MLS Cup - 2018 - matchup image - ATLvPOR

Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers | 2018 MLS Cup Preview

Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs — MLS Cup
Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta
December 8 — 8 pm ET
WATCH: FOX, UniMás, TSN 1/3/5, TVAS

MLS Cup Central

6:30 PM ET - PREGAME SHOW: Watch MLS Cup Central Pregame Show featuring analysis, player interviews and live on-field look-ins on mlssoccer.com or the free MLS app.

Join us online again after the match for our Postgame Show featuring live on-field look-ins, interviews and analysis.

A season that started in early March comes to a dramatic conclusion on Saturday when 70,000 fans will pack Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch Atlanta United take on the Portland Timbers in the 2018 MLS Cup.

The Five Stripes are making their first MLS Cup appearance, remarkably, in only their second year of existence, while the Timbers will be hoping to repeat history after winning MLS Cup in their first appearance in the game in 2015, after beating host Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium.

The Timbers have excelled away from home in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, defeating FC Dallas, 2-1, in the Knockout Round, winning 4-2 in a penalty kick shootout against the archrival Seattle Sounders to advance to the Conference Championship and then beating Sporting Kansas City, 3-2, at frigid Children’s Mercy Park to reach MLS Cup.

Home and away this postseason, Atlanta have been great. A high-flying, attacking juggernaut during the regular season, the Five Stripes have been gritty this postseason — especially on the road — and have scored three goals in each of their two home games to eliminate both New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls to book their spot in the biggest party Atlanta has seen in years.

The teams met once in the regular season — at Mercedes-Benz Stadium — and the Timbers worked hard to earn a 1-1 draw on June 24. Larrys Mabiala slotted home a rebound to put Portland in front in the 32nd minute before Julian Gressel leveled in the 56th minute.

Atlanta United

After a comprehensive 3-0 win at home in the first leg, Atlanta United put the finishing touches on the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Championship, limiting New York to just a stoppage time goal in a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena on Thursday. ATLUTD advanced to MLS Cup 3-1 on aggregate.

Josef Martinez nearly ended the drama just seconds after kickoff, slipping in behind the Red Bulls defense before being denied by Luis Robles. From there, Atlanta defended with a block of nine players for much of the game, frustrating the Red Bulls, who struggled to find offensive answers.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez anchored the solid defensive effort, winning 84 percent of his 19 duels and 14 of 59 Atlanta’s clearances.

“It wasn't our prettiest performance tonight, but it was practical in our approach,” Atlanta head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said. “I think that's important as a team to be able to adjust to different situations and overcome different situations, especially in the playoffs.”

  • Suspended: None
  • Suspended after next caution: None
  • International duty: None
  • Injury Report: OUT: D - Sal Zizzo (right knee injury), D - Mikey Ambrose (right knee surgery), F - Brandon Vazquez (foot injury), D - Chris McCann (left quad strain)

Projected Starting XI
(5-3-2, right to left)
GK: Brad Guzan — Franco Escobar, Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst, Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza — Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel — Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron

  • Notes: Miguel Almirón had six tackles against the Red Bulls in the second leg, winning four of them. Both are tied for his most in any game since joining Atlanta United prior to the 2017 season. … Michael Parkhurst had 16 clearances in Atlanta’s second leg defeat to the Red Bulls, tied for the second most any player has had in a game this season, trailing only himself (17 against Minnesota in April). … Atlanta United had a passing accuracy of 48.8% against the Red Bulls in the second leg of the semifinals. It is the lowest passing accuracy of any team in a game since 2010. … Including the playoffs, Atlanta United are unbeaten in their last 12 games at home (9W-3D), outscoring opponents 29-10 in that span. The Five Stripes have won each of their last six games by an average score of 2.5 goals per game to 0.7 goals allowed per game.

Portland Timbers

After a 0-0 draw at Providence Park in the first leg, the odds were stacked up against the Timbers for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship.

But Portland picked things up after trailing 1-0 at halftime to pull out a stunning 3-2 win at Children’s Mercy Park.

Daniel Salloi opened the scoring in the 20th minute, but Sebastian Blanco leveled with a swerving blast from 25 yards that left the crowd stunned and teammate Diego Valeri in disbelief.

Nine minutes later Valeri scored the critical second away goal for the Timbers and, after Gerso Fernandes equalized in the 81st minute, Valeri struck for his second of the game — and fourth of the postseason — to secure Portland’s passage to MLS Cup.

“I’m very proud of the performance from the guys and what they achieved. It’s all on them,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “It’s a credit to a group that worked hard, a group that believed all along that we can achieve something great, and now this achievement has put us where we want to be in the final.”

  • Suspended: None
  • Suspended after next caution: None
  • International duty: None
  • Injury Report: OUT: D - Roy Miller (right thigh injury), GK - Jake Gleeson (bilateral tibial stress fracture); QUESTIONABLE: F - Samuel Armenteros (thigh injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Jeff Attinella — Zarek Valentin, Bill Tuiloma, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana — Diego Chara, David Guzman — Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco — Jeremy Ebobisse

  • Notes: Liam Ridgewell had four blocked shots in the second leg against Sporting Kansas City, becoming just the fifth player since 2010 to block four shots in a playoff game and the second in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs (Michael Parkhurst v NYCFC on 11/5/2018). … Valeri had two goals on two shots on target to help lift the Timbers to the Final. It was the sixth time this postseason that there was such a game, and the second time Valeri has done so. Valeri is the only MLS player to have multiple such games in the playoffs since 2010. … Portland have split their last six road games (3W-3L), but they are 2W-1L on the road during their playoff run (including winning on penalty kicks in their lone road loss). Portland have conceded multiple goals in four of those six road matches. … Portland have scored eight goals from open play in the playoffs, two more than any other club. Atlanta is the only team that made the playoffs yet to concede from open play. … The Timbers are one of four teams that Josef Martínez has yet to score against.

All-Time Series (Regular Season)

Officials

Referee: Alan Kelly
Assistant Referees: Ian Anderson, Eric Weisbrod
4th Official: Nima Saghafi
VAR: Chris Penso

Series: 

Stay connected: Sign up for The Daily Kickoff, your daily dose of North American soccer news, analysis, and commentary direct to your inbox.