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Portland Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco off to fast start in second MLS season

Mar 4, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Portland Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco (10) moves the ball against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the first half at StubHub Center. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)


When the Portland Timbers have needed a goal this season, Sebastian Blanco has delivered.

The Argentine midfielder put a ball through the legs of LA Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham when the Timbers were fighting to get back in the game in their season opener on March 4. He scored on a stunning left-footed strike to lead the Timbers to a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas on March 24. And he launched himself into the air and headed-home the go-ahead goal in Chicago last Saturday.

“Blanco has been a very important piece in finding the goals and the way he’s playing is good for the team,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “He’s done very well.”

Blanco had a successful debut season in Major League Soccer last year as he recorded eight goals and eight assists to help the Timbers finish first in the Western Conference.Still,his play was overshadowed by Diego Valeri, who recorded a career-best 21 goals and 11 assists en route to winning the 2017 MLS MVP Award.

But it has been Blanco who has carried Portland’s attack in the first four games of 2018.

The 30-year-old Argentine has played a role in all four of the Timbers’ goals this season, scoring three and adding a tremendous assist in Portland’s 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire last week.

“I worked really hard during the offseason just to be at this level and I hope it will continue that way for the betterment of the team,” said Blanco through an interpreter.

Having a season in MLS under his belt has certainly helped Blanco get off to a fast start this year.

But Blanco also worked hard in the offseason to ensure that he could hit the ground running this year after failing to score in the first nine games of 2017 as he adjusted to his new team and league. Blanco spent the offseason training with a coach in Argentina as he strived to enter preseason training camp in the best shape possible and contribute from the get-go.

“My goal was just to be able to be in great shape to start the season,” Blanco said. “You try to do the best thing that you can to be in a good position to help your team. I always want more out of myself. I will continue to work hard on that and I think the results are showing right now.”

Mar 31, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi (9) and Chicago Fire midfielder Drew Conner (18) run for a loose ball during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Savarese’s system and formation has also brought out the best in Blanco.

Whereas former Timbers coach Caleb Porter employed Blanco as a true winger last year, Savarese has played Blanco more centrally in a 4-3-2-1 formation in the last two games. In the new system, Blanco has a lot more freedom to float around the field and cause havoc in the attack. He has also benefited from playing in front of three defensive midfielders, which has allowed him to stay higher up the pitch.

“I think this system helps in order for him to be able to find better spaces, to be able to be in good areas,” Savarese said. “But he’s also putting in the work.”

While the individual success has been nice, Blanco saidthe most important thing is that he is helping the team.

After back-to-back losses to open the season, the Timbers (0-2-2, 2 points) have taken steps forward as they’ve picked up draws in each of the last two games. But Portland has yet to find its first win of the season.

Whether it’s by scoring goals, adding assists or finding other ways to contribute that don’t show up on the scoresheet, Blanco is focused on doing whatever he can to help the Timbers find that first victory.

“I’m very happy with the present, individually and also as a group,” Blanco said. “The only disappointing thing about this is we’re not getting the three points. I’ll be happier when we are able to get those three points.”

@ jamiebgoldberg

2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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