Both clubs sealed their fates to play for the MLS Cup’s Philip F. Anschutz trophy by winning their respective conference titles Thursday night.
Atlanta won the Eastern Conference Championship by defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate at Red Bull Arena. New York defender Tim Parker scored a late goal to lead his team to a 1-0 victory in Thursday night’s second leg, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the three-goal cushion United had built up in leg one.
Now Atlanta has an opportunity to end its banner sophomore year on a high note by adding its first piece of hardware.
Meanwhile, the Timbers, who won the 2015 MLS Cup, will challenge for their second league title all-time after advancing past Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference Championship.
After managing just a scoreless draw in leg one of the conference final at Providence Park on Sunday, the Timbers stunned Sporting KC in the second leg at Children’s Mercy Park on Thursday night by taking a 3-2 victory to advance to the MLS Cup.
Kansas City appeared to be in cruise control after Daniel Salloi opened the scoring with a 20th-minute goal, but the Timbers rallied marvelously behind second-half goals from Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri. Sporting tied the game late through Gerso Fernandes, but the tally wasn’t enough to overcome Portland’s momentum coming out of halftime.
Match referee Mark Geiger allotted a generous nine minutes of stoppage time for Sporting to work with, but that ended up only helping the Timbers, who went up 3-2 on Valeri’s second goal of the game.
This year’s Cup final features two of the most resilient clubs from the 2018 regular season and playoffs. Atlanta got a bye through the first round of the postseason for finishing second in the East. United also had the best offense and second-best defense in their conference and kept that good form rolling as they cruised past New York City FC, 4-1 on aggregate, in the conference semifinals.
Portland’s quest to the MLS Cup final was much more arduous.
As the five-seed in the West, the Timbers first upset FC Dallas 2-1 at Toyota Stadium in the knockout round.
Next, Portland renewed the Cascadia rivalry with Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals. The Timbers won the first leg at Providence Park 2-1, then edged the Sounders in leg two at CenturyLink field with a thrilling shootout victory after Seattle took a 3-2 lead in a seesaw affair that spanned the full 90 minutes and two extra time periods.
Of note: Atlanta and Portland played each other once during the regular season, on June 28 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The two sides settled for a 1-1 draw.
The 2018 MLS Cup will be broadcast in more than 170 countries, according to Major League Soccer.
FOX will broadcast the final nationally, UniMas will be the Spanish-language broadcaster and in Canada, the game will air in English on TSN and in French on TVA Sports.