Sebastian Blanco more than living up to his price tag with postseason run

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Without the exploits of midfielder Sebastian Blanco throughout the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Portland Timbers could very well be at home right now watching MLS Cup on TV.

Instead, helped by a standout postseason run from their shifty Argentine playmaker, the Timbers now have a chance to bag their second title since 2015 as they get set to take on Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS).

Blanco has three playoff goals, all of which have proven massively consequential. He scored twice in Portland’s epic Conference Semifinal series victory over the Seattle Sounders, and added a ridiculous highlight-reel golazo in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship to help the Timbers top Sporting Kansas City. 

“I’m enjoying it more because I’m very old now,” Blanco, 30, joked to reporters on Tuesday morning. “I play with less pressure. There’s always pressure because I always want to win, but now I’m enjoying it more.

“We’ve played 40 games this season and now we have an opportunity to play in a final. It doesn’t always happen. For some players it’s their second opportunity but for others it’s our first [chance] here in Portland. So, it’s an amazing opportunity.”

It can be easy to forget given his recent form, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past when some questioned whether Blanco would live up to the Designated Player contract the Timbers gave him prior to the 2017 season.

His inaugural MLS campaign started slowly, with just two goals in his first 19 games, but a late flurry helped him finish with eight goals and eight assists in 33 games. This season, he built on that strong finish with a 10-goal, 11-assist showing that set the stage for this year’s playoff heroics.

The key? Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese believes it was just a matter of the increased comfort level that can take time to establish for players that are new to the league and the country. 

"He's been sharp from the beginning of the season," Savarese said. "I think he's been doing the right things outside the field with his nutrition, with his lifestyle. He's been very, very disciplined, very good. Inside the field, I think he feels a lot more comfortable. He's been one of the steadiest players that we have had the entire season."

There’s still more work to be done come Saturday, and with one more standout performance to help Portland top the Five Stripes in arguably the MLS' most difficult visiting venue, Blanco could immediately become an all-time Timbers legend.

For his part, Blanco says he and his teammates are relishing the opportunity.

“Of course we would prefer to play at home but I love the challenge,” Blanco said. “Playing in Atlanta, it’s a big field, a very big team too. We aren’t afraid, it’s a positive for us.

“I wanted to come here for this — for a championship. On every team I’ve played, I want to play for a championship. So, I think my decision was great. Now, I always say, if I had that opportunity again, I would repeat that decision.”