Atlanta United needs to bounce back when it faces the Portland Timbers on Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised match. Coming off a 4-1 defeat midweek to Philadelphia, the 5-Stripes find themselves three points below the Eastern Conference playoff line. Portland picked up a 2-1 road victory against Austin FC Wednesday to move above the Western Conference playoff line by one point. Sunday’s meeting marks the first match between these two sides since 2019. Atlanta leads the all-time series with a 2-0-2 (W-L-T) record. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Portland Timbers.
Be solid defensively and take advantage of scoring opportunities
With six matches remaining in the regular season, Atlanta United needs to get back on the winning track this Sunday at Portland. After conceding four goals last time out, Atlanta needs to be more solid defensively and do everything it can to keep Portland’s attack off the scoresheet. Defending is a mindset and mentality that Atlanta needs to embrace these last six matches. Defender Andrew Gutman said it best following the match at Philadelphia.
“For me, my mentality as a defender is that I would rather almost get knocked out by the ball than see the ball in the back of the net.” Gutman added, “That’s the mentality we have to have.”
Offensively, Atlanta continues to create opportunities. Over the last five matches, they have the most total shots (98) and the second-most shots on goal (35) in all of MLS. They have also created eight “big chances” in those five matches, which ranks tied for fifth in the league. They need to reward themselves for those chances by converting them against the Timbers. If they do, especially early in the match, then three points can be had at Providence Park.
Stop Portland’s momentum and quiet a raucous crowd
The Timbers are currently on a two-match win streak and they have been impressive victories as well. They defeated their long-time rivals Seattle 2-1 at home (Aug. 26) and then battled a lengthy weather delay to secure a 2-1 victory on the road at Austin FC, who sit second in the Western Conference table. The two victories have vaulted Portland above the Western Conference playoff line ahead of this weekend’s action. Portland features a versatile attack with five players who have scored five goals or more. Attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco is one of the key figures as he has scored seven goals and added eight assists.
Portland also features a top attacking threat in defense in Bill Tuiloma. The Auckland, New Zealand native has scored six goals on the season and can be anywhere along the backline for Portland. Atlanta needs to be aware of the plethora of attacking options that Portland can throw at them and defend as a unit. The longer Atlanta can keep a clean sheet, the less the Providence Park crowd, which is one of the top environments in the league, will become a factor in Sunday’s match.
Turn winning possession into quality chances
Atlanta United ranks second in the league in winning possession back in the middle third of the pitch with 717 coming into this weekend. Only the New York Red Bulls have won possession back more often in that part of the field. If Atlanta can turn Portland over in the middle part of the field and quickly turn that transition into quality chances, the 5-Stripes could catch out Portland’s defense and score. With Ronaldo Cisneros and Luiz Araújo, Atlanta features two speedy attackers. Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon have also been providing speed on the flanks to help out Atlanta’s attack. Finding those players on the break will be key for Atlanta to pick up a positive result on the road at Portland.
Fans can tune-in nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes on Sunday afternoon as Atlanta United travels to face Portland Timbers at 5:30 p.m. ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream the match.