2021 MLS Cup preview: Portland Timbers vs NYCFC: How to watch, team news, predicted lineups and ones to watch
Photo: Kirby Lee.USA Today Sports

The 26th MLS season will come to a close when the Western Conference champion Portland Timbers face Eastern Conference champion NYCFC in the 2021 MLS Cup final at Providence Park.

Portland began the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United, followed that up with a narrow 1-0 win over West top seed Colorado and cruised past Real Salt Lake 2-0 in the Western Conference final to reach their third MLS Cup in the last six years.

NYCFC reached their first cup final of any kind in team history with a 2-0 victory over Atlanta United, upset Supporters' Shield winner New England in a penalty shootout and came from behind to defeat Philadelphia 2-1 in the Eastern Conference final.

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  • Team news

Portland will welcome Dairon Asprilla back from suspension after he was sent off against Colorado and missed the match against Real Salt Lake.

Sebastian Blanco picked up a hamstring injury against RSL, but insists he is recovered and is expected to play. Manager Giovanni Savarese has not indicated whether he will start or not.

Diego Valeri will be playing his final match in a Timbers shirt after nine seasons with the club. 

There are no fresh injury concerns for NYCFC ahead of the final. Anton Tinnerholm remains out with an Achilles injury while Keaton Parks is sidelined due to a lower-body issue.

  • Predicted lineups

Portland Timbers: Clark; Bravo, Zuparic, Mabiala, Van Rankin; Paredes, Blanco, D. Chara; Asprilla, Mora, Y. Chara

NYCFC: Johnson; Amundsen, Callens, Chanot, Gray; Sands, Morales; Moralez; Rodriguez, Castellanos, Medina

  • Ones to watch

Felipe Mora (Portland Timbers)

With Blanco a question mark due to his hamstring injury, the former Pumas striker is the key to the Portland attack. Mora, signed on a permanent deal from the Mexican giants in 2020, led the club with 11 goals during the regular season and broke a nine-match goalless run against RSL with the opening goal. 

Valentin Castellanos (NYCFC)

He is the proverbial "straw that stirs the drink" for the Boys In Blue, winning the Golden Boot award by scoring 19 goals and adding two more in the playoffs, despite missing a game through suspension.

The Argentine is more than just a goal scorer as he knows how to get into open space, leading MLS with 824 attacking runs and 681 high presses up the pitch.

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With eight assists on the season, he also knows how to find open teammates, making him the ideal player for manager Ronny Deila's system.

  • Previous meeting

In the 2020 MLS Is Back tournament, Portland came away with a 3-1 victory in the quarterfinals last August.

Jesus Medina opened the scoring for NYCFC in the 27th minute from the penalty spot after being fouled by Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala.

Blanco equalized two minutes from halftime after collecting a deflected cross by Jorge Villafana and curled home a shot past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Valeri put the Timbers ahead for good on 65 minutes, slotting home a feed from Jaroslav Niezgoda and Andy Polo added a third in the 76th minute.

The match will be nationally televised by ABC. The ABC app will also have all of the action while Spanish-language viewers can tune in to UniMas.

Kick-off is set for 3pm Eastern time.

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