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.

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“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.

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Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers | 2018 Conference Championship Preview

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs — Conference Championship, Second Leg
Children’s Mercy Park — Kansas City
November 29 — 9:30 pm ET

It is all to play for at Children’s Mercy Park for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship after the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City played to a 0-0 draw at Providence Park on Sunday.

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Heading back home, where they were 10-2-5 during the regular season, Sporting KC will be confident of securing a first trip to MLS Cup since winning the title in 2013, while the Timbers know an away goal can go a long way toward their first MLS Cup appearance since lifting the silverware in 2015.

In a fiercely competitive opening leg, both teams laid claim to solid chances to score the lone goal, with Jorge Villafana firing off the post in the first half. David Guzman slipped the ball past Tim Melia on a set piece in the 70th minute, but the goal was called back following Video Review when it was ruled Liam Ridgewell was in an offside position.

SKC’s best opportunities were by Johnny Russell, who fired over the crossbar early in the second half and Daniel Salloi, whose stoppage-time attempt inside the box was blocked by Ridgewell.

Sporting Kansas City

Of course, it wasn’t a perfect result for Sporting, especially since they didn’t score an away goal, but they have the advantage of the “Blue Hell” on Thursday and the knowledge that a home win sends them back to the MLS Cup.

“It’s a final at home. You know you’ve got to win,” Peter Vermes said. “But at the end of the day, whether it’s here or there, it’s a final now for both teams and we have to be very disciplined going back, but it’s a good result going back home. Obviously, we would have preferred to win. It didn’t happen, but now we get to go home and have the next game.”

It was the third time SKC shut the Timbers out this season. And there’s a strong confidence in the Sporting locker room that they can keep Diego Valeri and Portland off the scoreboard again on Thursday.

“I can’t tell you other than that it’s a credit to the guys. They work hard,” Vermes said. “They were very disciplined here. I think they have been throughout the season. I think we’re a pretty good defensive team and we’ve been consistently that for a long time. And at the same time I think it also takes guys to be concentrated and a lot of hard work, and I think we did that tonight.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery), M – Cristian Lobato (quad injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-3-3, right to left)
GK: Tim Melia — Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic — Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez — Johnny Russell, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi

Notes: Melia saved six shots against Portland in the first leg, tied for the most saves by a Kansas City goalkeeper in the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2007. He is the 20th keeper since 2010 to keep 3+ clean sheets against one team in a single season (inc. playoffs). … Sporting Kansas City are 15W-2L-4D at home all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs, conceding an average of 0.8 goals per game.

Portland Timbers

The Timbers haven’t scored a goal against SKC all season, but they’ve found the back of the net multiple times in each of their last two Audi MLS Cup Playoffs games and believe they can do the same at Children’s Mercy Park.

Pressure after a scoreless first leg? What pressure, says Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese.

“I don’t see it as what kind of pressure. We have to go there and try to get a win,” Savarese said. “We have to go there with the mentality that it’s one game, like it is in the regular season, and we have to go there to try and get a win. Prepare the plan, prepare the players to make sure that we get there, recover a few of the guys that today were not available and then make sure we go there to win.”

Savarese was forced to make a change in the first half when central defender Larrys Mabiala went down with an ankle injury. It was the second change Savarese had to make, with Andy Polo suffering a calf strain.

“I’ve been very proud because anybody that steps on the field does the job and Bill did that,” Savarese said of Bill Tuiloma. “It’s very difficult to come in, having to replace a guy like Mabiala, coming in and I thought he did with the right mentality, did everything the right way. Unfortunately [he] could have had a goal right there, but a great save by Melia. I thought [Tuiloma] played very, very well.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Roy Miller (right thigh injury), GK – Jake Gleeson (bilateral tibial stress fracture); QUESTIONABLE: F – Samuel Armenteros (thigh injury), M – Andy Polo (calf strain), D – Larrys Mabiala (ankle injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Jeff Attinella — Zarek Valentin, Bill Tuiloma, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana — Diego Chara, David Guzman — Dairon Asprilla, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco — Jeremy Ebobisse

Notes: Valeri created seven chances in the first leg of the series, becoming the ninth player since 2007 to record 7+ chances created in a MLS Cup Playoff match and the first to do so since Sacha Kljestan against Montreal in 2016. … The Timbers are 4W-2L-2D on the road in the MLS Cup Playoffs, scoring multiple goals in all but two of those games.

All-Time Series (Regular Season)

Overall: Sporting Kansas City 7 wins, 15 goals … Portland Timbers 3 wins, 10 goals … 4 draws
At Kansas City: Sporting KC 3 wins, 10 goals … Timbers 1 win, 5 goals … 2 draws
Last meeting at Kansas City: Sporting Kansas City 3, Portland Timbers 0 (August 18, 2018)


Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referees: Joe Fletcher, Matthew Nelson
4th Official: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Dave Gantar

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