PORTLAND, Ore. – Diego Chara was the Portland Timbers' first Designated Player. Eight seasons and 225 MLS regular season games later, he may well be the team’s most indispensable player. Famously, the Timbers have not won a match without the Colombian midfielder the past three seasons.
With Portland mired in a four-game losing streak and and fighting for their playoff lives, Chara once again showcased the versatility that have made him invaluable during the Timbers' 2-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night.
With the score deadlocked 0-0 in the 64th minute and the Timbers struggling to generate genuine chances, Chara made a direct run to the far post as midfielder Sebastian Blanco received a line-breaking pass from defender Zarek Valentin. With Blanco drawing in the defense, he softly slotted the ball across the goalmouth, where Chara was waiting to tuck the ball into the back of the net, causing the home crowd to erupt in pandemonium.
“I got a great pass from Sebastian,” Chara said speaking to members of the media following the match. “I always try to score. Today I had the opportunity and I feel very happy.”
Chara played more of a wide role than usual to accommodate a Timbers' tactical shift, and was active in pushing up in attack. For a player who had scored all of seven goals in MLS coming into the match, the scoring touch was an added bonus.
“The usual role of Chara this year is [different],” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said after the game. “He has a lot of freedom to go forward and into a lot of spaces and moments to get inside of the box.”
Savarese said the balance that Chara brings cuts both ways, as a player known as one of the best shutdown defensive midfielders in his time in MLS.
“A big part of the attack is the fullbacks being able to go up thanks to the balance [Chara] gives us defensively. But now that he’s playing with an extra two beside him he has more freedom to be able to find spaces not only going forward but between the lines.”
For his part, Chara seems game to changing up his role, and with the winning goal to reward his efforts, may settle into being an unlikely two-way threat.
“It’s a little bit different playing out the wide from my normal position,” Chara said “But I feel the same. I try to recover the ball and try to the attack and finally it worked.”