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Home-field advantage will be in the Portland Timbers' hands as they will host the MLS Cup for the first time Saturday. This will be their third appearance in the MLS Cup, which they won in 2015 and finished as runners up in 2018. For New York, this will be their first MLS Cup appearance since being founded in 2013. A topsy turvy road to the Cup, the championship will see the fourth seed from each conference battle it out. 

The Portland Timbers should have the advantage heading in with the match taking place at Providence Park. The Timbers have the third-highest average attendance in MLS and there will likely be a capacity crowd of 25,218 to see what could be Diego Valeri's final game for the Timbers. While there will be questions about whether Sebastian Blanco's hamstrings are solid enough to start the match, not needing to use him in the Western Conference championship victory over Real Salt Lake will help.

NYCFC will welcome Valentín Castellanos back from suspension just in time after seeing off the COVID-depleted Philadelphia Union to win the Eastern Conference. The presence of the MLS Golden Boot winner should go a long way for New York's attack even though Portland has shown defensive improvement during the playoffs so far, allowing one goal over their three games after being the sixth-worst defense, allowing 51 goals during the season.

Portland and New York are similar when attacking, with 55 goals for NYC and 54 for Portland. James Sands will also be closer to full health for NYC, which is a boost going both ways. 

How to watch Portland Timbers vs. NYCFC

Date: Saturday, Dec. 11 | Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)  
Caesars Sportsbook Odds: Portland +180; Draw +215; New York +165

Key battles

Tayvon Gray vs. Darion Asprilla: A breakout performer and a grizzled veteran will likely do battle on the wing in this match. The 19-year-old homegrown Gray is a center back by trade but has been starting at right back for NYC locking down attackers while using his pace to get into the box as well, shown by his assist in the third minute against New England. He'll likely be up against Darion Asprilla, who returns from suspension for this match. During the regular season, Asprilla was involved in 13 goals but will hope to take advantage of facing a youthful defender in this one. It is a time to see how ready for the moment Gray is as a good performance in Portland would not only boost his stock but would also go a long way toward helping his team win.

Maxi Moralez vs Diego Chará: This match will be won in the midfield and two of the best at what they do will dance to decide a victor. NYC like moving the ball quickly to expose space between defenders and a reason why they can do that is because of the quick feet and vision of Moralez. Back to full health, Moralez already has a goal and two assists during this playoff run while also delivering accurate long balls. Chara is one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history and will look to track Moralez while also positioning the defense and starting counterattacks for the Timbers. Lose Moralez and the Timbers will likely lose the game because Castellanos doesn't miss chances often so Chara's performance will be key.

Narrative

Having home-field advantage in Providence Park is a special thing especially when this could be Valeri's final time suiting up for the Timbers. New York will need to be careful not to crack under pressure as a lot of their players -- such as Sean Johnson and Maxime Chanot -- have extensive international experience but not much experience in championship matches. It is a different beast and it's something that favors Portland having been here multiple times.

Prediction

Things are stacked too heavily in the Timbers' favor for them not to get the job done at home. The defense getting things together at just the right time, Blanco almost returning to health, and getting to host the Cup at home feels like the stars are aligning in their favor. Portland 3, New York 2.