Sebastian Blanco has raised his level even higher at the MLS is Back Tournament and he is a big reason why the Portland Timbers have reached the final where they will meet Orlando City on Tuesday (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS2 in Canada).
The 32-year-old has shined as the Timbers top attacking threat with three goals and five assists in Orlando and has been the catalyst for nearly every Timbers goal, including the semifinal game-winner. He’s allowed head coach Giovanni Savarese the luxury of using Diego Valeri off the bench in two of the last four games.
But what is behind the veteran Argentine’s recent run of form? Savarese points to a few different factors.
“I think what I see this year a little bit different is that he’s a lot more calm,” Savarese said in the lead-up to the semifinal against Philadelphia. “I think there’s a higher level of maturity in his game that he’s been able to bring to this year that is allowing him to be able to bring an even different level up, or better said, show what he shows every single day in practice more constant in every game.”
Savarese lauded Blanco for his 2018 season, in which he had 10 goals and 11 assists and helped lead the Timbers to MLS Cup.
Blanco agreed that the MLS is Back Tournament is up there as one of the best moments of his career, alongside others he pointed out: his final season at San Lorenzo and a stretch at Lanus when he said he was in consideration for the Argentine national team at the World Cup.
“Yes, I feel different, older and more mature in the sense that I try to enjoy all of this a little more. And I’m enjoying it,” Blanco said prior to the semifinal match. “It’s a tournament that’s a lot shorter than a regular season and it demands that we give extra. One game and it’s over. I always want to win. The people who know me, know what I’m like and I try to show it in the best way I can. In this tournament, the difference with other moments in my life is that I feel more calm.
"After 2018, yes [this is my best year in MLS]. Last year wasn’t so good [for me]," Blanco said in the lead-up to the final against Orlando. I think if you analyze closely I’ve created a lot of chances in my years here. The difference is that now we're finishing the chances we’re creating and the numbers look better. As far as my teamwork, I’ve always considered myself as a player who shows solidarity [with my teammates] and who gives up the personal for the benefit of the group. Which means that if I need to defend all game, I’m going to do it. No problem. That’s why I’m not worried about this individual talk. What worries me is not achieving group objectives. But yes, I feel more mature, I feel calm, too, and less of a fighter [confrontational] which was a personal goal of mine although it’s been tough [to do].
In Orlando, Blanco has taken the Timbers on his shoulders, carrying them offensively and with his work defensively.
“He’s a guy who’s always giving 100 percent and he’s taking it on himself to take the team to the next level and I think we need that,” Jorge Villafaña said. “We need that from everyone. But right now he’s been a key guy for us and we hope that he keeps going with this momentum that he has right now.”
And perhaps there’s an additional reason for Blanco’s surge in Orlando.
“He has a second daughter and so he’s also probably moving a lot faster at home having to deal with two little girls,” Savarese joked.