When Portland Timbers star Sebastian Blanco suffered an ACL tear last September, it cut short an incredible season from a 2020 Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner.
But head coach Giovanni Savarese is optimistic that Blanco could return this spring when Portland enter the Concacaf Champions League and the 2021 MLS season begins (April 17 start date). On Thursday night, the Timbers were drawn against Honduran club CD Marathon in the CCL's two-legged Round of 16, with games set for April 6-8 (first leg) and April 13-15 (second leg).
“We know and we’re very hopeful that also Sebastian Blanco will be able to participate from the beginning, but it’s something that we still have to analyze in how he’s progressing,” Savarese said after the CCL draw. “He’s doing very well, but we have to make sure that we give the right timing for him to be able to recover.
“Nevertheless, I’m very content to know that we pretty much are ready or complete in our market in building our roster, so we’re definitely going to have a very competitive team to be able to go there.”
Since coming to MLS, Blanco has 26goals and 35 assists through 103 games (97 starts). A wide midfielder who joined from San Lorenzo in 2017, the Argentine can also slot into the No. 10 role.
Blanco’s reintroduction roughly seven months after his ACL tear would raise Portland’s ceiling, like when they won the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020, defeating Orlando City SC in the final. He’ll turn 33 in March, though was enjoying arguably his best MLS season before the injury setback.
With the 2021 CCL bracket drawn, Portland would face either Liga MX’s Club America or Honduran club CD Olimpia in the quarterfinals. However, the Timbers are keeping a narrow focus.
“The expectations, as I said, we do have the desire and the hope that we can make it all the way and be the first United States team or Major League Soccer team that can advance and represent Concacaf,” Savarese said. “I think that’s also in the mind of every MLS team that’s going to compete, but we also very much understand that the only way to be able to get there is by taking one game at a time.
“So we cannot be thinking or dreaming about the future without the first step and these steps are going to be difficult. We have to take it with the right mindset and be very responsible.”
This is Portland’s third CCL appearance after they made the 2014 and 2016 tournaments. In both years, they failed to advance from the group stage.