MLS Cup: Atlanta v Portland is much more than a battle of football hipsters
Critics and rivals of this year’s finalists often deride them as suspect newcomers. But soccer in both cities has been built over decades
Back before the start of the 2012 season, MLS commissioner Don Garber issued a cautionary note about the “ghost of the NASL” and how it still “haunts the corridors of MLS”. When more than 70,000 people cram into Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Saturday, to watch Atlanta United host Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final, it will be a spectacle that suggests that ghost has long since been exorcised.
Certainly, Atlanta’s arrival into the league represented a quantum leap for MLS on multiple fronts. Everything from crowd numbers, to the profile of the club’s first head coach, Tata Martino, to their training facilities, represented unprecedented benchmarks for any MLS team, let alone an expansion side. It’s meant that whatever happens on the field on Saturday, we will witness one of the most significant domestic soccer games in US history. That Atlanta are hosting a team, in Portland, who have given us some of the most memorable images of fan culture over the past decade, only enriches that set up.