Sebastian Blanco came to MLS with plenty of pedigree and individual awards in a career that has seen him play in his native Argentina and Europe.
But fresh off winning MVP honors for the MLS is Back Tournament, in which Blanco's Portland Timbers emerged victorious, the 32-year-old attacker says he puts the award right up there at the top of the list.
"It's without a doubt one of the most important awards in my career," Blanco told reporters through a translator via video call."Many people may see this as something very trivial or something easy to accomplish, but in this league there are some impressive names, 26 teams, and to be the one that comes out as a winner of this MVP award, it's very, very important for me. Everybody who knows me knows I work very hard for the team and I want to achieve collective efforts and collective titles. In Argentina when I was playing there, I got this award once, and there were [some big names], and it's never been easy, very clearly, I can say that, to attain a prize this size. It's very difficult. So to be the MVP of this tournament, it really means a lot."
For Blanco and the Timbers, the MLS is Back victory was a statement that this team is still a force to be reckoned with.
Coming into the tournament, few picked the Timbers to make it as far as they did. There were concerns about the age of some of their key contributors, several of whom are past 30. Others questioned whether the depth could hold up to the fixture congestion. While it probably shouldn't quite be called a Cinderella story, Blanco said he and his teammates didn't mind the motivation when they saw the graphics showing them as underdogs.
"Well to be honest every time I saw one of those graphics or one of those pictures which we weren't favorites, I was cheering, in reality," he said, "Because we didn't want to be [the favorites]. Sometimes these graphics, these are motivated by feelings and not reality. We knew we were going to do a good job, and in some cases it made me laugh, because it made me feel even more motivated. We wanted to make it all the way to the end, and like everybody knows, we did."
Looking ahead to the resumed regular season, Blanco said the tournament victory should leave his team with plenty of confidence as they turn their focus to making a run at the club's second MLS Cup.
"It's all about trust. I consider myself somebody who's very positive and somebody who has a lot of self-trust," Blanco said. "Obviously, to win this tournament has to work in our favor to continue developing and to continue being the team we want to be: We want to be hard-working and we don't want to just stay with what we just achieved. We want to do more. And that's exactly what we intend to do for the remainder of the season."
There won't be that much time to bask in the victory before the Timbers are thrown back into the fire.
Portland are back in action on Aug. 23 against the Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET | FS1) in a massive Cascadia derby that is always among the league's most contentious, even aside from the fact that it now pits the league's two most recent trophy-winners against each other, with the Sounders coming off their 2019 MLS Cup title.
It's a matchup Blanco always looks forward to, and this one is no different.
"In the last few years, Seattle and Portland have made it to their respective finals and have fought for each tournament," he said. "So, that to my knowledge, means that it's one of the best rivalries in Major League Soccer. Both teams fight hard, both teams want to make it all the way to the end, and that makes every single game very attractive. We wait all year to face Seattle and of course it's a game that you enjoy more than most others."