Giovanni Savarese hasn't ruled Sebastian Blanco out of the Portland Timbers' Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, but is preparing a gameplan without the Argentine.
Blanco is arguably the Timbers' most important player, scoring nine goals and setting up another six in just 1,324 minutes of action in 2021, having recovered from an ACL injury sustained late last year.
Two of those goals were in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs as Portland beat Minnesota United 3-1. But in the following round against the Colorado Rapids, Blanco limped out shortly after half-time holding his leg. While he's not been officially ruled out, his participation in this weekend's clash with RSL looks to be in serious doubt - a situation that is not ideal given Dairon Asprilla is also suspended.
"Not having Asprilla and still having to battle to see if Seba can make it, it is not the ideal situation," head coach Savarese said (via MLSsoccer.com). "We wish we had both of them available. But if there's been one thing in this group, it's we're going to push together and we can achieve everything we desire always by the power of the group. And that is the mentality.
"This will open the opportunity for some players to be able to show themselves and the work they have been doing week-to-week and put in a great performance for the collective, for the group, for the team, which is the most important thing.
"As much as we can complain and think because it's the reality, two important players aren't available, we'll see what happens with Seba, but we cannot stay there and think that way. We believe in ourselves, we believe in the group, we believe we are strong, and we believe whoever's going to play a part in it is going to get the job done."
Even if Blanco and Asprilla were available, there's no way Savarese would be underestimating RSL given their exploits in the Playoffs so far - they've beaten the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City away from home, conceding just one goal along the way.
"RSL is not only a team of the playoffs. They've been a difficult team to play against through the entire season." Savarese said of the Utah side. "Now even more so, they come in with confidence, they're flying high, they've been able to play well in these last two matches. So it's going to be a very difficult game.
"We expect a strong team with a lot of confidence coming here, so that's why we're preparing very well to play a good team. That's been the focus here. We understand the importance of the match and it starts by understanding that the team we're playing against is a strong team.
"We're not fooled into thinking this is a Cinderella story. This is not a Cinderella story. This is a good team that is coming here with good players to put a good match, and we are ready to step on the field and play a good game. And that's been the mentality from the players."
The winner of Saturday's match will face either the Philadelphia Union or NYCFC in MLS Cup next week.