The winner of Tuesday night's MLS is Back Tournament Final presented by by Wells Fargo, between the Portland Timbers and Orlando City (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN, TVA Sports 2), will earn Major League Soccer's first berth into the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, and it represents a high-stakes prize for both teams involved.
For Timbers creative duo Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri, playing together in Concacaf Champions League would be an opportunity to cement their legacy as one of the best attacking tandems in MLS history.
Portland last reached the event in 2016, prior to Blanco's arrival, and also qualified in 2014. The Timbers exited in the now-defunct group stage both times. With Blanco now 32 years old and Valeri 34, the playing in 2021 knockout-only competition would be an opportunity for a climactic late act in their prolific partnership.
"It’s always an objective I’ve had on a personal level since I’ve arrived here," Blanco said of reaching CCL, through an interpreter "I love international cup competitions, because personally I think it gives you prestige and another outlook overseas. I think it’s important for everyone, including the younger players who can have this experience. And then there’s what the competition leads to: the chance to win it and after that you get closer to competing against even bigger clubs, and that’s a great motivation."
Both Blanco and Valeri have previous continental experience that could help them steer arguably the Timbers' most talented roster to a possible deep run.
Valeri was part of the 2016 Timbers CCL squad, and also made two UEFA Champions League appearances in his earlier career at Porto. Blanco has 35 continental competition appearances between the Europa League, Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
"It’s a great opportunity for us as a team to compete in Concacaf," Valeri said. "It is something that our club and our team is very aware of. We want to compete in International competition and this is a great chance to do it in a short term."
The stakes are just as high for Orlando, if a bit different.
For the Lions, the competition would offer a chance to finally announce themselves to the region as a force to be reckoned with, after previous disappointing domestic results that see them still seeking their first MLS Cup Playoff appearance.
And for first-year coach Oscar Pareja, getting his squad in front of viewers across Central America and the Caribbean could help him continue developing his roster.
"Representing the club internationally is very important and very relevant for the club," Pareja said. "Internationally it will brand our club and give us the opportunity to showcase players and put Orlando in a more noticeable place. It’s very important for us."