final
NYCFC also finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, but with four fewer points than Portland. It won 14, drew nine and lost 11 games during the regular season. No team in the top six lost more times.
However, Ronna Deila’s men ended the regular season on a five-game unbeaten run, so they carried momentum into the playoffs. Second-half goals from Taty Castellanos and Alexander Callens handed them a 2-0 win against Atlanta United in the First Round.
The Pigeons then had to go on the road to face New England Revolution, which was the heavy favorite to win the MLS Cup after ending the regular season with a record-breaking points haul.
Everyone expected New York City to lose comprehensively, but they made a flying start to proceedings when Santiago Rodríguez scored on 3 minutes. Adam Buska quickly equalized, and it finished 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes. Casellanos put NYCFC 2-1 up in extra-time, but he was then sent off with seven minutes remaining. Tajon Buchanan grabbed a last-gasp goal to make it 2-2, but NYCFC held its nerve and won the penalty shootout.
Castellanos was suspended for the Eastern Conference Final against Philadelphia Union, but second-half goals from Maximiliano Moralez and Talles Magno overhauled a 1-0 sent NYCFC through to the MLS Cup Final with a 2-1 win.
These teams rarely face one another, as they are in different conferences, but Portland Timbers have dominated the head-to-heads. They have beaten NYCFC in each of their last four meetings.
It finished 1-0 to Portland in 2017, 3-0 in 2018, 1-0 in 2019, and 3-1 last year. Jesús Medina handed NYCFC the lead from the penalty spot in their last meeting, but Blanco equalized, and goals from Diego Váleri and Andy Polo put the Pigeons to the sword.
Castellanos will be back in the NYCFC team for this game after completing a one-match suspension. He is the top scorer in the MLS this season, so that is great news for Deila. Keaton Parks and Anton Tinnerholm are injured for New York City, but otherwise the squad has a clean bill of health.
The Timbers have several players on the treatment table – Polo, Eryk Williamson, Ismaila Jome, Jeff Atinella and Hunter Sulte. Polo and Williamson would normally start for Portland, but all the other key stars are available.
Castellanos is the main man for NYCFC. The 23-year-old Argentinian striker won the Golden Boot this season, and he maintained that form in the playoffs. He will be refreshed after missing the game against Philadelphia, and he should be raring to go.
Brazilian youngster Talles Magno and Paraguayan forward Jesús Medina provide creativity down the flanks, while James Sands marshals the defense. NYCFC’s captain is goalkeeper Sam Johnson.
Portland does not have any superstars, but the team is packed full of dependable, hard-working, technically astute players. Mora is the team’s top scorer this year, with 12 goals in 32 games, while Blanco has impressed, chipping in with nine goals and seven assists in just 26 matches.
Yimmi Chará is also dangerous, while captain Váleri provides experience and composure in the final third.
Portland is the narrow favorite to win the MLS Cup, best priced at -110 with DraftKings. NYCFC is out at +120 with Bet365. That market covers you for extra-time and penalties.
The three-way moneyline is tight. FanDuel and BetMGM make Portland the +145 favorite, with +165 on NYCFC and +240 on the draw at BetMGM. Bet365 makes Portland a heavier favorite, with +130 on a Timbers win and +190 on NYCFC. Yet PointsBet has +165 on Portland and +170 on New York City, while DraftKings makes the Timbers the narrow underdogs at +170.
It is hard to look past Portland’s magnificent home record in this game. The Timbers were superb at Providence Park during the regular season, and they have been very composed throughout the playoffs.
NYCFC is unbeaten in eight matches, but it has struggled on the road this season, and Portland is a long way to travel. The Timbers could also have a psychological advantage thanks to their dominance of the head-to-heads. Odds of -110 on Portland to lift the trophy with DraftKings look appealing.
For a prop bet, you could go for Castellanos to score, as he has been extremely prolific this season, while both teams to score at -136 with FanDuel looks tempting.