Timbers built to withstand another road test in MLS Cup

MARIETTA, Ga. — To say the Portland Timbers are competing in unfriendly territory would be an understatement. When they kick off MLS Cup against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS), they’ll have 70,000-plus raucous Five Stripes fans to deal with.

But these Timbers have proven they’re built to withstand that sort of pressure, bolstered by the mentality espoused by their team leaders and tactics on the field.

“When you have a group of guys that have won MLS Cup – especially a group of veterans that have been there – it’s easy for us to pull from them,” goalkeeper Jeff Attinella told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday before Portland’s first training session in the Peach State. “Even when they’re out on the field, it’s just how calm and confident they are. It’s easy for me to look up to guys like that.”

Familiar names like Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell will figure prominently for the Timbers in this game, just as they did for their 2015 MLS Cup triumph over Columbus Crew SC, which came on the road.  That team was unbeaten in all three playoff games away from Providence Park.

This Timbers outfit began their run to MLS Cup with a Knockout Round win over FC Dallas in Frisco. They followed that up with a pair of unforgettable away leg performances to topple the top two seeds in the Western Conference, besting the Seattle Sounders in a penalty-kick shootout and netting three times against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park.

“Through all those road games, we’ve had a lot of adversity,” said forward Jeremy Ebobisse. “Sticking together through all those tough moments has shown our true character.”

Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese has also cultivated a style of play that suits his side well for hostile environments.

“On the road you’ve got to be compact, organized and tough to break down,” Attinella said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that, and guys like [Sebastian Blanco] have scored some insanely timely goals. That’s a good formula.”

Portland have grown comfortable with the road routine: hotel living, team meals, no distractions. The playoff atmosphere will be ratcheted up to another level on Saturday, though. Conceding early against ATLUTD’s relentless attack could spell disaster.

“We can’t dig a hole for ourselves on Saturday,” Ebobisse said. “It might be one step too far to overcome.”

“It’ll be an interesting night,” added Ridgewell. “We’re going to try to quiet their crowd down and put a little more pressure on them.”