The 2018 Major League Soccer season comes to an end on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when Atlanta United takes on the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final.

This promises to be intriguing, as both sides feature distinct playing styles. However, thanks to the high-stakes of a final, both coaches may consider changing their strategies.

With that in mind, here are some storylines to monitor and players to watch ahead of the 2018 MLS Cup final.

How will Portland set up vs. Atlanta’s attack

When these teams met at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on June 24, Portland walked out of the building with a 1-1 draw. Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese deployed a 3-5-2 system with an extra centre-back tightly marking Golden Boot winner and 2018 MVP Josef Martinez.

This worked to a tee as Martinez barely had a sniff of the ball in the penalty area. When he did, there was a Timbers defender stuck to him.

There were moments when Atlanta carved open Portland’s defence, but the Timbers retreated quickly and closed off the space. They were also immense when defending set pieces.

Savarese will likely utilize a similar system and shape for the final. This setup restricts space in Zone 14, ensures that Martinez is marked, and allows the Timbers to break quickly on counter-attacks. The one negative is Portland’s expected goals against (xGA) shows that the opposition has registered quality chances. But they won’t care if it leads to a second MLS Cup.

#SKCvPOR xG. Tough one for SKC. pic.twitter.com/3MjFuggruy

— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) November 30, 2018

#SEAvPOR xG. Expected goals seem quaint on nights like these. pic.twitter.com/iO7yhJs9fd

— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) November 9, 2018

#DALvPOR xG. Valeri’s goal was the first shot of the game. pic.twitter.com/NFv5uqgf2b

— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) November 1, 2018

The battle of the MVPs

This is just the second MLS Cup final that will feature back-to-back MLS MVP recipients. It’s also the first time that both players are on the teams they won the award for.

Josef Martinez, who set the all-time MLS single-season goals record this season with 31 en route to claiming MVP honours, will battle 2017 winner Diego Valeri. The latter may have experienced a decline in scoring from last season, but Valeri was still involved in 22 goals for the Timbers, so he remains just as influential as ever.

#PTFC has scored 9 goals in 2018 …read more

Source:: Sportsnet.ca – Sports news

      

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2018 MLS Cup final: Storylines, players to watch and more

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