The MLS season comes to an end on Saturday evening with two teams that could not have taken more opposite paths to the final squaring off. The away side are the Portland Timbers, the fifth seed in the Western Conference that took down giants throughout the postseason, beating the Nos. 4, 2, and 1 seeds en route to the final. The hosts are Atlanta United, which has looked dominant all season and mowed through the Eastern Conference as a two-seed despite only being in its second year in the league.
It’s a fascinating matchup, one which pits a former MLS Cup champion in Portland against the league’s new kids on the block. For added intrigue, the game will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which has turned into perhaps the most hostile road environment in the league, as 70,000+ are expected to fill in wearing the red, black, and gold of Atlanta United.
To get you prepped for what should be a dynamite final, we caught up with John Strong and Stu Holden, Fox Sports’ announce team for all teams soccer. The pair were on hand for the Champions League final in May, traveled throughout Russia and called the final for the 2018 World Cup, and will call all the action from Atlanta on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Strong and Holden broke down both teams, picked the coolest experiences they’ve had as broadcasters, and while we had them, gave their reactions to U.S. Soccer selecting Gregg Berhalter to lead the men’s national team.
Uproxx Sports: Let’s start with Portland, it’s not often a team seeded fifth out of six teams gets to a final, how did they get here and past the top-2 seeds in the conference?
John Strong: There are definite similarities with what Portland has done this year and what they did three years ago when they won the title, which is that regardless of what they did over the course of the season and sort of their ups and downs that got them into the seed that they are, is they’re catching fire at the right time. Both times it’s been giddy up momentum behind the in October, a formation change that was a part of that and just sort of the pieces clicking into place. Everyone has performed certainly at the attacking end.
While on the one hand you would say “they were the fifth seed, they were the fifth-best team in the Western Conference,” and I forget off the top of my head where they would be in the overall standings, but they clearly have been in the last two months one of the best teams in the league. To be able to go and win in Dallas without a whole lot of fuss, to be able to outlast a Seattle team that has been to the last two MLS Cups, then to beat Kansas City outright in their own building, those are impressive results. That’s just the nature of the playoffs, the team that has been the best soccer over the most important time of the year finds themselves as one-half of the MLS Cup matchup.