ATLANTA — It seemed like a dream for the Portland Timbers. After being underdogs in each Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoff round, Portland had made it to 2018 MLS Cup looking to capture their second Philip F. Anschutz trophy.
The team they were facing, Atlanta United, were heavy favorites but that didn't seem to bother them as they were thriving in the underdog role. But their run was halted at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night as they lost in the MLS Cup final 2-0.
While the scoreline did not flatter the Timbers, head coach Giovanni Savarese was steadfast that his team played up to the level that was needed in a championship match.
"I think that always when you see the result, you think you’d change something. But I wouldn’t change a thing," said Savarese in Spanish in the postgame press conference. "I thought we did good work and we didn’t have the luck to get goals in the opportune times. And I think our second half was fantastic -- it was really good. And had we got something in that first half and had the result stayed 1-0, I think things would’ve gone differently. I wouldn’t have changed anything."
Portland did not create much in the first half, only generating one shot on target. Of course that one shot was a golden opportunity that fell to Jeremy Ebobisse, who was unable to equalize the scoreline two minutes after Josef Martinez had found the opener in the match off of a tackle and some grunt work from the Venezuelan.
Atlanta would go on to find their second goal early in the second half off of a set piece. After that, the Timbers were able to create the majority of the scoring opportunities, taking six shots to Atlanta's three. In all, the two teams matched close to evenly in terms of shots, shots on target, expected goals and possession.
"I thought we had a great gameplan," said right back Zarek Valentin. "They didn't generate much. In talking to a few of their guys after the game, they said we deserved to be there. They were frustrated. Obviously in these big games one moment can change a game and that goal right before halftime was tough."
The sentiments from both Savarese and Valentin were echoed throughout much of a Timbers locker room that were unable to finish their cup quest. The moment was one they felt they lived up to but wasn't reflected in the scoreline.
"I didn’t see a sign from my team that we were afraid of the occasion or the venue," said Savarese. "I thought actually we showed up to play and did some very good things in the first half. We prevented them from getting spaces.
"Yes, some moments they were finding [Miguel] Almiron between the lines, but then we closed it. We were very good in many of the occasions in the first half to make sure we kept the ball where we wanted. We were a little more courageous in the second half to bring the game closer to their goal. We were a little unfortunate."