PORTLAND – They'll soon step into one of MLS’ all-time most intimidating atmospheres in Saturday’s MLS Cup Final at a packed Providence Park, but New York City FC certainly don’t consider themselves underdogs as they prepare to face the Portland Timbers.
During the regular season, there was little to choose between the two teams, with both finishing fourth in their respective conference. However, the last four MLS Cups have been won by the home team and Portland and the Timbers Army are renowned for making Providence Park among the toughest venues for visiting teams.
Only the New England Revolution won more home games than the Timbers during the 2021 regular season. And the first-ever MLS Cup in Portland has the city buzzing and lines of people looking to get the best possible vantage point forming outside Providence Park for days ahead of the final.
NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, though, insists his team has no fear about what awaits them on Saturday (3 pm ET | ABC, UniMás in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).
“I don’t think this team considers ourselves as underdogs. I don't think we ever have,” Johnson said at Thursday’s pregame press conference. “I think we've been a team that's been confident in our abilities.
“We enjoy playing in good atmospheres and we've done that at Yankee Stadium for season after season now and going to different places. Obviously this is going to be a great atmosphere on Saturday, but I think a big thing for our group is that we've embraced all these moments along the way. We don't look at it as something that's a negative, but more so that we worked hard and we deserve to be here.”
While this will be Portland’s third MLS Cup appearance in seven years, NYCFC had never advanced past the Conference Semifinals prior to this year.
But the Cityzens showed plenty during the regular season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs to prove they more than belong on this stage. After knocking off 2018 MLS Cup winners Atlanta United in Round One, Ronny Deila’s side went to record-setting Supporters’ Shield winners New England and produced an upset before doing the same on the road at No. 2 seed Philadelphia Union.
“It's about our performance and we have the confidence that we know if we're performing well, we can beat anybody,” Deila said. “And that’s something that the teams who play against us know. And we have shown that over and over again over a long time.
“I’m quite convinced that we’re in the right mode to go out and perform.”