When it comes to soccer, the team whose players perform the best on the day usually end up winning. MLS Cup will likely be no different as Atlanta United and Portland Timbers feature talented players all over the field. It’s a good bet that whichever team’s stars show up on the day is the squad that will be standing at the celebration podium after all is said and done.
Looking ahead to this big match, we’re highlighting three different positions on the field that will could prove decisive. While these players won’t necessarily be going head-to-head against each other, it’ll be important for them outplay the player in the corresponding position to give their team an edge. Here are three positional battles that will likely decide MLS Cup:
Eric Remedi vs. Diego Chara
In the modern game, defensive midfielder is arguably the most important position on the field. If a team has a bulldog in the midfield of the field who can close down the other team’s best players in the most dangerous parts of the field, they’ll win more often than not.
Eric Remedi has been a revelation since his midseason arrival in the ATL. His work often doesn’t show up on the highlight reels like most great defensive midfielders, but he’s always in crucial spots making vital contributions. His ability to close down and stifle Portland’s two attacking stars in Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco will be key. You don’t have to look far to see how important that will be. Blanco’s unbelievable tie-changing goal against Sporting Kansas City was a direct result of midfielders not closing him down. Remedi and to a lesser extent Darlington Nagbe will have their hands full but will need to have great performances if Atlanta United is to win.
Diego Chara has been one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS for at least five years now. While he may not get the MLS Best XI recognition he deserves, many experts proclaim him to be the Timbers’ most important player even with the likes of Blanco and Valeri. Much like Remedi, he will be tasked with slowing down Miguel Almiron and even keeping tabs on Josef Martinez when he drops deep.
Both players are uber-aggressive and known to lunge into a tackle with no hesitation. An early yellow card to either could change the look of the whole match. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez vs. Liam Ridgewell
Discipline will be key in this high intensity final. Both teams feature hard-nosed centerbacks who will be looking to set the tone for the match. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is at the top of his game so far in these playoffs. Atlanta will be hoping he has one more superhero-esque effort in him to bring the cup home. How the Argentine deals with the late runs from Blanco and Valeri will be just as important as how he and his partner Michael Parkhurst mark Portland’s striker.
Ridgewell’s 2018 season hasn’t gone very smoothly, with the veteran defender going as far as calling it “one of the worst seasons I’ve had in my playing career.” Despite being at odds with first-year manager Gio Savarese, Ridgewell finds himself back in favor in the crucial matches. Going against the best goal scorer the league has ever seen is the prize he wins for gaining his starting spot back. As with any Atlanta United match, how the opposing team deals with Josef Martinez will go a long way in deciding who wins. If the Venezuelan Viper is clicking on the day, it could be a long one for Ridgewell. But, if the Englishman succeeds in shutting Martinez down, he could turn the momentum in his side’s favor.
Miguel Almiron vs. Diego Valeri
It didn’t take too much imagination to come up with this one. Saying two of the most talent players this league has ever seen will have a huge impact on the result of this final is not a hot take whatsoever.
Almiron and Valeri are their team’s most creative players and will be looking to unlock the other team’s shape. They each have their own style with Almiron more frantic and breakneck and Valeri calm and composed. The pace and style of the game could go a long way in determining which superstar has a bigger impact on the game.
If Portland decide to sit back and absorb pressure, it may not be the type of game that Almiron can really put his fingerprints on. However, if it’s a more open affair that allows for Miggy to use his pace to create those odd-man counter-attacks by himself, it could play into his favor.
The opposite could be said for Valeri who is better in the slower style of game where he has time in the attack to pick out a pass to breakdown the defense or to find space outside the penalty area for a chance at goal. If Portland have a negative mindset and Valeri is forced to run around and close down for the majority, it could frustrate him.
These are the three battles we see deciding MLS Cup. Who do you think has the edge in each? Which other pairing did we miss or do you find important? Comment below.