ATLANTA — Within the adolescent years of Main League Soccer, its championship sport didn’t all the time really feel like a spectacle. In these days, the M.L.S. Cup was held at impartial websites earlier than most groups had fan bases keen to journey en masse, and the pockets of empty seats and the mosaic of random jerseys within the stadiums didn’t precisely create a way of grandeur.
It will be exhausting to think about an even bigger distinction, then, with what’s now being promised in Saturday night time’s 23rd M.L.S. Cup, when the Portland Timbers will go to Atlanta United with the league title at stake. M.L.S., which stopped utilizing impartial websites for its ultimate after the 2011 sport, might hardly have drawn up a greater setting: the league’s two high groups — and its previous two most respected gamers — squaring off contained in the year-old Mercedes-Benz Stadium, its stands full of greater than 70,000 followers sporting the colours of a brash, second-year staff that has jolted the league with each its fashion of play and its next-generation (for M.L.S., at the least) enterprise mannequin.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” mentioned Arthur Clean, who owns each Atlanta United and its gleaming new area. “For our followers. Actually, for soccer in North America.”
Including to the ambiance can be the truth that about 2,000 Timbers supporters are anticipated to be readily available as nicely, making them the biggest touring contingent for a ultimate that many within the league can bear in mind. Most of the Timbers supporters may have traveled from the other nook of the nation this week, prepared to provide full-throated reminders to their hosts that they’ve been singing chants and profitable video games — and trophies — since earlier than Atlanta United existed.
For a league all the time striving to carve out an even bigger stake within the American sports activities panorama, this second — two of M.L.S.’s hottest and profitable groups assembly on what is certainly the league’s largest stage — is an beautiful little bit of serendipity.
“It’s not typically league can rejoice a number one goal-scorer of all-time, an M.V.P., a record-setting fan base, and simply clutter-breaking pleasure with one staff in a single market,” the M.L.S. commissioner, Don Garber, mentioned in an interview this week.
Atlanta enters the ultimate as a heavy favourite, and for causes apparent to anybody who adopted the league this season. It completed two factors shy of the highest document within the league, the product of a fluid and aggressively attacking fashion instilled by its Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino. It options the league’s high participant, Josef Martínez, the Venezuelan striker who gained M.V.P. honors this week after smashing the league’s single-season objectives document with 31 this season, in addition to a teammate who might quickly show much more beneficial: the gifted Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almirón, who might quickly break the league’s switch document if a whispered transfer to the Premier League goes by way of in January.
On the opposite facet of the sector is a Portland staff that, whereas it could not be capable to match Atlanta’s common attendance numbers (figures that, the league boasts typically, fall someplace between the crowds at house video games for Liverpool and Manchester Metropolis) or roster spending, has lengthy been a darling of M.L.S. The Timbers, the 2015 M.L.S. champions, have offered out their stadium for each house sport since becoming a member of the league in 2011.
“Whereas I’m extremely excited by what’s occurring in Atlanta,” Garber mentioned, “they’re taking part in in opposition to a staff in Portland that has had that method from the very starting.”
No matter how Saturday’s match goes, Portland has already claimed a social media victory this week; on Sunday, it tweaked Atlanta United on Twitter after catching the newcomers utilizing a file picture of Portland’s 2015 championship trophy to advertise the sport.
And because it did in its 2015 run, Portland has proved to be a tricky opponent on the street this postseason. Led by the 2016 M.V.P., Diego Valeri, it has scored seven objectives in three video games away from Windfall Park within the postseason. And whereas the first-year Portland coach Giovanni Savarese may not have the worldwide pedigree of Martino, who beforehand coached Barcelona and Argentina’s nationwide staff, he’s in his sixth ultimate in seven years after making 5 in his final job, with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.
When the 2 groups performed to a 1-1 attract July, Portland deployed an additional defender to sluggish Martínez and Almirón, and Martino mentioned Friday that he anticipated an identical dynamic within the ultimate.
“We as a staff count on to have the initiative, and we count on Portland to cede that to us,” Martino mentioned by way of a translator throughout a convention name on Monday. “So we plan to be aggressive.”
There are contrasts off the sector, too, regardless of each golf equipment’ reputations for big and devoted fan bases — one thing not each M.L.S. staff can boast. Portland has benefited from a wealthy native soccer historical past, relationship to the Timbers’ roots as an N.A.S.L. staff within the 1970s. Atlanta appears to have burst out of nowhere — a results of cautious planning for the reason that franchise’s founding and a deal with nurturing the staff’s fan tradition lengthy earlier than the squad’s first participant was signed.
Via totally different paths, it has all added up — for each groups — to one thing M.L.S. has lengthy sought: true resonance of their respective cities. That’s not misplaced on the gamers who’ve been a part of it.
“The sport itself goes to be particular as a result of, I feel, it’s going to have a glowing ambiance, you recognize?” mentioned the veteran Atlanta defender Jeff Larentowicz, who’s taking part in in his fifth M.L.S. Cup. “Up to now, it hasn’t all the time been that means.”