Atlanta United is back at home this Saturday when it takes on Portland Timbers. Atlanta is off to the best start in franchise history with seven points through its first three matches. Coming off an impressive 3-0 road victory at Charlotte, the team will look to ride that positive momentum into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Timbers have lost two in a row after an opening day victory, including a 2-1 defeat at home to league newcomers St. Louis CITY SC last weekend. Saturday’s match marks the sixth all-time meeting between the two sides, and the first at Mercedes-Benz Stadium since December 2018, when Atlanta hoisted MLS Cup defeating Portland by a 2-0 scoreline. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Portland Timbers.
Continue to execute in the final third and create chances
Atlanta did an excellent job last weekend scoring early and often to blitz Charlotte and gain control of the match in the first half. Caleb Wiley and Luiz Araújo scored the fastest two goals from the opening kickoff (12 minutes) in club history and Wiley added a third right before halftime that essentially killed the match off. Atlanta will look for a similar start this upcoming weekend against Portland. They rank second in MLS in shot creating actions with 83, while Thiago Almada is one of only three players in MLS to post two matches with 4+ chances created. Giving Almada the freedom to run at defenders or create from deeper positions will be a key factor to unlock Portland’s expected low block approach.
Don’t underestimate a Gio Savarese side
Portland is coming into Saturday’s match off two consecutive losses and with a lengthy injury list, but one thing you can never do is underestimate head coach Gio Savarese. The Venezuelan manager has coached the Timbers since 2017 and guided the team to two Western Conference titles (2018, 2021) and won the MLS is Back Tournament (2020). Savarese will have his side ready to play come Saturday night.
One of the bright spots through the first three matches has been right back Juan Mosquera. The Colombian scored the game-winning goal in the season opener and leads the team with three key passes from his defensive position. Another player Atlanta’s defense will need to keep an eye on is Nathan Fogaca who leads Portland with six shots. Atlanta is looking for back-to-back clean sheets which would go a long way to securing three points at home Saturday.
Pull Portland’s defense apart and connect passes in the box
Coming into Saturday night’s match, Atlanta ranks first in MLS with 57.7% possession, while Portland ranks 23rd at 47.2%. One of the keys to success this weekend will be to control the possession and pull apart Portland’s defense by connecting passes in tight spaces. Atlanta is one of the best teams in MLS in connecting passes in the opponents’ half at 80.9%. Finding those pockets in the half spaces and breaking those defensive lines that Portland will put up is one of the keys on Saturday.
Once you break through and get in the box, that’s where Atlanta needs to continue to be clinical with its finishing. Last weekend, Atlanta scored three goals on five shots on target. The team ranks fifth in MLS in touches in the opponents’ box with 80 and will look to add more to that tally against the Timbers.
Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app on Saturday night at 7:30pm ET when the action kicks off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game (English) or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).