Eight months after the Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers met in the 2018 MLS Cup final, the faced off on the rematch.
The teams may have changed since that memorably Atlanta United championship victory, but the score remained the same, with the defending MLS champions posting a 2-0 victory over the Timbers on Sunday at Providence Park.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Josef Martinez scored the goals, delivering one in each half, while Atlanta’s defense held up against Portland’s potent attack, with goalkeeper Brad Guzan making some big-time saves to preserve the shutout.
The victory moved Atlanta United past the Philadelphia Union into first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season.
In a wide-open match that saw both teams create chances in bunches, it was Atlanta that opened the scoring in the 14th minute when a Josef Martinez shot was saved by Steve Clark, only for the rebound to fall to Gonzalez Pirez, who slammed home the chance.
The Timbers looked to have an equalizer in the 22nd minute, but Brian Fernandez was ruled offside on his finish.
Ezequiel Barco nearly made it 2-0 just before halftime, only to have Steve Clark step up with an excellent save.
Atlanta’s second goal came just 45 seconds into the second half, when Julian Gressel delivered a perfect through-pass to Josef Martinez, who collected it at the top of the penalty area and curled a right-footed shot into the net to give him a goal in his MLS-record 11th straight match.
Portland’s best chance came in the 64th minute, when Julio Cascante sent a powerful header at goal only to have Guzan deny the chance with a reaction save, one of five saves Guzan made on the night for the shutout.
As important as Guzan was in the shutout, it was the play of Atlanta central defenders Miles Robinson and Gonzalez Pirez that spearheaded Atlanta United’s efforts to contain the Timbers attacking trio of Brian Fernandez, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
The Timbers return to action on Friday with a home showdown with arch-rival Seattle Sounders. Atlanta United travels to Florida to take on Orlando City on Friday night.