Sebastian Blanco - Portland Timbers - goal celebration
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Portland Timbers hail "underrated" Sebastian Blanco after Man of the Match showing

After a Man of the Match presented by Heineken performance against the LA Galaxy, one where he scored and assisted in a 2-1 win, Portland Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco is getting the love from his teammates.

Goalkeeper Steve Clark, who came up clutch with an early penalty-kick stop against Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, said the Argentine doesn’t get as much attention as he probably deserves.

“He's one of the most impressive players I've ever been around in any of my 12 seasons,” Clark said. “I think that he's definitely underrated and to see him day in and day out and the way he performs, it's really special. He's just a phenomenal player.

“He's somebody who wants to win every day in training and he's a great teammate. That's also part of the equation here. He's a real complete package.”

Blanco started the 2020 season quietly, but sprung to life against LA and now will hope to continue his fine form against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes; TSN in Canada). Depending on other results, a Timbers’ win could clinch a Knockout Round spot from Group F.

Asked about Blanco’s role in the squad, head coach Giovanni Savarese said it’s “not a problem” if he’s viewed as underrated. Blanco has 25 goals and 31 assists in 97 matches since arriving from San Lorenzo four seasons ago.

“The same thing I would say about the Portland Timbers,” Savarese said. “If people that think and want to underrate us, we know who we are, we know what we're about, we know how strong we are internally. We know how good Seba is, we know how good all the players we have on the team.”

The Timbers are looking to rebound from late-season struggles in 2019, when Real Salt Lake eliminated them from the first round of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Portland made MLS Cup in 2018 and won in 2015, so the bar is set high.

But they also see parity rearing its head down at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, with some presumed favorites struggling in group-stage play after a four-month layoff from the COVID-19 pandemic. Atlanta UnitedNYCFC and defending champions Seattle Sounders all fall into that category.

The job’s certainly not done – Clark said the tournament’s produced “chaos” – but they like their chances.

“I believe that soccer can be, at times, unpredictable,” Savarese said. “I believe that this league is definitely unpredictable. Besides the fact that we have seen, yes, in the past four years similar teams go to the final, I still think that on any given day any team can beat anybody."

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