ATLANTA — When the Portland Timbers walk onto the field inside a boisterous Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night for MLS Cup, they won’t be intimidated by one of the best environments in the league.
In order to get to MLS Cup, the Timbers reeled off road wins against FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City, and bagged a pair of away goals against the Seattle Sounders.
The results from the last month combined with a 2015 MLS Cup road win have the Timbers players feeling confident.
“It’s a great stadium,” Timbers captain Diego Valeri said. “It’s a great atmosphere in Atlanta. They are a good team and probably have a little advantage because they already know the field. It’s their stadium, but besides that it’s 11 players versus 11 players on a field. To win a final, you have to play a great game, and that’s what we want to do.”
An organized playing style instituted by first-year manager Giovanni Savarese and goals in clutch situations from Valeri and Sebastian Blanco was the formula for victory in the second leg of the Western Conference final against Sporting Kansas City.
“I think everyone is just buying into the things that make us successful this season,” Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said. “When you go on the road, you have to be compact and organized and you have to be tough to break down. I think we’ve done a good job at that, and (Blanco) has scored some insane timely goals. So, I think that’s a good formula on the road, and we’re going to try and take it into Saturday.”
Timbers midfielder Diego Chara noted another team strength, its patience in critical moment during the last match against SKC.
“I feel it’s nothing too different with Atlanta,” Chara said. “We know Atlanta is a strong team and they are going to create opportunities to score. We need to be focused all the time.”
Eight players on the Timbers roster were part of the squad that captured the 2015 MLS Cup on the road at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus.
Those players are using that specific experience to help out the rest of the team in anticipation of Saturday.
“I think pulling from guys’ experience, it builds into the confidence of the group,” Attinella said. “We have a group of guys that have won a cup, especially a group of veterans that have been there before in these big-time moments. It’s easy for us to pull from them and even when they’re on the field how calm and confident they are throughout this entire week. It’s easy for me to look up to guys like that and try to approach it the same way they are.”
In 2015, the Timbers took the lead through two goals in the first seven minutes by way of Valeri and Rodney Wallace.
The players who went through that experience, such as Chara, are aware of how important the initial moments of the final are.
“It’s going to be important in this game to get a strong start,” Chara said. “I think it’s crucial for this game and we know that.”
As for the days building up to the game, the Timbers are going to do exactly what they’ve done on previous trips, try to block out distractions — something that will be more difficult with so many other activities and people in Atlanta for this event. But it’s a routine they’ve become used to and will help settle nerves before MLS Cup kicks off.
“It’s just been us,” Attinella said. “This trip is a little different because there’s a lot of people that have come a long way. On these road trips, it’s just been us in a hotel and eating team meals and focused on what we need to do. For us, it’s been no distractions and knowing what we need to do to get the result on the road. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do it to get to this point.”