PORTLAND, Ore. — Before Saturday night, Diego Chara played 24 games in a Timbers uniform without scoring his first goal.
But in the 25th game, the Portland midfielder didn’t even wait two minutes — and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Chara’s goal in the second minute of the Timbers’ 2-1 victory Saturday over Cascadia rivals Vancouver quickly erased the memories of the Portland’s winless three-game road trip that ended in two losses and has them thinking playoffs again.
“It gave us that shot of confidence and adrenaline,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said after the game. “You can say whatever you want about performances, but two losses are two losses and that puts a dent in your confidence.”
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The goal was beautifully orchestrated from the start, when forward Kenny Cooper caused a turnover at midfield. That allowed midfielder Jack Jewsbury to get a touch on the ball, sending it perfectly ahead to forward Jorge Perlaza.
And that’s when the connection between Perlaza and Chara — friends who have played together since their childhood in Colombia — kicked in. Perlaza tapped the ball to Chara in the box, and the Timbers Designated Player did the rest with a perfect strike past Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
“It was a very emotional moment,” Chara said through a translator. “I’m very happy. And hopefully I can get more.”
The chemistry between Chara and Perlaza, who scored the Timbers’ second goal in the 33rd minute, has been evident all season. Chara set up a Perlaza goal for his first MLS assist in Portland’s 3-2 loss to Seattle on July 10. The two came to Portland within a month of each other this spring after playing together at Deportes Tolima of the Colombian first division.
“It’s comfortable [playing with Perlaza],” Chara said. “We’ve played together on several teams, and you can see that on the field.”
The goal also comes at a banner time for Chara, who seemingly gains confidence by the game. Coming into the match, he had recorded assists in the last three home matches.
“I thought Diego Chara was just fantastic,” Spencer said. “No disrespect, but he looked like a man amongst boys tonight. In my humble opinion, he looked like a premier player tonight.”
And the Timbers were energized after the goal. They peppered the Whitecaps goal with five more shots in the first half and broke through again on Perlaza’s sixth goal of the season.
“That first goal is very important,” Timbers defender David Horst said. “It allows you more freedom and the ability to make some mistakes.”
And once again — much like the aftermath of the Timbers’ 3-0 victory against the LA Galaxy in their last match at JELD-WEN Field — Portland’s thoughts drift toward a run at the postseason.
Their next match next Wednesday at home against Chivas USA, who tied Colorado on Saturday night, has huge implications as the Timbers trail the Goats by just two points in the Western Conference standings. Portland are seventh in the West with 29 points from 25 games and are now just three points out of the final wildcard spot.
“Every game is a playoff game now,” Horst said.