MLS Cup 101: What you need to know about 2018 MLS Cup final

MLS Cup - 2018 - generic image

Way back on Saturday, March 3, the first ball was kicked in the 2018 MLS season. Soon, on Saturday, December 8, the last ball will be kicked in the 2018 MLS season, with one team on the podium as the last remaining side after 34 regular season matches and four playoff rounds. 

Below, you'll find everything you need to know ahead of the big game, as Atlanta United host the Portland Timbers at 8 pm ET (FOX, UniMas, TSN, TVAS) in MLS Cup. Most importantly, you'll get reminders on how the routes Atlanta and Portland navigated to arrive here and how you can watch the match on Saturday.

What is MLS Cup?

MLS Cup decides the Major League Soccer champion.

While the New York Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield, for their regular season supremacy, and the Houston Dynamo won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with a magical run through the knockout tournament, MLS Cup is the big fish all clubs aspire to catch. It's the goal all 23 clubs (and counting) worked towards in 2018.

Who's in MLS Cup?

At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in front of what will likely be a new record crowd at MLS Cup, Atlanta and Portland will play the final game of the season. How'd they get here? Well, they took two different routes through the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. 

Atlanta long were in the driver's seat for the Supporters' Shield, though were caught by the Red Bulls on Decision Day. Still, with a second place finish they earned a first-round bye, skipping the Knockout Round. They easily dispatched NYCFC as the higher seed in the Conference Semifinal, with a 4-1 aggregate victory. They finally earned their first win over the Red Bulls in their fifth try at the most opportune of times. They hosted Leg 1 and blitzed RBNY to the tune of a 3-0 victory. ATL then saw out Leg 2 with little fret, finalizing a 3-1 aggregate triumph. 

Meanwhile, the Timbers have been road warriors. They took down FC Dallas in the Knockout Round away from home and outlasted the Seattle Sounders in the Conference Semifinal, an epic series that had drama and even two extra-time goals, culminating with a Timbers penalty shootout victory at CenturyLink Field. That earned Portland the right to face Western Conference first seed Sporting Kansas City. A 0-0 first leg home draw didn't discourage the club as they went on the road and beat SKC 3-2 behind the masterful play of Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.

What's at stake?

It's all at stake on Saturday.

The league's most important trophy; potentially Atlanta's first piece of hardware; legacies; elation; Portland's second MLS Cup; the national spotlight; Tata Martino's last hurrah; possibly Miguel Almiron's, too; Valeri and Diego Chara aren't exactly young players; a chance for the Timbers to qualify for the Concacaf Champions League (ATL already has, meaning if they win MLS Cup then the Red Bulls will play in the Champions League again.)

Need I say more?

What's the format?

As is the thesis behind many a song, MLS Cup is One Night Only. Either the Timbers or ATL will lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy under a shower of confetti on Saturday night.

As such, unlike the last two rounds, away goals do not matter in this game. If the game is tied after 90 minutes, they'll play 30 more; If it's still deadlocked, then the league's winner will be decided by penalties, as it was in 2016 when the Sounders triumphed over Toronto FC after spot kicks. 

How can I watch MLS Cup?

Tune in on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 8 pm ET. In the United States, you can watch the game on FOX, FoxSportsGo and UniMás. In Canada, catch it on TSN and TVAS.

Get ready for the night by turning to at 6:30 pm ET for MLS Cup Central. We'll also have shows covering all the build-up to the game at 7 pm ET on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

If you live outside the United States or Canada, please check the international listings page to learn where you can watch in your country.

Finally, to receive a reminder for the game, all you need to do is like or retweet the following: