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Timbers FC sign Blanco as a Designated Player through 2023

After a few months of waiting... he’s back.

MLS: Playoffs- Round One-Minnesota United FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers today officially announced that Sebastian Blanco has signed a new contract with the club. The deal guarantees that Blanco will stay in the Rose City through the end of the 2023 season. Blanco has been re-signed as a Designated Player.

“I’m coming home, Portland. This has been my home for the past five years, and my family and I are extremely excited to be back. I’m hungry to win, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than this club with my teammates,” said Blanco. “I believe in my team and the leadership of this club, and I can’t wait to achieve great things together.”

Blanco, 33, will play his sixth season with Portland Timbers FC in 2022. He’s made nearly 150 appearances for the club in his time in Portland and has tallied over 30 goals and 40 assists over that time.

The announcement of the deal comes at the end of a months-long saga that nearly resulted in Blanco leaving the Timbers. Out of contract after the 2021 season, it looked as if Blanco returning to Portland was all but a formality. But in December, reports started arising that Blanco’s camp was unhappy with the deal the Timbers had offered and rumors started popping up that Blanco was open to exploring other options, potentially even to another MLS side.

It was touch and go for a few weeks, but then reports from Jeff Carlisle of ESPN and Tom Bogert of MLS Soccer surfaced stating that the Timbers and Blanco had reached an agreement. Today’s formal announcement that Blanco isn’t going anywhere serves as a sigh of relief after what was an unwelcome and uncomfortable couple of months.

It is also important to note that according to reporting from Bogert, Blanco’s new deal is below the maximum Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) threshold for the league. This means that the Timbers will continue to have roster flexibility going into the new season. Because Blanco’s deal is below the max TAM threshold, Portland are still able to utilize all three of their U-22 Initiative slots, two of which are currently occupied by Santiago Moreno and David Ayala. It has been rumored that the Timbers are signing a player via the third slot.

In addition, the Timbers can use TAM to buy down Blanco’s contract from Designated Player status, meaning that they can open up a DP slot later in the year, should they feel the need to sign another player via that roster mechanism.

The on-field impact of the return of Blanco is obviously significant for Portland. The dynamic playmaker has been one of Portland’s top players since his arrival in the Rose City in 2017 and he was one of Portland’s top offensive contributors in 2021, tallying six goals and leading the team with seven assists. His return from injury midseason was a major catalyst for Portland’s late-season run to the MLS Cup Final. While 33 years old and coming off back-to-back seasons impacted by injuries, Blanco still has the capacity to be a real difference-maker for this team. The Timbers are better with Blanco than without him.

“Having Seba on the team is extremely important for us,” said Savarese. “His ceaseless passion keeps the team motivated and his quality as a player makes us stronger on the field. His return to Portland is significant for the club.”

On a broader level, Blanco’s return provides some semblance of emotional amelioration for Timbers fans. It could be argued that over the past three or four seasons the Timbers have become Blanco’s team. He has become the team’s emotional leader on the field and has risen to become a quintessential figure for the club. So the prospect of losing that figure in the same offseason that club icon Diego Valeri also made an emotional exit from Portland perhaps would have been too much for PTFC fans to bear. Thankfully, after many twists and turns, Blanco is here to stay and will grace the field of Providence Park with more world-class goals, fiery play and Chucky masks.

You can read the team’s full press release here.