The Portland Timbers have once again been labeled “underdogs” by media and fans alike as we head into this weekend’s final. The longer the playoffs have continued on, the more this epithet rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see this team as anything but contenders to regain the Cup. I guess the talking heads need something to talk about, and the writers something to write about, though.
Let’s take a look at what this means exactly:
a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.
synonyms: long shot, dark horse, weaker one, little guy, David
Out of the two teams, I get that only one was an odds-on favorite to make it to the final. The Timbers were the fifth seed and had to battle their way through to be able to stand toe to toe with the Eastern Conference champs.
Without looking very deep, you can tell they are two vastly different teams: You have one who has a long history and are from deep in the heart of Soccer City, USA. The other has been around for a grand total of two years and have spent a lot of money — and they have the flashy players to show for it.
Atlanta is also a team that’s going to be losing their head coach, Tata Martino, to the Mexican national team. With that, who knows how long guys like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron will be around when the season kicks off next year.
Only one of these two teams has won an MLS Cup. MLS Cup. We’ve been to the promised land, and now we’re going back. The Timbers have proved time and time again that this club’s road form is off the charts — something I’m sure Atlanta United are paying attention to. I mean, it’s not like the Timbers backed into the playoffs. They took on three tough teams — Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City — and they did it all on the road.
I get that the Timbers to have a bit of a hill to climb, but it’s not an impossible one. Atlanta United is the highest scoring team in the league. I’ve got to give props where props are due: They pack ’em in at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Let’s not forget that they are MLS’ darlings and Portland is ... Portland. I think it would really get Atlanta’s — and the league’s — goat if the Timbers walk away with the Cup.
This will be the second trip this year to Mercedes-Benz: In the regular season, the Timbers and the Five Stripes battled to a draw. The way it’s seen in the “outside” world is that Atlanta United is this big club with superstars, and there is no way they should be playing a little team from the Pacific Northwest.
So please, national pundits and media, stop with the “underdog” label — it’s lazy and ill-fitting. This team is more than the sum of its parts. We may not have the flashy hotrods, but we’ve got the Diegos and Sebastian Blanco — just to name a few in the garage. This is a team that is starting a 21-year-old at center forward, and it’s working.
It’s a silly label to slap on a team who you think doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling off a victory. While a victory at Providence Park would be ideal, partying at the Benz ain’t half bad either.
We’re back. You’re welcome.