"Chucky” Blanco delivers late to give Portland a memorable victory in 100th match against Seattle

PORTLAND, Ore. – Destiny seemed pointed to a 0-0 result, with Seattle Sounders FC having held out with their five-man defense for the first 86 minutes of their 100th all-time derby against the Portland Timbers. Then, sneaking through the cracks in Seattle’s defense -- attacking a Samuel Armenteros through ball like his namesake, horror-film villain -- Sebastián “Chucky” Blanco struck for the fifth time this season, delivering a 1-0, dramatic victory for the Providence Park crowd.

Once he did, the Timbers star ran to the southeast corner of the field, pulling out and adorning a mask that honored the Child’s Play franchise film icon.

“The mask is from my nickname in Argentina,” Blanco explained, having planted it in front of the Providence Sports Care Center on the south end for just such an occasion. He earned the nickname from fans at Lanús because of his size, as well as his tenacious play.

“My wife wanted me to put it over there for some [special occasion],” Blanco explained, saying he brought the mask with him from Argentina. “I think today was an amazing moment.”

It was a celebration Giovanni Savarese knew about beforehand, the Timbers head coach said after the match, telling the assembled press about the Blanco’s nickname back home. But it was also a celebration which, as the match went on, seemed increasingly unlikely to come. Seattle, playing the same 5-4-1 formation that earned them full points against Toronto FC three days before, had sacrificed its attacking presence for defensive solidity, seemingly hoping counterattack goals would produce their third victory of the season.

Instead, Blanco extended his team-leading goal total (5), delivering one of his most-memorable moments in a Timbers uniform, exactly the type of occasion to let the Providence Park crowd in on his moniker from home.

“We won 1-0 in our 100th game versus Seattle,” he said, asked if he had been saving the mask for a special occasion. “I think it [was] perfect.”

The goal also came at the perfect time. Four minutes before the end of regulation, the Timbers had pinned Seattle in their end. But that had been the case at other points on Sunday, too, almost by the Sounders’ design. Unless Portland proved they could play through Seattle, Brian Schmetzer’s plan was going to take a point back north.

Then came a through ball from Armenteros, one that bisected the space between Chad Marshall and Gustav Svensson from 35 yards out. The pass settled perfectly inside the penalty area, far from goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s reach. With Svensson well back of Marshall, giving the Timbers a runway to burst into, Blanco exploded through the channel and calmly got the height he needed under his shot, playing the ball toward the left upright for the game’s only goal.

“We thought they could play the way they did,” Savarese explained, “with five at the back, to be a little more conservative, to be explosive in the counter … That’s why when we had the ball, we had to be smart.”

That intelligence translated to a patient approach, one which, while giving Seattle more possession than you’d expect from such a reserved approach (49.4 percent, per Opta), limited the visitors to five shots, only one of which was on target.

“The guys in front of me have been doing a great job of battling and winning balls,” Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said, explaining his team’s 279-minute shutout run.

“The way [the Sounders] were dumping in balls, the way that they were just trying to make it ugly and battle, those are never easy moments for a goalie,” he said, “but the guys in front of me did a good job, and we did a good job controlling the box.”

The lack of chances meant the game was there for the taking; at least, from the Timbers’ point of view. And there may have been no better way to seal victory in a landmark game than a player like Sebastián Blanco creating another classic moment.

“He prepared very well to give more this season, and I think the team is helping as well with [Diego] Valeri, with [Fanendo] Adi and with everyone around him,” Savarese said, about the strong start he’s seen from his attacking midfield star. “Blanco helped Valeri and Adi, and that’s the most important part. It’s the mentality of helping each other offensively when we have the ball as well as defensively.”

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