PORTLAND, Ore. – Diego Chara’s life has been turned upside down in the last five months – in a very good way.
The Portland Timbers scooped up the 25-year-old midfielder in April from Colombian club Deportes Tolima as the team's first Designated Player. Since making his first appearance in a Timbers jersey on April 23 as a substitute, he’s started in 23 of the last 24 games and has emerged as one of the club’s most consistent performers.
And on Thursday, Chara learned he’d be representing his country. He was called up to the Colombian national team by head coach and former MLS star Leonel Álvarez for their World Cup qualifer on Oct. 11 at Bolivia.
“I was very happy,” Chara told MLSsoccer.com through a translator on Friday after training. “I was very happy for this beautiful opportunity, and I hope to do very well.”
Chara last took the field for Colombia in a friendly last fall before he joined the Timbers. This call up makes Chara the first MLS-based Colombian to get a senior-team summons since Fredy Montero more than two years ago.
“I don’t believe it was a surprise because I’ve tried to work my hardest here for the possibility to be on the national team,” Chara said. “It’s very important for all the Colombian teammates who reside here in MLS, and I hope I’m not the only one. I hope they’ll be looking at this league more seriously, and they’ll realize there are good players and a high level of play.”
The national team honor comes at a time when Chara has played his best soccer for the Timbers.
He scored his first goal Aug. 20 in Portland's 2-1 over Vancouver – a second-minute strike, the fastest goal in club history – and again in the team’s 3-0 win Sept. 16 against New England. And he has logged a point in each of the last four home games.
“I feel a lot more relaxed,” Chara said. “I’ve learned to play with my teammates and get to know them. And I think that’s showed on the field.”
He said it took some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of MLS, a stark difference from the Colombian professional league.
He also said it’s helped to have fellow countryman Jorge Perlaza – a forward who is second on the team with six goals, including one on an assist from Chara in Portland’s 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy – as a teammate. The two played on Deportes Tolima together and have known each other since they were 12 years old.
“He’s been a constant help,” Chara said. “And in the games that we play, we’ve done things very well.”
If it seems like everything is coming together for Chara, he agrees with that perception. He said he never imagined he’d be playing in MLS and living in Portland with his wife, young daughter and mother-in-law.
“To arrive at MLS, I never thought about it,” Chara said. “When they came to me about the possibility of coming to MLS, I was like, ‘Yes, I want that challenge.’ And the city, I like it a lot. My family is very happy, and the people have just taken us in.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.