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Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco grew up together; now they’re MLS Cup hopefuls 6,800 miles from home

The distance between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Portland, Oregon, is more than 6,800 miles. The flight time is approximately 17 hours and 15 minutes, and that’s if you manage to fly direct. Driving is practically impossible — the Darien Gap on the border between Colombia and Panama is basically impenetrable, a 55-mile break in the Pan-American Highway that runs from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the southern tip of Chile. Should they ever find a way to pave that bit of swampland, Buenos Aires to Portland would take you something close to 200 hours by car.

For Timbers teammates Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, who have known each other since they were boys playing for the same youth academy in the southern suburbs of Argentina’s biggest city, the metaphorical distance is even more yawning than that.

Would they ever have imagined, when they first started playing together on Lanus’ senior squad in 2006, that they’d end up here, of all places? In Portland, Oregon, in the MLS Western Conference finals vs. Sporting Kansas City (second leg Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the two most important players in a small-market team battling for its second league championship in four years?

“No,” Valeri said from a bench at the team training facility in Beaverton last week. “Never.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Blanco agreed: “Impossible.”6

The Timbers were a minor league team in 2006. Providence Park was still predominantly a baseball stadium. Both Valeri and Blanco harbored dreams of one day leaving their hometown for a bigger country, but those musings were murky and undefined. Before signing with the Timbers in 2017, Blanco had been to the U.S. only once, to Miami, and he pictured New York skyscrapers, not “Portlandia.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“We never thought about this,” Valeri told ESPN FC, with a smirk that was borderline patronizing, gesturing at the facility around him, on a lovely autumn Northwest day. “We never imagined.”

Blanco, again: “The opportunity for what’s happening is incredible.”

Valeri and Blanco were aware of one another almost from the start of their respective soccer careers. Although they both came up through Lanus’ system, Valeri is two years older, so they played at different age levels before finally linking up in the first team.

To belabor the mileage imagery just one more time to underscore how small-world all of this is: Their childhood homes were less than 3 miles apart, about a 15-minute drive without traffic. Where they come from, the bordering neighborhoods of Lanus and Lomas de Zamora, very few residents ever even relocate elsewhere in Buenos Aires, let alone outside the country, and fewer still outside the continent.