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Portland star says he has recovered enough to play a role on Saturday against NYCFC, but what might that role be?

COURTESY PHOTO: MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER - Sebastian Blanco said Thursday that he is healthy enough to participate in the MLS Cup Final against New York City FC on Saturday at Providence Park.Sebastian Blanco told media that he practiced in full Thursday with his Portland Timbers' teammates and hopes to be available for Saturday's MLS Cup Final against New York City FC.

It remains to be seen if the star midfielder's hamstring, injured in Portland's playoff win at Colorado two weeks ago, will allow Blanco to participate in the title tilt. While declaring himself ready, Blanco also said the decision is up to coach Giovanni Savarese.

"I'm ready. I'm OK, I feel good, I've prepared myself for this game," he said during a MLS news conference at Providence Park. "I trained with my team today completely. I still, of course, have to have a conversation with Gio, but no matter what happened the important thing is we're ready for the game. He will decide (if Blanco plays), but everything is good."

The Timbers chances of winning their second MLS title will be much better if Blanco really is healthy. But, it seems more realistic that the Argentine playmaker will be available as a substitute capable of changing the game in the second half.

After enduring a long recovery form his ACL tear in September 2020 and missing out on Portland's participation in this year's Concacaf Champions League, Blanco certainly is anxious to play a part Saturday. In addition to another star on the jersey, a second MLS Cup title would earn Portland a spot in the 2022 CCL.

Savarese, as always, spoke in broad terms about his team and said he is confident in whoever ends up playing, be it starter or reserve.

Blanco said it is "almost a miracle" that he has recovered enough from the injury on Thanksgiving Day to perhaps play in the final, though he hedged by adding that, "If I can play or not, the important thing is to be ready to be a part of what we need to support our team."

As goalkeeper Steve Clark noted on Thursday, the 33-year-old Blanco is a game-changer for the Timbers. In fact, his return from injury was a season-changing development for a Timbers side on course to miss the playoffs.

"He's given everything — he's sleeping here, I think — to get fit," Clark said about Blanco. "He's an amazing player. Having said that, we took care of business last weekend (without Blanco), and he's even said to me, 'Look, we have so many good players on this team. I'm going to give all I can, but we have good players.'"

One of them is Dairon Asprilla, who missed the Western Conference Final but will be eligible to return, adding depth and flexibility to the attack.

COURTESY PHOTO: MLS SOCCER - Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese played for New York's original MLS team and spent much of his life in New York City. Now he is one win away — against New York City FC — from bringing a championship to Portland.• Savarese said having Portland hosting the match will enhance the view of MLS abroad: "The passion of our fans is unique. This place is going to be an amazing place that I think not only is going to show in the United States how much soccer has grown, but I think it's going to be (impressive) for everyone watching internationally."

• Savarese on the Timbers' experience: "I'm very fortunate as a coach to have a group of players that have been here before, that they have experience. A lot of times our talk is to make sure that we are always very balanced emotionally in everything that we do."

• Savarese on Diego Valeri's role and if this might be his final game: "You're talking about a player that, not only has transformed Portland, but also has been an important signing for Major League Soccer. He's been a true example of what being a DP means, and he's made this league and this team be a better league and a better team. … (Valeri's future) is something that we probably will know more right after this game. But right now, he's a very important component of this team, and he's been a true legend for this club."

• Since losing 3-1 at Austin on Aug. 21 — six days after an embarrassing 6-2 home loss to Seattle — the Timbers are 13-3-1 and have outscored their opponents 35-14.

New York City FC, in the final for the first time in its seventh MLS season, is 5-3 (counting its PK win at New England as a draw) since losing two of three to rival New York Red Bulls late in the season.


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