In two short seasons, Atlanta United have become one of the premier franchises in MLS.
Atlanta earned the league's best aggregate record over the last two seasons, and with it a spot in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League. They narrowly missed out on the 2018 Supporters' Shield despite matching Toronto FC's then-record-breaking mark of 69 points from 2017, all the while playing attractive soccer in front of huge, raucous crowds in a brand new stadium. On Saturday, they will mark another milestone when they host the Portland Timbers for the 2018 MLS Cup (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMas, TSN1/3/5, TVAS).
Timbers head coach Gio Savarese easily recognizes, and appreciates, what Atlanta United have done in their early days to skip the normal expansion team growing pains.
“I think Atlanta is what you hope an organization can be once you give them the opportunity to be part of MLS," Savarese said on a media conference call on Monday. "I think they’re an example in different ways. I think they have a strong belief in the building of a team, they decided to bring a coach that brought a very interesting style that resonated with the people who went to see the games. The support of the fans in a city, that maybe in the past you would have questioned if it was going to be successful or not, they were able to build something great."
Atlanta have set a lofty bar for all expansion clubs after them to aim for.
"Between the stadium, players, coaching staff, fans—I think they’re an example," Savarese said. "For them to have been able to do that in only two years is credit to the hard work done by everyone in that organization."
At what is expected to be the largest crowd in MLS Cup history, Savarese and the Timbers aren't intimidated. In fact, this is just what they want.
Portland have thrice proved during the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs that they have no consternation about performing on the road, with a Knockout Round victory over FC Dallas away from home, a penalty shootout triumph at CenturyLink Stadium over archrival Seattle Sounders and a 3-2 victory in Kansas City against Sporting KC to book their place in the final.
“These are the type of scenarios that you want to be part of," Savarese asserted. "This is what we talk constantly to the players and ourselves: we play for these moments. We play and give everything for our organization to make sure we can enjoy the moments where there’s something big at stake, where there’s a bigger crowd, where the challenge is monumental. These are the moments that the true good players, the real players, are built to show themselves. It’s exciting, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished but we’re not satisfied just to be here.”