Sebastian Blanco was having an incredible season.
The dynamic Portland Timbers attacker led his side to winning the MLS is Back Tournament, picking up tournament MVP honors along the way, and continued his stellar form as the league returned to play in home markets last month. He was a genuine contender for Landon Donovan MLS MVP in this unique, truncated season.
And then he went down five minutes into the Timbers' rivalry match against the Seattle Sounders last week and medical scans confirmed the news Portland feared: It was a torn ACL, ending his season.
The Timbers are set to take the field without the winger for the first time since his injury, facing LAFC on Sunday night (11 pm ET | TV & streaming). The squad is deep, but no one can be a like-for-like replacement of the Designated Player.
"It’s a big loss," head coach Gio Savarese told media on a virtual press conference Friday. "It’s a loss we cannot replace. We’re not looking for someone to replace him."
“My thoughts are more with Seba as a person, not the team moving forward without him," goalkeeper Steve Clark added. "We’re all sad for him, with the season he was having and the player he is. We have a deep team, we’ll move forward accordingly, but Seba is a fantastic guy. It's a gut punch, we’re all taking that body blow for him, wishing him well and can’t wait to see him back out here.”
The Timbers, though, will continue their season with a next-man-up philosophy. Thankfully for Savarese, they are among the deepest teams in attack, both with quality and quantity.
Club legend Diego Valeri is still producing at high levels, while more of the attacking burden will fall on DP winger Yimmi Chara. Chara has been dealing with an injury since the tournament in Orlando but is returning to full fitness imminently. Chara joined this winter and with the big break due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the injury, he hasn't been able to fully find his feet yet. Behind Chara, Portland have Marvin Loria and Andy Polo, while Jeremy Ebobisse has spent a good portion of his minutes playing as a winger too.
"It’s an opportunity for other players to get minutes, show themselves and compete," Savarese said. "We have different options. Yimmi Chara is getting better, back from his injury but not yet ready to play 90 minutes. Right there we have a player who will hopefully stay healthy. We have Loria, Polo, Jebo, Conechny. We have the flexibility to change in different ways to play other players.”