The Portland Timbers have the opportunity to win their second MLS Cup in seven years this weekend. Portland has been one of the most successful franchises in the league since entering the MLS in 2011. They have finished atop the Western Conference twice, won the 2015 MLS Cup and 2020 MLS is Back Tournament, and finished runner-up in the 2018 MLS Cup. The Timbers will look to continue their winning ways but they are underdogs per the MLS betting odds against New York City FC in the 2021 MLS Cup.
The 2021 MLS Cup between the Portland Timbers and New York City FC will take place on Saturday, December 11, 2021, at 3 p.m. ET on ABC from Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Betting Odds for the 2021 MLS Cup
Portland Timbers +170
New York City FC +165
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Both teams were considered relative longshots to make the 2021 MLS Cup at the start of the playoffs. New York City FC had a little shorter odds than the Portland Timbers, but NYCFC had the weight of history working against the club. The Bronx Blues finished in the top three in the Eastern Conference from 2016 to 2019, but they were never able to make it past the conference semifinals.
NYCFC were the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference this season. They didn’t make many major changes in the offseason, mainly losing midfielder Alexander Ring, defender Ronald Matarrita, and forward Alexandru Mitrita. The midseason acquisition of Talles Magno eventually worked out in a big way though.
In the first round of the playoffs, MLS Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos opened the scoring against Atlanta just after halftime. Alexander Callens added another goal four minutes later to put NYCFC past a team that has flummoxed them in recent years. That set up a showdown with Supporters’ Shield winners, the New England Revolution, in the conference semifinals.
Despite being significant underdogs on the MLS betting line, NYCFC were able to knock off the Revs. NYCFC found the back of the net in the third minute, but the two teams ended up going to extra time after New England quickly leveled. It appeared that Castellanos might have put the Bronx Blues through with a goal in the 109th minute, but he was sent off four minutes later and allowed Tajon Buchanan to net an equalizer that sent the match to penalties. Fortunately, NYCFC were able to convert all their opportunities from the spot to make history.
We saw NYCFC get a little bit of good luck in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were matched with the Philadelphia Union who were dealing with COVID ravaging their roster. Philadelphia put up a valiant effort and even briefly took the lead thanks to an own goal, but Magno eventually won the match for NYCFC in the 88th minute.
Portland was the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. The Timbers were a middling team for the first 20 games of the year, but they won 10 of their last 14 games to make a run at one of the top three spots in the West. They kept their hot streak going with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United FC in the first round of the playoffs thanks to a brace from Sebastian Blanco.
Larrys Mabiala was the hero for the Timbers with a 90th minute goal in a 1-0 win over the No. 1 seed Colorado Rapids in the conference semifinals. Portland played pretty level with Colorado for most of the match, but Mabiala provided a dagger to send the Timbers to the conference finals where they met Cinderella team Real Salt Lake.
Real Salt Lake made it to the Western Conference Finals as the No. 7 seed by knocking out the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City, but they couldn’t knock off the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 seeds to make the MLS Cup. Three road games were just too much as Felipe Mora scored in the fifth minute. Santiago Moreno provided an insurance goal in the 61st minute, and the match was essentially over in the 79th minute when Aaron Herrera picked up a red card for RSL.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Castellanos was not available for the Eastern Conference Finals after his red card against the Revolution, but he is vital to New York City FC’s chances of lifting the MLS Cup. Castellanos won the Golden Boot with 19 goals and eight assists for the Bronx Blues, and he led the league in both shots and shots on target by a wide margin.
Maxi Moralez has been an important part of NYCFC’s success too. Moralez has been the team’s talisman since David Villa left for Japan, and he leads the club with 11 assists on the season. He missed much of last year due to injury, but he had 16 assists in 2018 and a whopping 20 helpers in 2019.
Blanco is questionable to play in the MLS Cup for Portland. The Timbers’ No. 10 notched seven goals and seven assists for the club this season, but he suffered a hamstring injury against Colorado two weeks ago. They are hoping he can play, as it’s a serious blow to their attack if he is unable to go.
Diego Chara is arguably the greatest player in Portland history. Chara has been with the club since its inception, and he has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league over the last decade. He was an MLS Best XI selection last year and will be tasked with breaking up NYCFC’s attack.
New York City FC is a slight favorite on the MLS Cup odds, but this is where their luck will run out. Portland has the experience and the talent to win this match even if Blanco is unable to go.