Timbers hope to topple high-powered Atlanta United
The Portland Timbers understand being the underdog for the MLS Cup on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean they will be awed by host Atlanta United’s high-powered offense or the expected record crowd of more than 70,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Everyone’s putting it on Atlanta to win at home and they’ve had a great season and this and that, but that don’t make a difference when it comes to playoffs and it certainly don’t make a difference when it comes to a final,” Portland defender Liam Ridgewell said.
Atlanta (21-7-6 regular season) deserves its favorite status after finishing two points behind the New York Red Bulls in the overall standings. The Red Bulls set a Major League record with 71 points, but Atlanta defeated them 4-1 in the total goals, two-leg Eastern Conference final.
The second-year franchise is playing for its first championship.
Portland (15-10-9), fifth in the Western Conference, advanced to its second MLS Cup in four seasons with a 3-2 aggregate series win over Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers were also on the road for the 2015 MLS Cup but defeated Columbus Crew SC 2-1.
“In 2015 we made the playoffs in similar fashion,” Portland midfielder Diego Chara said. “This time it’s a bit (more) challenging because we are facing Atlanta and people are already saying they’re champions right now.”
It certainly feels that way to some Atlanta city officials.
“I was texting the mayor (Keisha Lance Bottoms) the other evening, Thursday night, and she already planned on a parade,” United owner Arthur Blank told the media earlier this week.
No matter the outcome, the MLS Cup attendance record should fall. The mark is 61,316 at Gillette Stadium in 2002 when the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the host New England Revolution 1-0 in extra time.
Atlanta boasts 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez, who set the MLS-record with 31 goals. United led the league with 70 goals and is the first team to have consecutive 70-goal seasons.
The match has extra meaning for Atlanta teammates Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz, who as members of the New England Revolution lost three straight MLS Cups (2005-07).
“I’m happy to be back with him with a chance to win a title,” Parkhurst said. “Hopefully this one goes better than the other three.”
Larentowicz finally won it in 2010 for Colorado, while Parkhurst lost a fourth time for the Crew against Portland.