Diego Chara
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Portland's Wilkinson wants to mine more Colombian talent

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers struck gold internationally in their first season, signing and developing players like Colombians Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza and Ghanaian Kalif Alhassan.

Now, with the Timbers entering offseason mode, general manager Gavin Wilkinson will hit the road in hopes there are few more nuggets left to discover. Over the next several weeks, Wilkinson will take scouting trips to Colombia, Ghana, Togo and Europe – while mixing in trips to Los Angeles and New York.

“It’s going to be a busy month,” Wilkinson said.

Most of all, Wilkinson is hoping to create a pipeline of Colombian talent flowing directly to Portland, with Chara and Perlaza paving the way.

Wilkinson found Chara and Perlaza playing for the Colombian first-division club Deportes Tolima, and the gamble paid off, with Chara earning a national team call-up and Perlaza finishing as the Timbers third-leading scorer with six goals.

“We’ve just looked at it as far as we’ve brought over two Colombians; we think they’re great players and we think highly of them as people,” he said. “And their ambition in this organization is to succeed and win a championship. I think once you start trying to get too many nationalities, you’ve got to get them settled quickly. When we’ve got two good Colombians who are great people and professionals, it’s easy to maybe bring in a younger Colombian and they’ll be great role models for that person.”

Wilkinson said he hopes to bring in “one more, maybe two more” Colombian players to learn under Chara and Perlaza.

“If you look at organizations, over the past, they’ve generally taken foreigners in groups, and it helps the players as far as settling in their environment,” he said. “I think Colombia is something where we have great relationships there. And we’ve seen that the Colombians can be very, very successful in this league and successful in a short period of time.”

Wilkinson didn’t say whether he would be looking to address certain areas on the team, other than to express a desire to develop more depth on the roster. He also said a number of trialists will be training with the team in the coming weeks.

“Whenever you bring in player, it affects who you have on your staff,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve got a good, good group of guys who have performed well. We’re just looking at the future and the fact that we do need to get better. We do need to have more depth on this squad to put more pressure on one another.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at dcitel@hotmail.com.

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