Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Which players will have their legends born or cemented in MLS Cup 2021?

Carlos Ruiz. Eddie Pope. Stefan Frei. Mac Kandji. Miklos Molnar. Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Jimmy Nielsen. Dwayne De Rosario. Pando Ramirez. Lucas Zelarayan.

What do you think of when you read their names and imagine their faces? What memories spring to the surface without much digging? A goal. A save. A trophy lift. A moment of triumph.

Finals write legacies. We know this. On Saturday, one team will enter the pantheon (3 pm ET | ABC, UniMas, TUDN). Players will make memories in our collective consciousness that linger longer, that matter more. They will become part of something bigger than themselves. One day, they might even become bronze.

Imagine. MLS Cup. In the pouring rain and whipping wind of the Pacific Northwest. At Providence Park, witness to decades of soccer history. Timbers Army and a man with a chainsaw. As many NYCFC supporters as can get through the doors, a first Cup within grasp. The stage is set. This is where legends are made.

Who will we remember? Here are some prime candidates…

New York City FC’s long-serving spine

Here’s how you pile up the most regular-season points in MLS since 2016, 321 if you were counting. Sign Maxime Chanot, Sean Johnson, Alexander Callens and Maxi Moralez over the course of the summer ’16 and winter ’17 transfer windows and build your team around them.

Shout out to Alex Ring here, signed in winter 2017, who was also a critical part of the spine until Austin FC made NYCFC an offer they couldn’t refuse last offseason. The club made that move because they had homegrown midfielder/defender James Sands (signed from the academy in summer 2017) ready to take Ring’s place in the backbone of the team. More on him in a bit.

Anyway, SeanJohn in goal, Chanot and Callens patrolling in front of him and Maxi linking the lines and creating goalscoring opportunities is one a hell of a formula. We all saw what it meant to those guys to win in Chester last Sunday, to finally answer those pesky playoff questions in the affirmative.

Johnson has been waiting for years to execute a trophy lift. What if it's his heroics in regular time or from the spot that delivers NYCFC their first MLS Cup?

Just look at the way Maxi looks at this Eastern Conference Final trophy. That’s love. How will NYCFC fans look at him if he scores the goal that makes the difference in Portland?

If NYCFC go to Portland and win, bucking recent history that’s heavily favored the home team, these four will be the guys who did it. Five years of investment paid off in full. The players who came, stayed and delivered bragging rights to the Bronx. This is their club. They built what we’ll see on Saturday, and they’d occupy a special place in club history, too.

The spine that won NYCFC their first MLS Cup.

No two Timbers more embody the MLS era than Diego Chara and Diego Valeri. Chara looks like he could break up opposing attacks forever, and Valeri may well have one more Cup-winning moment left to give.

They’re already legends. They’ve already led an MLS Cup parade. I don’t have to tell you what winning in Portland in front of the Timbers Army would mean to the sheer magnitude of their already bursting-at-the-seams legacies.

If the Timbers handle business at home, as I expect they will, how about Dos Diegos, the statue? Why not create a bronze memorial for a pair of one-club MLS men who delivered two Cups and more than a decade of excellence? I can probably settle for numbers in the rafters and no meals or drinks paid for in the city limits ever again, but a statue isn’t out of the question here.

He might not be the spine of NYCFC, but Taty is the forward face and driving personality of this team between the lines.

He scores boatloads of goals, yes, but he also delights in the dirty work. There is no better defensive forward in the league, no sharper thorn in the side of defenders. You can’t question his commitment to the cause, though you can sometimes question the result. He gives every ounce of himself, and in return he’s a Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and MLS Cup finalist thanks to his teammates’ effort in Chester.

Time for him to pay them back. Imagine if Taty returns fresh and insanely motivated then drags his team to their first-ever trophy. Imagine his swagger and his smile. Imagine the celebrations. Imagine it is either the first of many trophies he delivers to NYCFC or his final act for the club that launches his career to new heights and sells him to Europe for millions of dollars.

He’ll be a four-letter reference that everybody understands forever. Taty.

Willis Reed! The Jordan flu game! The bloody sock! Chucky returning from what looked to be a brutal, tear-inducing hamstring injury to inspire the Timbers to a home MLS Cup win!

He is the present and future alpha (assuming the contract negotiations end well) of the club. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, there is the potential for club and league lore from a guy who already has a knack for creating it.

Sands is the club’s first Homegrown made good. Gray is the club’s first signing from the Bronx. Neither the Red Bulls nor NYCFC have ever won MLS Cup.

Two words for the first local boys chasing it: BING BONG!

Nobody has stronger cult hero vibes than Dairon, even if he was starting to grow out of the “Playoff Dairon” bit this year.

Unlike Blanco, his Conference Final absence was self-imposed. He’s going to be desperate to make an impact. Would anything surprise you from Asprilla? Not I. He was made for this moment. Only one man can top this audacity, and it’s the same one who did it in the first place.