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Atlanta United wins MLS Cup in only second season

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan #1 of Atlanta United reacts

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan #1 of Atlanta United reacts after the first goal scored by Josef Martinez #7 in the first half against the Portland Timbers during the 2018 MLS Cup between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

ATLANTA — He certainly did not run as much as his players, yet Giovanni Savarese seemed to expend as much energy on the sidelines as they did on the field Saturday night.

Standing at the corner of his coaching box, the excitable and enthusiastic Portland Timbers coach would exhort his team one minute, then the next argue with game officials over a call that did not go his way against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

As it turned out, the former Cosmos boss endured a long and disappointing night in the MLS Cup final, watching his team suffer a 2-0 defeat before an MLS final record crowd of 73,019.

Savarese, an LIU scoring star and a standout on the 1995 Long Island Rough Riders championship team in the U.S. Interregional Soccer League (now the United Soccer League), had guided a squad into a championship game for the fifth time in six years. With the Cosmos, the former Venezuelan international celebrated three North American Soccer League titles while losing in a fourth final.

“I’m extremely proud of work the guys have given this season,” he said. “To get to the MLS Cup you have to sacrifice. Our guys made it difficult for them. We played in a difficult stadium, against a difficult team. I couldn't ask for anything more from my players.”

But apparently he could have asked for something more from referee Alan Kelly, who he felt fell short of a championship performance. Savarese claimed Kelly should not have called a foul on Larrys Mabiala vs. star Josef Martinez that led to the second goal by Franco Escobar in the 54th minute.

“I am one who tries not to talk after games,” Savarese said. “For this final that is so important, the caliber of referee, I expected more . . . unfortunately the referee did not match up to the level of the game.”

Savarese also was forced to watch a Venezuelan scoring machine of this generation work his magic. Martinez, the regular season and MLS Cup MVP, scored the first goal in the 39th minute and set up the second before receiving a deserved standing ovation when he was replaced by Hector Villalba in the 76th minute.

“We knew he would be difficult today,” Savarese said. “He found that first goal. That’s what good strikers do when they have opportunities.”

After the game, Martinez, who idolized Savarese while growing up, had an opportunity to praise him.

“I want to send a message to him. Thank you to him,” he said. ‘He’s someone I watched when I was younger. I met him last year. This year, the great effort the team made to win this amazing championship, but thanks to Savarese for everything that he has done.”

The Benz, as the stadium is nicknamed, can be an intimidating place for a visiting team due to a sea of red shirts. The enthusiastic supporters don't need much to get roused, although Brooklyn native Arthur Blank, the United and Atlanta Falcons owner, livened things up during the traditional pregame ceremonies by driving the giant golden spike into an imaginary railroad track.

Afterwards, Blank was given the Philip F. Anschutz trophy by commissioner Don Garber and celebrated with his team as it culminated an incredible ascension to the top of the league in only its second year.

For Savarese and the Timbers, they will have to wait until a little more than a month to begin another journey in their quest for MLS glory.

New York Sports