Portland's second away match of 2023 provides an opportunity to bounce back.
Following two losses—first at LAFC then last Saturday against St. Louis CITY SC at Providence Park—the Portland Timbers will be on the road for the second time this season, visiting the Georgia capital for a Matchday 4 battle with Atlanta United FC on Saturday March 18 at 4:30pm PT (MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app | Subscription required).
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This is the definition of a road test: the Timbers (1-2-0) will be facing an undefeated Atlanta United FC side that through three weeks of MLS action have garnered a 2-0-1 record, with a +4 goal differential that places them at the top of the eastern conference standing with seven points.
The history with ATL
Since their entry into MLS in 2017, Atlanta United FC have been one of the more polarizing clubs in the league, finding success quickly and often. Matches between Portland and Atlanta have carried a lot of weight, as both clubs have some of the most electrifying support on the continent, and in the past even silverware has been on the line in when the two face off. In five all-time meetings (MLS regular season and postseason), the Timbers are 1-2-2 against their southern rivals. In their most recent official match, the Timbers earned their first win against United, a 2-1 victory at a sold-out Providence Park in September of 2022.
Saturday gives Portland the chance to nab their first win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and get back to winning ways. Portland's last appearance in Atlanta in December of 2018 was a particularly difficult one, resulting in the home club raising their first MLS Cup trophy and the Timbers going scoreless. Fast-forward to 2023 and it's a fresh opportunity for Portland to impose themselves in the Georgia capital after a four-year hiatus.
Atlanta enters Saturday's matchup with a revamped roster, with only goalkeeper Brad Guzan remaining from their 2018 campaign. Players like midfielders Thiago Almada (who earned designation as World Cup winner being on the Argentina roster during the 2022 Qatar World Cup) and young homegrown defender Caleb Wiley are names to keep an eye out during this weekend's encounter. Both Almada and Wiley have attracted league attention with a brace for each in two of the three matches Atlanta has disputed this season. A win and a draw at home, Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda will now face the threat of the Timbers ending their undefeated season.
For their part, Portland will step into Mercedes-Benz Stadium hungry for points. Four different players have netted a goal in the season so far, with Juan David Mosquera, Evander, Cristhian Paredes, and Zac McGraw getting on the scoresheet. Additionally, four distinct players have tallied an assist, Eryk Williamson, Nathan Fogaça, and Yimmi Chara dishing them out and Mosquera being the only Timber with both a goal and assist to his name.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese implemented a 5-3-2 formation in Saturday's match with St. Louis, a change from the 4-2-3-1 he had conducted in the first two matches of the season. Savarese's tactics has the Timbers tied for seventh in the league in goals scored per match rankings at 1.3 over 90 minutes. Whether Savarese rolls out a new formation or not, one thing is for sure—no matter their placement—every player that gets to step onto the turf on Saturday is focused on one thing: bringing home a positive result.
Shining bright through the first three weeks
Two notable players that have excelled: defenders Zac McGraw and Juan David Mosquera. After netting his first goal in his sophomore season in MLS last year, Zac has started 2023 with a bang. He's become an undeniable starter for the team, and a tremendous presence in the backline. Through three matches so far, McGraw has looked comfortable and has evolved into a set-piece menace. He scored the fastest goal in MLS thus far on Saturday against St. Louis, putting his head on an Eryk Williamson corner in just two minutes and eighteen seconds of game time.
On both sides of the ball, Mosquera has left defenders and attackers scrambling in his path, usually pushing to recover their position. Mosquera's outstanding performances have earned him a call-up to the Colombian national team for a pair of friendlies later this month. This weekend's showdown with Atlanta can help Juan prove himself to be one of the best right backs in the league, just before he meets up with his fellow countrymen to travel to South Korea and Japan for friendlies against those respective countries on the 24th and 28th.