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PORTLAND, Ore. — Minnesota United picked the wrong Timber.

It was near halftime of Sunday night’s game at Providence Park that Sebastián Blanco, his Portland Timbers having just scored to make it 1-1, fell flat on his back after a collision. In pain with an injury to his midsection, Blanco joined his teammates in facing a worst-case scenario. The team’s best attacker – after what was, from their point of view, a half of fouls of escalating intensity from United — was on the ground, writhing, with a stretcher about to carry him off.

“It was painful in the muscle close to the rib,” Blanco conceded postgame. “I don’t know if it was a kick or some funny movement, but it was difficult to breathe.”

You could see the pain on Blanco’s face when he came out for the second half, but two minutes after intermission ended, we saw both the price and reward. Blasting a 47th minute half volley into the left side of goal, Blanco had his first of two scores on the night. He also had the winning goal in Portland’s 3-1 Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One triumph over Minnesota.

“I worked a lot for this moment,” he said. Blanco suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fall of 2020. “It was a long time for me to wait for this … I think my last game [at home] that was in the playoffs was in 2018, so it was a different sensation ...

“There’s nothing like a playoff at home. This is better than everything.”

Blanco would add a second goal in the 66th minute to put him on the brink of the Timbers’ long-awaited first MLS hat trick. That didn’t happen, but Blanco was able to make it until the 88th minute, when the wince on his face after a left-footed cross hinted it was time to come off. Long before he did, Blanco reminded MLS of how important he is to Portland’s fortunes.

“The entire team had a very strong performance tonight, but there were those moments [where] Seba was able to find to put that quality to a higher level for us to be able to get this win …,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese explained. “He wasn’t 100 percent, but still he managed himself very, very well to execute and be able to give us that extra part that we need to make the difference.

“I think everyone had a very strong performance. Everyone did very, very well. I think that’s why I am so proud of the group. But Seba definitely brought that magic into the game to give us that edge that we needed.”

To say Minnesota “picked the wrong Timber” is a heightened way to put it, but as Portland spent the first half trying to claw back from a goal down, the fouls being committed by the Loons became an increasing concern. The visitors were being pinned in their half for much of the half, unable to move the ball toward Portland’s goal, and in the process, their frustration began to show. Wil Trapp saw yellow in the 32nd minute, as did Chase Gaspar in the 40th, but fair or not, the Timbers were asking for more. There was a perception that Minnesota’s aggression was not being met with a referee’s deterrent.

When Blanco got hurt so close to halftime, it seemed like an unfortunate but predictable conclusion to physicality gone too far. Minnesota had chopped until a tree finally fell. Unfortunately f or them, Blanco got back up, and building on Larrys Mabiala’s first-half equalizer, “Seba” eventually helped end the Loons’ season.

“When we were losing the game, we played very mature,” Blanco said. “We tried many chances and after we scored the second goal, we still played with the same intensity to [not] give space for them … I know playoff games are different like that.”

These types of games have made Blanco talismanic in Portland, but it’s also part of the theory of the Timbers’ best selves. We saw that version last summer in Orlando, when Portland won the league’s one-off MLS is Back Tournament. We also saw this in 2018, when Blanco was among the league’s best postseason players as the Timbers won the Western Conference.

When Blanco plays like he did on Sunday, Portland can beat anybody. When he isn’t available, the Timbers can’t be their best selves.

Those were the stakes as Blanco laid on the ground, potentially done for the night as the stadium close showed “45:00.” By night’s end, he’d produced something special, helping Portland to a Western Conference semifinal Thursday in Colorado.