Twenty-four and 12 might be the most important numbers from Sebastián Blanco's 2021 regular season.
Trying to return from 2020's knee injury, the Portland Timbers' most important attacker got a late start to the season, then had to manage injuries throughout. He made 24 appearances but only 12 starts.
Over his first three seasons in Portland (2017-2019), Blanco averaged 31 appearances and 30 starts. In 2021, he was only half himself.
Turns out half of Sebastián Blanco is pretty special. That translated to the standings. In games Blanco was able to play more than 45 minutes, the Timbers went 8-2-1 (W-L-D). Otherwise, Portland was 9-11-3.
On an individual level, Blanco's 2021 was just as impressive. Here is a snapshot of last season, By The Numbers:
That number may not seem that much, but in terms of goals-per-90 minutes for a midfielder, it’s relatively huge. Blanco’s goal-scoring rate in 2021 was highest among Timbers players who logged at least 1000 minutes. His identical assist rate was also high among Portland regulars, as was his 1.07 goals-plus-assists/90. Only one player, D.C. United’s Ola Kamara (1.14), had a higher mark in MLS last season, though once penalty kicks and secondary assists are taken out of the equation, Blanco had MLS’s best (0.99).
Those numbers were put up in only 1182 minutes. During Blanco’s first three seasons in Portland, he averaged 2,619 per season – more than he was able to play between his injury-shortened 2021 and his injury-, pandemic-shortened 2020 (665) combined.
Had Blanco had a normal, healthy season and played those 2619 minutes, his pace projected to over 15 goals and 15 assists in 2021.
Blanco’s 3.28 shots taken-per-90 minutes were by far the most on the team (0.47 more than Felipe Mora), but “Seba” also put a high percentage of those shots on target. Only Diego Chara, who hit goal with two of his four shots, challenged goalkeepers at a higher rate than Blanco, who put just over two-out-of-five attempts on frame.
Artistry in Motion | Sebastián Blanco
That’s how many penalty-box entries — passes into the 18-yard box — Blanco completed from open play last season. For reference, Yimmi Chara led the team in 2021 with 43. Chara also played 1133 more minutes.
StatsBomb defines a successful throughball as a pass completed into open space behind the defense, It's a pass we see attempted often, but it’s rarely completed.
Blanco completed seven of those last season, a number that doesn’t seem amazing until you find out it led the team. Had Blanco played his customary number of minutes, 2619, his rate would have placed him second in MLS, behind only league MVP Carles Gil.
When Blanco played, the Timbers outscored their opponents by 16 goals in 2021. The team’s +1.22 goal difference-per-90 when he played was highest on the team among those who logged at least 1000 minutes.
When Blanco didn’t play, the team's goal difference was -1.79 goals-per-90 minutes worse, also the highest mark among Timbers regulars.