Six points in two days is just about as sweet as it gets here in Rose City. I could go on and on about how great it is to have the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns FC back in action, but since Grant Little is significantly better about talking Thorns, I’m going to stick to the Timbers. Because man, what a great night for the lads in green and gold.
For starters, they won 2-1 over Sporting Kansas City. Anytime you get three points, you’re happy, so that’s a good start. Second, Sebastian Blanco played for the first time since tearing his ACL back in September 2020. And finally, Portland finally got to play in front of a crowd of about 20,000, about 80% of Providence Park’s capacity. The noise made it feel like it was closer to 200% capacity.
“A lot of positives,” Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese said about everything that transpired on Saturday. “Tonight felt really good getting this win. It is very good because of the sacrifice, especially because we played a very good team. It was a fantastic night.”
A fantastic night indeed with a lot to talk about, but let’s just talk about the most emotional moment: Blanco’s return. And what a return it was. He came on in the 80th minute of the match, and from the moment they showed Blanco running up to Savarese to get his instructions to him stepping on the pitch, it was wonderful. It was something that even Blanco couldn’t describe in the moment.
“I can’t explain it,” Blanco said when asked about the fan reaction to his return. “I’m still thinking about that moment ... I don’t have words for the people. I’m thankful. So much love and support. To come back, be back on the field in our home, with our people, with 80% capacity and winning the game. It’s too much after nine months.”
Too much sounds about right, especially considering that I may have shed a tear because it felt so dang good to see Blanco on the field. It couldn’t have been more poetic. For months, his return had been teased only for him to be set back by a twice-suffered muscle injury in his leg. So instead of coming back during Concacaf Champions League, he comes back for the first game after the international break during a time when the Timbers notoriously have dealt with numerous injuries. Oh, and it also happens to be the first game where Providence Park was anywhere near full capacity.
It’s hard to not get too excited when the beautiful game treats you to a story like that. Blanco said after the game that he remembers every part of the injury vividly; from the night itself to the rehab to even the setbacks. Even Blanco found it hard to explain just how much it meant to him to be able to play the game he loves so much.
“When you can’t do your job, you feel useless and disappointed,” Blanco said. “I [had] many feelings, but I also felt hungry. When I saw my team, they fought a lot every game. That was my energy to try to come back to the field and help my team in every game.”
So now Blanco is back, and so are the Timbers. It was about as good a start as they could ask for after the June break, but they have a tough week ahead. They’ll travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo on Wednesday and then come back to Portland for a home match against Minnesota United FC. But wins like this — both the practical and the sentimental — give teams the kind of morale boost to get through tough weeks like this coming one. It really is the beautiful game.