BEAVERTON, Ore.— “I think I’m the biggest Sebastian Blanco fan,” a relieved Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella exhaled in the visitor’s locker room after the Timbers ousted their rival Seattle Sounders from the postseason thanks in big part to a late Blanco goal.
Most Timbers supporters share Attinella's sentiment heading into the Western Conference Championship first leg against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (7:30 pm ET on FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN2, TVAS).
With his game-winning goal in the first leg (not to mention a penalty kick conversion in the decisive shootout), Blanco became the first Timbers player to score multiple playoff goals against the Sounders, firmly securing Blanco’s place in Timbers lore.
It’s a far cry from last year's postseason. Blanco was a standout during 2017 regular season play, finishing with eight goals and eight assists in a team-high 32 appearances. However, a cooking accident limited the Argentine to only a smattering of painful postseason minutes after he sustained severe second-degree burns on his feet.
Blanco would miss several days of training and despite playing in pain for 35 minutes off the bench in the second leg, he couldn't help the No. 1-seeded Timbers avoid postseason elimination at the hands of the Houston Dynamo.
“He was just in too much pain, and if you saw the wound it’s excruciating,” then Timbers head coach Caleb Porter told media.
It was a bitter ending to what was a very successful first year, says Blanco.
“Last season, I felt good,” he said speaking outside of the Timber Training Center. “It was my first year, of course, I've never [before] played [in the playoffs], but I think I had a good season. I had 8 goals and 8 assists, we finished top of the Western Conference.”
Blanco’s numbers in 2018 were even more sterling: 10 goals and 11 assists in 29 starts. And while injury may have prevented him from making an impact a year ago, he feels it was still a valuable experience in understanding the level of intensity in the postseason.
“I think this year, I feel more confident. I feel better,” Blanco said.
"But we need to enjoy the game,” he continued, referencing the first leg of their 2018 Western Conference Championship first leg against Sporting Kansas City. “Enjoy it because, I think, every team and every player want to stay at our place [Providence Park]. So we need to enjoy the moment.”