MLS 2018 wraps up with the MLS Cup final. On paper the game is a mis-match: Atlanta United finished the regular season 15 points better off than Portland Timbers; ATL is the league’s top-scoring team this year, boosted by the league’s single-season goal-scoring record holder and reigning MLS MVP - Josef Martinez; and the Five Stripes play the final in their home stadium.
But the Timbers are in the final because they have handled underdog status very well in these playoffs, beating FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City on the road en route to this final.
New York Red Bulls fans in search of a rooting interest are spoilt for choice. Atlanta United holds the key to RBNY’s qualification for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League: ATL wins the Cup and the Red Bulls are in CCL. Qualification for CCL doesn’t just bring a shot at another trophy, it also provides the MLS teams that qualify for it with a little bonus roster-building money from the league - so there are strong positives for RBNY should Atlanta close out the season with MLS Cup.
Also, though he isn’t expected to feature in the game, ATL’s roster includes former Red Bull Sal Zizzo, a significant contributor to RBNY’s 2015 Supporters’ Shield winning squad.
But Portland is coached by a full-fledged MetroStars legend: Giovanni Savarese, the club’s all-time top scorer for the early years of its history and still fifth on the all-time scoring chart for the team. Savarese was also an early and significant contributor to the Red Bulls Academy - currently a cornerstone of the first team’s success.
In his first year as Timbers head coach, Savarese has guided his team through a rough start (two points from the first five games of the season) and an average finish to the regular season (two wins from the last five games) to the club’s second MLS Cup final in the last four seasons.
Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup on the road in Columbus, so the club has some experience of upsetting expectations in this fixture. And Savarese is an experienced Cup-winning coach: he took New York Cosmos to three NASL Championships in four seasons between 2013 and 2016.
And the Timbers have former RBNY full-back Roy Miller on their roster, though he has been injured for most of the season.
RBNY fans can take their pick: back ATL to win and send RBNY into CCL 2019, or root for the Timbers and Giovanni Savarese.
Per livesoccertv.com, here’s where to catch the game if watching from the US: