The 2018 MLS Cup is upon us.
This Saturday, December 8, Atlanta United will host the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to determine who will walk away as the 2018 Major League Soccer champions. Atlanta, who finished the regular season as the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, battled New York City FC and the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls to reach their first-ever final in just their second MLS season. The Portland Timbers, who finished No. 5 in the Western Conference, had a slightly longer road. Their journey started with a Knockout Round match in Texas against FC Dallas, which featured a Diego Valeri brace, before they went on to the two-leg Western Conference semifinal against their rivals the Seattle Sounders. After a difficult battle that ended in a penalty shootout, the Timbers advanced to the Eastern Conference final, where they knocked out the No. 1 team in the West: Sporting Kansas City.
Throughout the postseason, Atlanta have dominated their opponents. They allowed just two goals in four matches, and put away seven goals of their own, including one on the road against New York City FC. The roaring crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been one of the best in MLS this season and will be a huge benefit for the Five Stripes in the battle for MLS Cup. Portland’s road to the Cup has featured closer matches, but the Timbers have proven that they are capable of standing tall in the uphill battles and pulling out results late in games. Between the penalty shootout against the Seattle Sounders and a stoppage-time goal from Diego Valeri that made the Timbers the Western Conference Champions, Portland are no strangers to a heart-racing finish. It will be a difficult environment in the final, but they will be prepared for the pressure when they arrive at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Both sides also feature championship-caliber coaches, making for what will be an exciting strategic matchup. Giovanni Savarese, head coach of the Portland Timbers, took the New York Cosmos to four NASL finals since 2013 and won three times. Tata Martino, head coach of Atlanta United, took Argentina to the Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016, and led Barcelona to the Copa del Rey final in 2014.
Saturday's match will mark Atlanta United’s first MLS Cup appearance. In their inaugural season in 2017, they exited in the Knockout Round at the hands of the Columbus Crew. The Portland Timbers are looking to win their second MLS Cup in the last four years, having taken home the trophy in 2015. Their current roster features eight players from that championship season.
The 2018 MLS Cup will kick off at 8 PM ET on FOX, UniMás, VSN, and TVAS.