Atlanta, Portland ready for big matchup
First-place Atlanta United hosts the surging Portland Timbers on Sunday in a battle of two of the hottest teams in MLS at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes (10-3-3) lead MLS with 33 points but are coming off a disappointing 1-0 loss at home to the Chicago Fire in U.S. Open Cup play.
"They are two different competition, so whatever happened tonight started and ended tonight," Atlanta coach Tata Martino told reporters after the loss to the Fire. "We know we have to get back to playing in the league."
Portland (6-3-4, 22 points) got off to a slow start to the season, but has found its stride of late. The Timbers are unbeaten in their last eight, with six wins.
Winning on the road at Atlanta will be their biggest challenge to date.
"First of all, continue to do things that we've done in regards to being strong mentally, work together as a team, execute the plan that we're going to have to play against them and believe in ourselves," Portland coach Giovanni Savarese told reporters this week.
The Timbers bested the LA Galaxy 1-0 last Friday in Open Cup play. It was the third straight shutout for Portland, which has surrendered just one goal in June.
Atlanta striker Josef Martinez, who leads the MLS in goals, is expected to play Sunday while wearing a protective mask. Martinez sustained a broken nose in United's win over the Chicago Fire. He exited that match at halftime.
"I feel good. It was worth it to score a goal," Martinez told dirtysouthsoccer.com. "I'm still waiting for the mask that I want. Hopefully, I look like Batman. It affects me a little bit because I'm not used to wearing it while I'm playing. Sometimes it covers my eyes and it's a little tougher to see when the ball is coming. The doctor says I have to wear it for six weeks."
Savarese said Atlanta has many more weapons than just Martinez.
"You cannot only concentrate on one player," the Timbers coach said. "You have to concentrate on what they've done well, how they play, of course individually know what the attributes are and the tendencies and make sure we bring our plan."
The Five Stripes will be without defender Chris McCann, who is still dealing with a hamstring injury.
Updated June 22, 2018