2021 MLS Cup predictions: Will New York City FC or Portland Timbers emerge as champions?

Major League Soccer's 26th season will come to a close with Saturday's MLS Cup (3 p.m. ET, ABC and UniMás).

For the third time in seven seasons, the Portland Timbers are in the league's championship game. However, this is the first time that the Timbers will host MLS Cup at their venerable home stadium, Providence Park, and in front of their famous supporters group, the Timbers Army. The Timbers won MLS Cup in 2015 in Columbus against the Crew, but were defeated in the 2018 title game by Atlanta United.

New York City FC – which joined MLS as an expansion team in 2015 – is appearing in its first MLS Cup.

Can the Timbers win a title on their home turf, or will NYCFC cap a remarkable postseason run with its first league championship?

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Maximiliano Moralez celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the Eastern Conference Finals, which NYCFC won 2-1.
Maximiliano Moralez celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the Eastern Conference Finals, which NYCFC won 2-1.

Here is how USA TODAY Network experts see MLS Cup 2021 going down:

Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer: NYCFC 2, Portland Timbers 1. Portland has an obvious edge in hosting the 2021 MLS Cup final at Providence Park, but New York City FC regains a more important edge with the return of Valentin Castellanos, the best goal scorer that will be on the field for both teams. Prior to Castellanos’ red card against the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinal and subsequent suspension for the conference final win against the Philadelphia Union, the 2021 Golden Boot winner was in-form with two playoff goals (vs. Atlanta and New England). He’ll be grateful to see competition again in the championship match after his suspension. NYCFC took out Philadelphia without Castellanos, so it’s hard to imagine them getting knocked off from their title push with him back in the fold.

Drake Hills, The Tennessean: Portland Timbers 2, NYCFC 0. MLS Cup final experience and home-field advantage will play a big part in this outcome, but so will Felipe Mora. Portland’s Chilean striker has 12 goals to his name this year and one can vividly envision Providence Park erupting in uncontrollable elation after a Mora goal to break the scoring deadlock. There’s too much of a force from the Timbers, even though NYCFC's "Taty" Castellanos will be returning from his one-game suspension in the Eastern Conference final. Portland will get weird on Saturday and the Timbers will lift its second MLS Cup.

Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch: NYCFC 2, Portland Timbers 1. Toward the end of their careers, what a send-off it would be for Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco to win MLS Cup on their home field. But I'm going with the upset on the belief that New York City has slightly better offensive firepower than Portland. This pick is somewhat of a bet that Valentin Castellanos comes back from a suspension with vengeance and will be the most dangerous man on the field. New York gets its first major pro sports championship since 2011.

Jim Reineking, USA TODAY Sports: Portland Timbers 2, NYCFC 1. Let the Cascadia trash talk begin! With a victory Saturday, the Timbers would match their bitter archrivals, the Seattle Sounders, with two MLS Cup victories. The Timbers will enjoy as good a home-field advantage as any MLS Cup participant has enjoyed (Seattle in 2019 and Atlanta in 2018 also come to mind) at Providence Park and in front of the raucous Timbers Army. Not only will NYCFC have to contend with that, but the cross-country trip and third playoff game in 12 days are a big ask for a game of this magnitude.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS Cup 2021: Portland Timbers-New York City FC title game predictions