PORTLAND, Ore. – For most of their first nine seasons in Major League Soccer the Portland Timbers have been defined on the field by two players: Diego Valeri and Diego Chara. Now, as they prepare for their tenth season in the league, another player has established himself as a cornerstone of the team.
Since joining the Timbers in 2017, Designated Player Sebastian Blanco has played all over the pitch. Sometimes asked to take up a new position and often given the freedom to roam, it is never a surprise when the Argentine attacker pops up in some new corner of the field. Where Valeri and Chara have defined the Timbers by their play at a single position, Blanco has changed the team by his ability and willingness to play multiple roles.
Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese praised his player’s versatility as his multi-year contract extension was announced on Tuesday.
“You saw him playing against [Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 29] when we went to 10 men as a striker, you saw him play as a No. 10, as a wide player, sometimes in the middle next to Chara, or even in the diamond being the midfielder that is a little bit wider,” said Savarese. “Having a player like that is very important for a coach.
“I really believe that if you put him in as a goalkeeper he would perform well,” he added, only barely suppressing a smile, “even though he is small.”
But Blanco’s broad skillset is not the only thing he brings to the team. He is, first and foremost, a competitor, exactly the sort of player that fans love to have on their team and love to hate on anyone else’s. While Timbers fans might first remember Blanco’s 24 goals and 30 assists over the last three seasons, opposition fans are more likely to remember the gamesmanship, lunging, last-ditch tackles and chest-to-chest confrontations after a foul – called or just perceived.
According to Savarese, Blanco brings that same intensity to the Timbers off the pitch as well.
“Outside the field he is an example in giving accountability to people,” said the coach. “He is someone that, if somebody is not in line with the professionalism that we expect, he lets the player know. In regard to that he is a policeman; making sure that people bring the right mentality to work and that everybody is accountable to make our team become a better team.”
As the Timbers look to rebound from a taxing 2019 season in which they started with no wins in their first six games and ended with one win in their last six, Blanco will be a key part of the team’s drive to once again become a contender in the increasingly competitive Western Conference.
“We are a stronger club with him,” said Savarese. “It is great that we have been able to extend his contract because he is a competitor and he wants to win.”