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Atlanta United, Portland Timbers coaches ready for historic MLS Cup atmosphere

Atlanta United fans cheer during the first half of the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship against the New York Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

The MLS Cup final between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers promises to be a spectacle, at the very least. The Five Stripes have already drawn crowds of at least 70,000 to both of their home playoff games this season and all signs point to a packed final.

On a conference call ahead of Saturday’s 8 p.m. championship match, the coaches from both teams said they’re prepared for the atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The match will be nationally televised on FOX, FoxSportsGo and UniMás.

“I don’t know if there’s any extra pressure,” Atlanta United coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said through a translator. “There’s always pressure and a lot of motivation to play in a final, but what it means for us is we have the expectation and the opportunity to accomplish something in front of our home fans, and we’re excited about that.”

Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said his team won’t be daunted by what will likely be a massive crowd.

“These are the types of scenarios that you want to be part of,” Savarese said. “We play and give everything for our organization to make sure that we can enjoy the moments where there’s something big at stake, where there’s a bigger crowd or where the challenge is even more monumental.”

The highest-attended final in MLS history came in 2002, when an announced crowd of 61,316 watched the L.A. Galaxy defeat the New England Revolution 1-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Atlanta United already holds the record for the highest-attended MLS playoff game.

The Timbers, who finished in fifth place in the Western Conference, have been road warriors throughout the playoffs. They defeated FC Dallas 2-1 on the road, survived a penalty shootout at CenturyLink Field to get past the Seattle Sounders and scored three goals at Children’s Mercy Park to end Sporting KC’s playoff run.

“I feel that these are the moments the true, good players, the real players, are built for — those moments to show themselves and to be motivated enough to make it all the way to that point,” Savarese said. “For us, it’s exciting. We are proud of what we have accomplished, and we’re not satisfied just to be there.”

Savarese said he wants his team to put on an entertaining show for the crowd. He also applauded Atlanta United for what it has done – on and off the field – so far.

“I think it’s what you hope an organization can be, in some way, once you give them the opportunity to be part of MLS,” Savarese said. “They’ve been able to build something great between the stadium, players, coaches, staff, fans. I think they’re an example, and for them to have been able to do that in only two years is credit to the hard work done by everyone in that organization.”




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