To make it to the MLS Cup, Portland has won road playoff games against Dallas, Seattle and Sporting KC. Each very good teams with solid defenses.
Now may be the toughest challenge in MLS history: Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where a league record of more than 70,000 fans are expected to attend, most cheering for the Five Stripes.
“These are the types of scenarios that you want to be a part of,” Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said Monday. “We play and give everything for our organization so that we can make sure to enjoy the moments where there’s something big at stake: A bigger crowd and the challenge more monumental.”
The Timbers weren’t great on the road during the regular season, finishing 4-8-5. The four wins were the second-fewest among the six playoff teams in the West.
But Savarese found something in the postseason in leading the club to a 2-1 win at Dallas in the knockout round, a 4-2 win in penalty kicks after a 3-2 loss set up that situation at Seattle in the semifinals, and a 3-2 win at Sporting KC in the conference finals.
“Most important part to our team and the form we have shown is we believe we can accomplish great things together,” Savarese said.
Portland did experience success against Atlanta United during the regular season when it ground out a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on June 24.
“We know that’s something they’ve shown they can do is get results on the road,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said.
Playing with a back five, the Timbers’ defense frustrated Atlanta United. Portland grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Larrys Mabiala in the 32nd minute when he was the first to react to a deflected save of a free kick by Brad Guzan.
Julian Gressel equalized in the 56th minute. Gressel watched video of the first half of that game on Sunday. He said on Monday that he thought that Atlanta United deserved to win. Atlanta United outshot the Timbers (20-12), put more shots on goal (9-4) and enjoyed 69 percent of the possession.
Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz said on Monday that the circumstances of this meeting compared to the previous make it difficult to make too many comparisons.
Savarese said his team’s goal is simple: “Give a good game to a good team in a good place.”