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It is official: Porter, Bezbatchenko hired by Columbus Crew

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Crew has named Caleb Porter as head coach and Tim Bezbatchenko as its new president.

[ MORE: Chong debuts for Man Utd ]

The moves come with a new ownership group led by Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam expected to take over and plans in the works for a new downtown stadium. The MLS team was at risk of being moved to Austin, Texas, by its present owners before the local group stepped in.

The 43-year-old Porter was head coach of the Portland Timbers from 2013-17, finishing there with a 68-50-52 record. Previously, he was head soccer coach at the University of Akron from 2006-12.

The 37-year-old Bezbatchenko was Toronto FC’s vice president of soccer operations and general manager from 2013-18.

The Crew opens the season March 2.

More AP Sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS releases home openers for all 2019 teams

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On Thursday we learned that Portland is going to be insane on June 1, as the Timbers host their home opener a mere three months into their 2019 MLS season.

[ MORE: Berhalter names first USMNT squad ]

Major League Soccer released the home opener dates for all of its teams, and the Timbers will be away for months thanks to renovations at Providence Park (via MLSSoccer.com).

The Timbers will be the visitors for the first home match in the MLS history of FC Cincinnati on March 17, a week after FCC opens up the home schedule for reigning champions Atlanta United.

Saturday, March 2

  • 1 p.m. ET – Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC (Talen Energy Stadium)
  • 2:30 p.m. ET – Orlando City SC vs. NYCFC (Orlando City Stadium)
  • 4:30 p.m. ET – Columbus Crew SC vs. NY Red Bulls (MAPFRE Stadium)
  • 4:30 p.m. ET – FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution (Toyota Stadium)
  • 6 p.m. ET – Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake (BBVA Compass Stadium)
  • 6 p.m. ET – Colorado Rapids vs. Portland Timbers (Dick’s Sporting Goods Park)
  • 6 p.m. ET – Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Minnesota United (BC Place)
  • 8 p.m. ET – LA Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire (Dignity Health Sports Park)
  • 10 p.m. ET – Seattle Sounders vs. FC Cincinnati (CenturyLink Field)
  • 10 p.m. ET – San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact (Avaya Stadium)

Sunday, March 3

  • 6 p.m. ET – D.C. United vs. Atlanta United (Audi Field)
  • 8 p.m. ET – LAFC vs. Sporting KC (Banc of California Stadium)

Saturday, March 9, 2019:

  • 1 p.m. ET – Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC (SeatGeek Stadium)
  • 2 p.m. ET – New England Revolution vs. Columbus Crew SC (Gillette Stadium)
  • 6 p.m. ET – Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Rio Tinto Stadium)

Sunday, March 10, 2019:

  • 3 p.m. ET – NYCFC vs. D.C. United (Yankee Stadium)
  • 3 p.m. ET – Sporting KC vs. Philadelphia Union (Children’s Mercy Park)
  • 5 p.m. ET – Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

Saturday, March 16, 2019:

  • TBD – NY Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Red Bull Arena)

Sunday, March 17, 2019:

  • 1:30 p.m. – Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution (BMO Field)
  • 5 p.m. – FC Cincinnati vs. Portland Timbers (Nippert Stadium)

Saturday, April 13, 2019:

  • 1 p.m. ET – Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew SC (Saputo Stadium)
  • 5 p.m. ET – Minnesota United vs. NYCFC (Allianz Field)

Saturday, June 1, 2019:

  • 10:30 p.m. ET – Portland Timbers vs. LAFC (Providence Park)

Champions! Atlanta United win MLS Cup in second season

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Atlanta United didn’t need all that long to earn the right to call themselves the champions of MLS, realizing the two-year-long dream of Arthur Blank and Gerardo “Tata” Martino with a 2-0 victory in the 2018 MLS Cup final on Saturday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hand Man City a first loss | Liverpool win to go top of PL ]

2018 MLS MVP — and single-season goals king (31) — Josef Martinez put his prints everywhere as the Venezuelan bagged a goal and an assist in front of an MLS-record crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Atlanta enjoyed plenty of possession — more than 56 percent in the first half — but the Timbers midfield and defense did an admirable job to funnel everything from Atlanta out wide once in the final third. From there, Liam Ridgewell and Larrys Mabiala could comfortably head cross after cross away from danger.

[ MORE: Son, Dele send Spurs past Leicester with ease ]

All of the pressing, harrying and chasing finally paid off for Atlanta in the 39th minute, when center back Michael Parkhurst pushed higher and higher up the field and tackled the ball away from Jeremy Ebobisse. Martinez was lurking atop the penalty area — narrowly onside — and knew exactly what to do with the ball when it fell to him.

Brad Guzan was called into action for the first time not long after Martinez’s goal, diving to his right to deny a goal-bound header from Ebobisse.

[ MORE: Messi’s latest free-kick magic (video) ]

Atlanta doubled their lead in the 54th minute, courtesy of a cool finish from Franco Escobar at the back post. Miguel Almiron floated his free kick into the box and Martinez flicked it as the first red shirt in the box. Jorge Villafaña was a full yard behind everyone else in white, keeping Escobar onside, but there was still plenty to be done from there.

After just two seasons in MLS, Martino, who coached his final game in Atlanta on Saturday, has secured his place as one of the league’s great influencers — both in terms of the global interest and respect he commanded, and the tactical daredevil mindset he displayed.

The entire organization in Atlanta has raised the bar in MLS — both in terms of on-field product and the numerous financial investments made by the organization — making Saturday’s finale a thoroughly fitting result.

FOLLOW LIVE – ATLUTD host Timbers in MLS Cup 2018

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD
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Atlanta United needed just two years to reach its first MLS Cup upon the league in 2017, and they’ll host Saturday’s final against the Portland Timbers to boot.

[ FOLLOW: Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers — MLS Cup 2018 ]

It’ll be the final game in which Gerardo “Tata” Martino picks the Five Stripes team and patrols the sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as he’s set to depart the club at the end of the season (reportedly set to take the Mexican national team job). It could very well be another final outing for one of — or two of — Atlanta’s superstars on the field: Miguel Almiron is expected to move to Europe during the January transfer window, and Josef Martinez has long been linked with a move back across the Atlantic Ocean.

With Martino leaving and two of his South American dynamos perhaps joining him, Saturday could very well signal the end of the first era of Atlanta United, giving way to the next head coach and (presumably) another wave of up-and-coming stars.

[ MORE: Groups for 2019 Women’s World Cup confirmed ]

Portland, on the other hand, is the team that wasn’t “supposed” to be left standing in the Western Conference. Having already knocked off the West’s first- and second-seeded sides in the playoffs — after surviving the knockout round on the road — Giovanni Savarese’s side has proven itself as a formidable, unrelenting foe on the 2018 season’s final day.

Hit the link above to follow along through Saturday’s final, and check back on PST for full coverage and analysis after the game.

LINEUPS

Atlanta: Guzan; Escobar, Parkhurst, Gonzalez-Pirez, Garza; Nagbe, Larentowicz, Remedi; Almiron, Gressel, Martinez | Subs: Clark, Tuiloma, Powell, Olum, Flores, Asprilla, Melano

Portland: Attinella; Valentin, Mabiala, Ridgewell, Villafaña; Chara, Guzman; Polo, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse | Subs: Kann, Robinson, McCann, Kratz, Villalba, Barco, Vazquez

MLS Cup Final preview: Timbers prepared to strike

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Things are going to get real loud in Georgia by the time 8 p.m. ET rolls around on Saturday night.

That’s when Atlanta United tangles with Portland Timbers, the Georgian outfit a heavy favorite to win its first MLS Cup and send Tata Martino, Miguel Almiron, and probably a few others away from United as all-time heroes (though they already qualify given their star power and the new nature of the club).

[ MORE: PST chats with Zack Steffen ]

Standing in their way? One of the most storied clubs in modern American soccer, guided by a first-time MLS manager whose outfoxed plenty of coaches in his day. Giovanni Savarese may not carry the name accolades of Martino’s but the job he’s done in Portland has surprised many and he deserves to have a shot of winning MLS Cup.

And lest we forget that Martino has been out-foxed in finals before: The 2013 Copa del Rey final and three Copa America finals, with the Spanish Super Cup for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid standing as his big final victory. The Copa America finals were Argentina twice losing to Chile in PKs, and with Paraguay blown out by highly-favored Uruguay; The Copa del Rey was Barca’s late loss to Real Madrid in Valencia.

Savarese has won three NASL titles with the New York Cosmos, who were admittedly the favorites each time. And his Timbers have won an MLS Cup away from home, claiming the 2015 final against Columbus with several players still in green and white on the roster (Diego Valeri, Jorge Villafana, Diego Chara, Lucas Melano, Jake Gleeson).

So, yes, Atlanta is the favorite to win, but don’t sleep on Portland in a one-off game with plenty of rest and time to prepare for a tactical challenge.


Regular season

Portland – 15W-10L-9T – +6 GD – 4W-8L-5T away

Atlanta – 21W-7L-6T – +26 GD – 11W-2L-4T home


Head-to-head

June 24 — D 1-1 in Atlanta — Goals: Mabiala (32′), Gressel (56′)


Playoffs

Atlanta
Beat NYCFC 4-1 (1-0, 3-1)
Beat RBNY 3-1 (3-0, 0-1)

Portland
Beat Dallas 2-1
Beat Seattle 4-4 (2-1, 2-3)
Beat Sporting KC 3-2 (0-0, 3-2)