New York City FC goaltender Sean Johnson exudes the confidence...

New York City FC goaltender Sean Johnson exudes the confidence of the whole team as it gets ready to play at Portland for the MLS Cup on Saturday.  Credit: Getty Images/Tim Nwachukwu

The underdog mentality is not for everyone.

New York City FC, a team with the backing of a global soccer network and the pedigree of English giants Manchester City, never has considered itself the little guy and won’t start now entering MLS Cup on the road.

"I don’t think this team considers ourselves underdogs. I don't think we ever have," said goalkeeper Sean Johnson. "I think we've been a team that's been confident our abilities."

NYCFC visits the Portland Timbers to decide Major League Soccer’s championship on Saturday at 3 p.m. on ABC at Providence Park. A win would give New York its first MLS title, as well as the area’s first top-division soccer crown since 1982.

Saturday is the first final in the seven-year history of a team that nearly missed the playoffs this year, but rallied to close the regular season unbeaten in five before playoff victories over Atlanta United, the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union. That’s required a balancing act of enthusiasm and discipline by NYCFC’s players.

"We've approached every game the past month or two as cup finals," Johnson said. "But we've approached it in a way that we've gone in even keeled, understanding that if we stick to the things that have gotten us success that we know we can achieve, that we are confident as a group going into a game."

Confidence can only help NYCFC as the road team on Saturday. Visitors have struggled in MLS Cup since 2012 when the league moved its championship from a pre-determined site to the home stadium of the team with more regular season points. Road clubs have just two Cup wins in nine tries, the last being the Seattle Sounders’ shootout victory at Toronto FC in 2016.


The raucous crowd at Portland's Providence Park, regarded as one of the most intimidating around the league, only complicates matters.

"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 the moments along the way," Johnson said. "We don't look at it as something that's a negative but more so that we've worked hard, we deserve to be here. We'll enjoy every second of this week, the preparation, and going into Saturday, we'll look to do the same."

City’s self-belief will be helped by the return of Valentín Castellanos. The MLS Golden Boot winner this season, Castellanos was suspended for the Eastern Conference final for his red card in the previous round against New England.

Against Philadelphia, NYCFC missed Castellanos’ pressing aggressiveness as much as his goal scoring. NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila believes that drive helps bring out the top-dog mindset his team exudes.

"You see how he's fearless," said Deila. "He is very physical, he's a killer, and that's things that give the whole team energy and belief and that's the psychological things that are important to the games."


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