ATLANTA, Ga. — Certain parallels can be drawn connecting the 2015 MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers to the current iteration, which enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a heavy underdog against Atlanta United in Saturday’s 2018 MLS Cup (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN 1/3/5, TVAS).
Both teams surged into form at the right time to get to the final, forced to win in all three stages of the MLS Cup playoffs to reach the final. In the ultimate game of the season, the 2015 Portland Timbers went on the road to defeat Columbus Crew SC, which just vanquished the Supporters’ Shield champion New York Red Bulls. Atlanta, of course, also defeated the Shield-winning Red Bulls this year, and Portland will be on the road again for MLS Cup.
Portland will certainly hope 2018 MLS Cup plays out similarly to 2015 when Portland jumped out to a two-goal lead in the opening minutes of the game. But they aren’t banking on the past to help them Saturday. Diego Chara said Portland have a different makeup this time around.
“It's a different team now,” Chara said. “We have a combination of players who have lots of experience in MLS. Now it's different. We had that great experience in 2015, and we'd like to repeat. Tomorrow gives us a great opportunity to do that.”
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Jorge Villafana echoed those sentiments, saying experience playing in big matches like the one to come Saturday is key.
“We have a pretty experienced group,” Villafana said. “Not only experience in MLS, but we had guys that played in finals and won finals that know what these games demand. We'll be ready for tomorrow.”
There are both similarities and differences, according to Diego Valeri, whose opening-minute goal helped lead the Timbers to their first MLS Cup in Columbus.
"The similarity is the hunger, the hunger to make history; the unity of the locker room in moments where we couldn’t get what we wanted,” the Argentine said. “And then the difference is probably we have more experienced people, people that have experienced these kind of situations mixed with young guys and new[comers] in the league.”
Alvas Powell said the 2015 team was not only different, but that his teammates must not play with expectations of results based on history.
“We're just looking forward to the game, we're not here to compete against the 2015 team. That is history,” said Powell, who played on that 2015 championship-winning team. “We're here with a different mindset to win the game tomorrow. With a new coach, everything is different. The mindset is different, but we have the same goal to win MLS Cup and that's our focus.”