Sebastian Blanco is ready to play…
The 33-year-old Argentine footballer, who suffered a reported hamstring injury in the MLS conference semifinal win over the Colorado Rapids on Thanksgiving Day that threatened to keep him out of the remainder of the MLS Cup playoffs, says he’s “ready” to take part in Saturday’s MLS Cup final against New York City FC.
Dating back to August 29, Blanco has appeared in 15 of Portland’s 17 contests. Of those 15 games, the Timbers won 12 of them, with the 33-year-old attacker registering eight goals and five assists in that span.
His importance to Giovanni Savarese’s side can’t be understated, so it will come as a great relief to the Rose City that its No. 10 took part in full training on Thursday.
“I am ready. I’m OK, I feel good,” Blanco told members of the media during a news conference on Thursday. “I prepared myself for this game. I trained with my team today completely. Now we still need to have a conversation with [Savarese] … He will decide, but everything’s good.”
For the two months before his injury in Colorado, Blanco’s form gave Portland hope of a deep playoff run. And those expectations were heightened once the playoffs began, when he marked a dominating performance in a Round 1 win over Minnesota United with a brace.
But the Timbers had to scrap for their win over the Rapids, needing a 90th-minute winner from center-back Larrys Mabiala to advance out of the conference semifinals. An early goal from Felipe Mora ensured they were never too uncomfortable last Saturday against RSL, allowing Blanco to remain on the bench to continue rehabilitation toward a recovery that he refers to as nearly miraculous.
“After Colorado I was almost out, so we talk about the almost miracle to arrive to this game,” he said. “So to be part of this game is important to me. No matter what happens on Saturday, if I can play or not, it’s important to be a part and we need to support our team however I need to support.”
Despite the twice-capped Argentina international’s importance to Portland’s run to MLS Cup, NYCFC manager Ronny Deila insisted that his team is focused on containing all 11 of their opponents on the field come Saturday, not just Blanco.
“We’ve been talking a lot … here in MLS about specific players, and Blanco is … really good, of course, but they have top players plus a couple on the bench as well who can cause any team problems,” Deila said. “So it’s not about one guy, it’s about stopping them as a team.”