Atlanta fans are waking up to an unfamiliar feeling after a championship game - joy? It feels weird but everything that could have gone right for the Five Stripes did in the 2-0 MLS Cup victory over the Portland Timbers. The visitors tried once again to play with no possession and wait for Atlanta to be caught too far forward in spring a counter. There weren’t really any instances in the game where that worked. With just two real viable options in attack, the Five Stripes were able to lock down Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco while Jeremy Ebobisse was a complete non factor.
Once again, a fateful backpass would play a role in the MLS Cup for the Portland Timbers, this time it was Jeff Attinella, who some how is a starting goalkeeper for a team that reached a championship game - a fact that is beyond incredible to me, watching his team’s MLS Cup hopes drift past him thanks to an errant pass from a teammate. The match exposed the Timbers as a team that was every inch the squad that finished 8th in the MLS regular season table and then got through because of a penalty shoot out to beat Seattle and a game that featured competing comedy defenses in Kansas.
The individual stats really tell the tale for the match...
It wasn’t so much that Atlanta had a dominant performance, though the team absolutely did, it was more that Portland’s gameplan was completely ineffective at creating chances or even limiting the home team’s ability to control the game. Without a player in midfield that could be counted on to be careful with the ball, bring it upfield effectively, and send perfect passes to spring the attackers - well until they traded Darlington Nagbe - the Timbers were forced to hope that one of Attinella’s aimless long balls found their way to Valeri.
Not only did Nagbe get revenge on his old team, but Michael Parkhurst was able to exercise his own demons as well. The center back had lost three MLS Cup finals in a row with the New England Revolution and a fourth to the Timbers in 2015. Parkhurst has been everything a captain should be, had an underrated career for an American defender, and is well deserving of his first MLS title.
Yesterday was not the day that Atlanta was going to have some unbelievable fluke play or the decisions of an inept manager that wasted the best generation of pitching talent that a team had seen in the history of its sport fritter away a championship. Tata Martino won his title, he is going to leave MLS having achieved what he wanted and will take hardware along with him to once again do battle against his old enemies - Gregg Berhalter and Mark Geiger.
Soccer is a sport that usually doesn’t lie - for the most part the better team wins. In the post-season Atlanta United proved it was the best team in MLS. The Five Stripes cleaned out NYCFC, beating them on their impossible to play on field in Yankee Stadium and then easily won the second game at home. Atlanta also beat the NY Red Bulls who abandoned their system of play and couldn’t stop the team from scoring three goals on them and then couldn’t break down the Five Stripes in the second leg. Winning against the Timbers erases any doubt about who the best team in MLS is and solidifies Atlanta United as one of the all time great teams in the league’s history.