On December 8, 2018, in front of a league and club record crowd of 73,019 people, Atlanta United beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 at home to win the the 2018 MLS Cup.
After a convincing Eastern Conference Final win, beating the New York Red Bulls 3-1, Atlanta United went into this game with plenty of confidence. With the added perks of 73,000+ fans attending the game at the illustrious Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the team looked to be on a very smooth path to MLS Cup Glory.
The Portland Timbers came into this game knowing very well that this was going to be no easy match. Despite being on the best performing teams in away games in the league this season, the Timbers knew playing Atlanta United at home in front of 73,000+ fans was not going to an easy feat. Even though the Timbers pulled off an incredible comeback against Sporting Kansas City in the second leg of the Western Conference Final, the players knew all too well that the pressure was going to be immense going into this match.
The match started off slow, with Atlanta applying pressure early on, although unable to string any good chances together. The Timbers absorbed most of the pressure through the defense, but it was never going to last too long with Atlanta’s high pressing playing style. MLS Cup MVP and top goal scorer in MLS Josef Martinez scored in the 39th minute, after defender and MLS veteran Michael Parkhurst dispossessed Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse, setting up the Venezuelan striker to go around and slot the ball past Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. The first half ended 1-0 to Atlanta with the team’s confidence riding high.
Although Portland came out in the second half playing better than the first half, the Portland side still could not contain Atlanta. Trying to spark a comeback, Portland were instantly shut down as the side went 2-0 after left wing back Franco Escobar scored on a well executed set piece by Atlanta.
This resulted in the Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese to make three attack-minded substitutions, hoping to ignite a comeback for the Timbers. Unfortunately for the Timbers, Atlanta’s defense was too strong as goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Michael Parkhurst kept their side’s backline secure.
This was a historic night for Atlanta United as the team won the MLS Cup in the second year of existence, which is a rare feat for any MLS team. Atlanta United once again broke another franchise and league record, breaking the all time attendance total for an MLS Cup Final Match. This was also manager Tata Martino’s last game with Atlanta United, with the Argentine manager rumored to be set to take over as the manager of the Mexico National team.
Despite Portland’s loss, one thing that’s certain is Timbers fans will be delighted with manager Giovanni Savarese’s performance in his first ever season with the club. Coming into a historic side and bringing them to the MLS Cup Final in your first season is no easy feat, and Savarese deserves all the credit he’s been given.
Overall, both teams had fantastic seasons and it will be very interesting to see how these two sides fair in 2019.
Luke Stergiou can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org