PORTLAND, Ore. – Diego Chara made Portland Timbers history on Saturday, setting a club record for most appearances with 215.
Unfortunately for the Timbers, who are winless without Chara in the lineup, Chara’s 62nd-minute caution means he will not be available for next week's contest against Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET | ESPN+ - Full TV and streaming info) due to yellow-card accumulation. Portland however, remain confident they have the means to end that Chara-less winless skid.
The Timbers have only two losses in their last 32 home matches with the Colombian holding midfielder in the starting lineup, which goes a long way toward explaining how Portland have won a league-best 27 home games since the start of the 2016 season.
Conversely, in games without Chara, the Timbers’ 0-11-6 record is surpassed only by the fact the that team has been outscored by 21 goals during that streak, which includes six games at Providence Park.
History suggests that as Chara goes, so go the Timbers. Yet head coach Giovanni Savarese suggested otherwise in his remarks following the 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy.
“I’m never satisfied when we don’t win, and then if we win, we have to do it in a good way,” said Savarese.
Lining up in the center of the Timbers’ 4-3-2-1 "Christmas tree" formation, Chara is the box-to-box presence who makes the Timbers tick. With the most likely replacements for Chara, Andy Polo and David Guzman, both away with their national teams – both hoping to become the first current Timbers player to appear in a World Cup match – it's anybody's guess as to whether Savarese will plug in a different player alongside Cristhian Paredes and Andres Flores, or if he’ll alter the formation altogether.
Savarese sees this not as a challenge but an opportunity for his players.
“Sometimes when teams open up, now guys have an opportunity and they are able to step in and perform,” he said on Saturday. “So we have to see now who can contribute more and more.”
Savarese has demonstrated time and time again that he will reward players based not on status, but the work put in during training.
“They have been doing a fantastic job during practice,” he added, “and we just have to keep on going in the same direction.”
Savarese also has shown flexibility in where he places players on the field. Bill Tuiloma had made four appearances at center back before starting at right back on Saturday. It was only Tuiloma’s second professional start as a fullback, his first an appearance as a left back for Waitakere United in New Zealand's ISPS Handa Premiership way back in 2012.
In putting Tuiloma in the right corner, Savarese kept Zarek Valentin on the left despite Valentin functionally lining up as the right back in 14 of his 17 starts in 2017.
When it comes to replacing Chara's spot in the lineup, Savarese says he'll use the same rubric he uses for all personnel decisions.
“Those were the 18 that showed best during the week and that’s why we decided to go with the 18 that were on the bench today,” Savarese explained.
“It’s not something set in stone,” he added of his squad selection. “We will continue to look at how players can contribute at other positions as well. In this case, that’s what we felt the game needed and the guys came in to perform.”