Portland Timbers' tactics disarm Atlanta United's potent attack in draw

ATLANTA — The Portland Timbers came into Sunday's match with a defensive game plan that frustrated Atlanta United’s potent offense. By doing so, the Timbers took a point in a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and extended their unbeaten streak to nine league games. 

“I think that the most important thing is that people know that we are a team that is difficult to defeat,” said Portland manager Giovanni Savarese. “That is very important for us. And then we just have to continue to build, continue to grow, continue to be better. But I think overall, everybody that plays against us knows that it is not going to be an easy game.”

After making eight saves on the evening, Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella agreed.

“We’ve been getting good results against some really good teams in this league,” he aid. “This is just another one. You can add it to the list.”

The match stats tell a story of a Portland team that kept most of their players behind the ball following a tactical shift from the 4-3-2-1 “Christmas Tree” formation favored by Savarese recently, into to a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2, depending on who you ask.). Atlanta had more than double the possession, and the Timbers had 37 clearances to Atlanta’s eight, as well as only four crosses from open play compared to Atlanta’s 28.

“[Portland] defended well,” said Atlanta manager Tata Martino. “They sat back and defended and then Valeri was their outlet when they recovered the ball.”

The Timbers also counterattacked effectively throughout the first half, which Martino chalked up to Portland’s solid defensive work.

“In the second half I thought we were much better,” said Martino. “We got a little bit better and we were able to circulate the ball on both sides and try to attack that way.”

Portland held on to the draw despite allowing Atlanta to have 21 shots, 10 of them on target.

Atlanta’s Julian Gressel felt his team should have taken three points, given the number of chances his side created.

“We’ve got to get back to being the team at home that nobody wants to come here and play,” added Gressel, whose team continues to have a slightly better record away (5-1-2) than at home (5-2-2).

“The game could have gone either way” added Five Stripes captain Michael Parkhurst. “But any time we don’t take three points at home, it’s a bad feeling.”

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