PORTLAND, Ore. – When Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter hatched his plans for the 2017 regular season, the winger positions were top priority.
While center forward Fanendo Adi and playmaker Diego Valeri were already established, reliable scorers, wingers in 2016 only contributed a net total of six goals. Perhaps more importantly, wide attackers didn’t stretch the field enough to get the best from Valeri and Adi.
Addressing this area of the field meant permanently slotting Darlington Nagbe on the left, leaving the right to be manned by Sebastian Blanco, who was brought in from San Lorenzo in Argentina to occupy the third and final Designated Player roster slot.
With five goals and six assists through 25 matches, has Blanco lived up to the billing in his first season in MLS? Porter argues that the Argentine's impact goes beyond the box score.
“[Blanco] didn’t get on the scoresheet he did a lot of little things to help our team today,” Porter noted following the Timbers' 2-0 win against the New York Red Bulls on Friday, arguably one of Blanco's best games of the season (Blanco highlights below). “He’s doing what we thought he would and I thought he had an excellent game today.”
That will prove especially important going into one of the Timbers' toughest matches of the year: their visit this Sunday, Aug. 27, to face heated rivals Sounders FC as part of Heineken Rivalry Week (9:30 pm ET on FS1, Fox Deportes in USA | MLS LIVE in Canada).
Porter has called Blanco a “true winger” and the two-footed player continues to burnish a reputation as a player who will fight to keep the ball in the opponent’s half. These qualities have brought needed width and versatility to Timbers' lineups.
The Argentine is also capable of playing on both sides of the ball, and his 47 fouls rank second in the league. That aggression that helps set the tone for the entire team.
“What I love about Blanco and one of the main reasons we signed him is because he plays for the team. He works for the team. He does the little things for the team,” Porter said.
This, perhaps is the best quality Blanco brings: a whatever-it-takes spirit to help the team mentality.
“You don’t always get that in a DP,” Porter continued. “Sometimes they want to play for themselves, but with Blanco he’s working and he’s fighting and he’s scrapping."