This weekend is Atlanta United’s first chance to win MLS Cup, and they’ll have a full house of home fans roaring them on in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But to lift the trophy they still have to beat the best from the West, the Portland Timbers, who are riding a high after knocking off top-seeded Sporting Kansas City last week. It’s a matchup that’s ended in a draw both times it has been played so far, and will prove to be yet another tense encounter between the only two teams left in contention for the title.
Ahead of the final, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Battle of the MVP’s
Atlanta United has the luxury of lining up the 2018 MLS MVP, Josef Martinez, at the top of their front line. But Portland have an MVP of their own in the 2017 award winner, Diego Valeri. Both have been game-changers for their teams all year long, but each have continued to shine in the postseason for their clubs. Martinez has scored in each round of the postseason so far, while Valeri has four goals in five matches so far in knockout play. Neither player has ever scored against their opponent this weekend, but each can turn a match on its head with one moment of magic. Whoever comes out on top on Saturday could be lifting a trophy by the end of the night.
Control the Midfield
The Portland Timbers boast one of the best midfields in MLS, where Diego Valeri is joined by Sebastian Blanco, Diego Chara, David Guzmán and Andy Polo. Each bring equal parts skill and work rate, and they provide plenty of scoring threat as well. Atlanta United’s midfield has shown all postseason long that they’re willing to put in the work to shut down their opponents’ passing in the middle of the pitch. They’ll have to be at the top of their game to disrupt one of the most technical central units in the league.
Stick to the Plan
Head coach Gio Savarese is a strong defensive tactician and will set up his team to frustrate Atlanta United from the opening whistle. It may take time for the Five Stripes to break through, but they need to stay patient and stick to their plan. The Timbers are at their best in a defensive shape that springs into a counter-attack, so Atlanta United can’t push so far forward that they let the ball behind them. If they ensure their defense is set to limit chances on the break, they can create opportunities of their own against a Timbers side that has conceded six goals in three matches away from home so far this postseason.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, with the match set to be broadcast on FOX. Click here for a full rundown of how to, watch, listen, or follow along with the game.