There will be plenty of Argentine interest on Sunday when Atlanta United meet Portland Timber with the MLS Cup on the line after Gerardo Martino’s Atlanta defeated New York Red Bulls and Diego Valeri inspired Timbers to victory over Sporting Kansas City on Thursday evening.
Former Argentina manager Martino is looking to sign off by guiding Atlanta to a maiden MLS Cup triumph, before likely taking the Mexican national team job and his side ensured that there was to be no dramatic Red Bulls comeback when the two best sides met in New Jersey.
Atlanta’s decisive 3-0 first leg victory rendered the late defeat away from home meaningless and crowned Tata’s side Eastern Conference champions.
While Josef Martínez and Miguel Almirón have created much of the headlines for Atlanta this season, former River Plate and Estudiantes defender Leandro González Pírez has been influential. Franco Escobar, Héctor Villalba and Ezequiel Barco have all played their parts in Atlanta’s success and will now all be focused on Sunday’s final to help vindicate their decisions to move to the United States.
In Atlanta’s way will be Portland Timbers after Argentine duo Sebastián Blanco and Diego Valeri were the difference against Sporting Kansas City.
After a goalless first leg there was significantly more riding on the Western Conference final second leg and when Daniel Salloi put Sporting ahead, Portland looked in trouble.
Two disallowed goals meant the home side were unable to kill off the tie and then in the 52nd minute Blanco struck. There didn’t appear much danger when the former San Lorenzo forward picked up the ball out on the left wing but cutting inside onto his right foot some 30 yards from goal, Blanco unleashed a fierce, dipping shot that flew into the top corner.
The away goal put Portland in front but soon after the visitors led on aggregate too. Blanco’s scooped pass found Jeremy Ebobisse and while his initial effort was saved, Diego Valeri was on hand to nod in the second.
Gerso Fernandes pulled Sporting level on the night but with the Timbers clinging on to their away goal advantage, Valeri would wrap things up in stoppage time. Hitting the home side on the counter, the 2017 MLS MVP, ran clear to slot in the winner on the night and clinch a place in the final.