Despite being knocked out from the U.S. Open Cup earlier this week, Atlanta United (10-3-3) remain in the driver’s seat to lift the Supporters’ Shield with 33 points at the top of the league table. With all the focus now turned to the regular season, the Five Stripes will look to defend that lead as they host Western Conference opponents the Portland Timbers (6-3-4). Atlanta are hoping to keep their four-match unbeaten streak alive, while Portland will look to spoil the red, black & gold party in their first trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It’s two of the hottest teams in MLS going head to head and just the second-ever meeting between the two clubs, so make sure you secure your seat to the show here. The match kicks off on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX and FOX Sports GO. Click here for all the details on how to follow along with the match.
Atlanta United (10-3-3)
Atlanta United enters the match having spent the last two contests on the road, earning results against the other top teams in the East in New York City FC and the Columbus Crew. Their league form hit a speedbump a few weeks ago where they tallied one win in four matches, but outside of that, they’ve been firing on nearly all cylinders all year. Their league-leading 33 goals have the Five Stripes sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield Standings with 33 points.
Not only does the team lead MLS in goals this season, but the 22 of them scored in Mercedes-Benz Stadium are three more than any other team has tallied at home thus far. Key to the 2018 goal-scoring precedent being set is forward Josef Martinez, who leads the Golden Boot race with 14 goals –– 4 more than any other player. Last time out in Atlanta, he tied a hat-trick record against Philadelphia with five now in his brief MLS career. The Venezuelan international has recorded 33 goals in just 33 starts since joining the Five Stripes last season, and is already become one of the most prolific scorers the league has ever seen.
Behind Martinez are players just as dangerous in the attacking third with the reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year Miguel Almirón sparking attack after attack, while the tight touches and killer passing instincts from Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe cause nightmares for defenses. 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel has also been a calming presence on the wing, bringing German class and consistency with his services. And with a speedy Tito Villalba back to full health – scoring as a late sub in their last league match and clocking 90 minutes in their midweek Open Cup match – Tata Martino will have quite the headache deciding which cards he wants to play on Sunday against Portland.
Portland Timbers (6-3-4)
Don’t let Portland’s 6th place position in the Western Conference fool you, the Timbers are unbeaten in their last 8 games (6W-2D) and still have game(s) in hand on every team above them in the table. However, while they have outscored their opponents 14-6 over the course of their eight-match unbeaten run, six of those have been in the comfort of their own home at Providence Park. It will be a new experience on Sunday for a Portland side that’s never witnessed the atmosphere created by the Atlanta faithful that pack Mercedes-Benz Stadium week after week.
Any time the Timbers find themselves in a rhythm, they most likely have one man at the heart of it all. Now a household name in Portland, Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri is superb on the ball and seems to only get more confident when he gets near the net. His 21 goals and 11 assists earned him the MLS MVP in 2017, marking the fourth time in five seasons that he’s reach double-digit scoring. And he’s on track to record another prolific season in 2018 as his six goals and three assists lead his team thus far.
In addition to the obvious danger of the league’s reigning MVP, the Timbers have a few other names that could cause trouble for Atlanta this Sunday. Though not much of a physical presence, midfielder Sebastián Blanco brings a quick, nifty, charisma to the center of the park and his ability to navigate tight areas allows them to break the press and break down disciplined defenses. In front of Valeri and Blanco, it’s usually one of two proven goalscorers up front: long-time Timbers point man Fanendo Adi with 53 goals in his Cascadian career or on-loan Samuel Armenteros who has 79 professional goals in his pocket from stints in Europe.
However Atlanta and Portland decide to lineup, it’s sure to be a thrilling contest between two of the hottest teams in the league. Make sure you tune in on FOX for the 4:30 p.m. EST kickoff this Sunday. And for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.