The Portland Timbers will need to slow down Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron in Saturday’s MLS Cup final and Diego Chara will be “pivotal” in their efforts, according to New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel.
While the Five Stripes boast an impressive collection of attackers, headlined by MLS MVP Josef Martinez, Almiron is arguably the engine that makes the attack go, with 12 goals and 14 assists for Atlanta this season.
The Atlanta No.10 has reportedly drawn interest in the Premier League, with Saturday’s season decider possibly his last for the MLS side, and Friedel sees him as an important figure in the match, even more so than the new reigning MVP.
“I think Almiron is the key player for Atlanta,” Friedel, who was speaking courtesy of Allstate, told Goal. “I know Martinez scores the goals, but I think if you can limit Almiron’s touches on the ball, that will help tremendously.”
And on other side, the Timbers potentially have the quality player to match in Chara, who Friedel believes can do everything his team needs to keep them safe at the back.
“Defensively [the Timbers] have Chara, who is excellent in the holding midfield role,” Friedel said. “Even if you need to go box to box, he can do that as well. But he’ll be pivotal in this game, trying to block off the passing lanes to Almiron.”
Atlanta boasted the best attack in MLS this season, scoring 70 goals in 34 games, en route to finishing with the second-best record in the league this year, just a point behind the New York Red Bulls.
But even the Red Bulls were unable to slow the Five Stripes in the Eastern Conference finals, losing 3-0 in the first leg en route to a 3-1 aggregate loss.
Friedel has first-hand experience in dealing with that attack, with his Revolution side playing Atlanta to a 1-1 draw at home in May and then losing 2-1 on the road in October, and outlined how best to slow their output.
“When you lose the ball, you have to win it back,” Friedel said. “You have to limit opportunities when Almiron gets the ball. You have to play physically against them when you don’t have the ball.
“And with the ball, you have to finish your plays and your actions. You can’t lose the ball in that middle third of the field. If you do, they will spring attacks and spring them quickly.”
The former United States international also added: “Portland need to score the first goal because Atlanta are an exceptionally gifted team when they go up one goal. They can sit back and counter and they’re difficult to stop on the counter.”
While much of the talk has centered around Atlanta’s strong attack, Friedel notes the Timbers have quality players as well, which should make for a solid match up.
“They have a couple of match winners in their team as well,” Friedel said. “[Diego] Valeri. [Sebastian] Blanco’s very good. Jeremy Ebobisse’s done very well the last half of the season for them. You have a holding midfielder who is one of the best in MLS in Chara and they have some good components themselves.
“This is, by no means, going to be an easy task for either of the teams and as a neutral, I’m just hoping for an entertaining match.”
Friedel spoke with Goal courtesy of Allstate. Allstate teamed with the Alianza U Foundation to award four college-bound soccer player $5,000 scholarships, and who, with Friedel, led a skills clinic and presented participants with tickets to the MLS Cup final.