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Timbers take aim at second MLS Cup vs. Valentin Castellanos, NYCFC

Sportsnaut
Dec 9, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; New York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos (Taty Castellanos), left, head coach Rony Della (center) and Sean Johnson pose during a press conference at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; New York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos (Taty Castellanos), left, head coach Rony Della (center) and Sean Johnson pose during a press conference at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers look to win their second MLS Cup when they host a New York City FC team playing in its first final on Saturday afternoon.

As the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, Portland won its three playoff matches by a combined five goals, including a comfortable 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in the West final last Saturday.

The Timbers will return 10-goal scorer Dairon Asprilla after he missed the West final serving a red card suspension.

But there remains uncertainty around how long Sebastian Blanco might be able to play in what would be his third major final for the club.

The 33-year-old Argentine playmaker helped Portland reach the 2018 final — which it lost at Atlanta — and was voted MVP of the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament while leading the Timbers to the unique title.

But he exited early in the second half with an apparent leg injury in Portland’s eventual 1-0 West semifinal win over Colorado. He was on the bench in the conference final nine days later but did not see the field.

Blanco said Thursday he was back in full training with the team.

“I’m ready,” Blanco said. “I’m OK, I feel good, I’ve prepared myself for this game. … I still, of course, have to have a conversation with (the coach), but no matter what happened the important thing is we’re ready for the game.”

East No. 4 seed NYCFC will have MLS Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos after he served his own red card ban in their 2-1 conference final win in Philadelphia.

Castellanos has a goal in each of his two 2021 playoff appearances to add to the 19 he scored in the regular season.

He could become just the second Golden Boot winner to also capture MLS Cup after Atlanta’s Josef Martinez did so in 2018.

And he could bring the 7-year-old club, part-owned by English Premier League perennial contenders Manchester City, a first major trophy.

NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson likes his team’s chances, despite playing on the road.

“I don’t think this team considers ourselves as underdogs. I don’t think we ever have,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve been a team that’s been confident in our abilities.”

–Field Level Media