With the playoff bracket now filtering 14 entrants down to the final two, it is time for the MLS Cup final to appear on the horizon and with both Portland Timbers and New York City vying for victory, only one team will get their hands on American soccer’s most prized possession.
A possession that is within touching distance of the two finalists and with the Portland Timbers also being afforded home advantage for Saturday’s showpiece event, the deck is seemingly stacked against their New York counterparts.
Then again, if there is one thing that this year’s edition of the MLS playoffs has generated, it is plenty of drama and with late goals seemingly being the order of the day, do not be surprised if more of it unfolds at the weekend.
Especially as the two sides in question have been responsible for some of the more nail-biting moments of this year’s MLS playoffs phase and although they have left it late at times, their progress has ultimately been deserved.
Which means two head coaches will now bid to scoop the 2021 edition of the MLS Cup and with Giovanni Savarese going up against Ronny Delia, it is going to be an interesting battle of wits in the technical area.
For the Portland Timbers they come into Saturday’s final ranked as the number four seeds from the Western Conference and although New York City earned the same seeding from the Eastern, it is the regular season table which has decided who will be hosts.
With the Timbers finishing higher up in the combined regular season standings, it means that Providence Park will now welcome New York City and with a rapturous Portland crowd set to be in full voice, life will not be easy for the visitors.
Then again, partisan support can also act as a hindrance if things do not go the way of the home team and if that same crowd starts to get frustrated in the stands, such energy could quickly transfer to the field of play.
Which is something that former Celtic manager Ronny Delia will look to capitalise on, as he brings his New York City boys to the state of Oregon and although they are on the road once again, that has not fazed them during their last two playoff encounters.
With road victories against both the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union in their pocket, confidence within the New York camp will only be building further and this confidence is being reflected in the betting markets.
For those soccer fans who often research live scores and odds, the price of New York City will be of great interest and with them priced as slight favourites for the final, their experience of previous away wins may set them in good stead for the weekend.
At the time of writing, New York City find themselves at odds of +161, while the Portland Timbers are priced at +175 by comparison and a tied game after 90 minutes is currently at odds of +227 before kick-off.
Which means the sportsbooks are finding this one a difficult fixture to call and for those bettors who are brave enough to put their money where their mouth is, it could well be that risk ends up equalling reward.
While that statement could also be made for the two finalists themselves, one thing to look out for on Saturday is whether both Giovanni Savarese and Ronny Delia set out to win or to simply not to lose.
If it is the latter, then it may be a final that does not lead itself to too many goals and with extra-time and penalties there if required, do not be surprised if the lottery of a shootout is one that ends the 2021 MLS season.
Whether a soccer season should end with penalty kicks rather than in a standard league format, is something that is often argued and although European soccer fans are bemused at a different way of deciding a champion, playoffs are certainly ingrained in the American sporting psyche.
With the MLS resisting calls to move to a European model in terms of format, their stubbornness has paid off in the end and with the playoffs acting as a rather fitting end to any season, it is also very popular with fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
As the league grows from strength to strength and new franchises are ready to join MLS’ continual plans for expansion, it is fair to say that the competition is in good health and with just one more game remaining for 2021, all that is left to decide is this season’s champion.
Which offers up one question. Will it be the Portland Timbers or New York City who take their shot at glory? We will know the answer to that by the end of Saturday.