New York City FC are already training in Portland, where they will face the Portland Timbers in the 2021 MLS Cup Final. It is the most important game in NYCFC’s history, their first title match since the club started playing in 2015.
The oddsmakers give NYCFC a slight advantage to win. NYCFC has a razor-thin edge according to both FOX Bet and OddsChecker. “Oddsmakers see this match as a tossup,” said OddsChecker’s Kyle Newman. “The odds are virtually even.”
FiveThirtyEight gives a slightly larger edge to NYCFC, giving them a 57% of winning the MLS Cup.
Does that make NYCFC favorites? Maybe kinda, maybe not. OddsChecker’s Newman notes that bettors favor Portland: More money is being put on the Timbers despite the odds betting markets offer. The pundits are split. Greg Seltzer of MLS.com picks Portland to win, largely because of the advantage of playing at home. In a conversation on Fox Soccer, Alexi Lalas picks NYCFC to win while David Mosse taps Portland. In ESPN’s Futbol Americas, Herculez Gomez picks Portland and Sebastian Salazar backs NYCFC.
That mix of indifference and grudging respect is familiar to many NYCFC supporters. This team were underrated all season and essentially written off in the playoffs—that is, until NYCFC faced a Philadelphia Union depleted by COVID health and safety protocols. Look today at the commentary about the Eastern Conference Semifinal and you’d think New England won the game.
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The pundits never quite warmed to NYCFC this year. Striker Taty Castellanos was mostly overlooked by the chattering class until he was on the cusp of winning the Golden Boot—which he did in style. While 18-year-old Philadelphia homegrown Jack McGlynn became a media darling for his extremely good penally kick in the playoffs, 18-year-old NYCFC homegrown Tayvon Gray received little recognition for his extremely good play in the playoffs shutting down the offenses of Atlanta United and the New England Revolution. The talking heads who fawn over New England’s Tajon Buchanan and his goal only dutifully mention Santi Rodríguez and his goal—even though it was Rodríguez who won the game.
That faint whiff of disrespect has lingered in the room all season. Most outside of NYCFC fandom aren't sold on the team. True, NYCFC could be frustrating to watch at times, a squad capable of turning an easy win into a struggle. But the team arguably plays the most attractive soccer in MLS: When NYCFC’s players click there’s nothing like it in the league.
You could say that NYCFC are underdogs even when they’re favorites. Maybe that need to prove themselves has fueled the team’s run to the MLS Cup Final.
NYCFC were picked to beat Atlanta United, which they did only after facing the demons of the team’s traumatic postseason history and getting over their playoff yips. NYCFC were picked to lose to New England, but they outplayed the most complete team in the league on the plastic grass of unforgiving Gillette Stadium. NYCFC were picked to beat the Philadelphia Union, which they did in a tough away game on short rest.
Are NYCFC underdogs or favorites? The numbers point in one direction, the national mood in the other.
From the outside, you get the sense that this battle-tested squad isn’t paying attention to any of it. Instead they're focusing on the 90-minute game scheduled for Saturday, and winning one more game this season.