BEAVERTON, Ore. — Diego Chara has been doing this for so long that it might get taken for granted.
The longtime Portland Timbers veteran isn’t just one of the top defensive midfielders in MLS – he’s one of the most indispensable players in the league at any position. The Timbers famously haven’t won a game without him in the starting XI since July 2015, and in 2018 the 32-year-old stalwart has proven valuable as ever during Portland’s run through the regular season and the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Regardless of what happens in Saturday’s final against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS), Chara will go down as one of the very best to ever play the position in MLS. But rings can enhance legacies, and if Chara is able to get another after also helping Portland win it all in 2015, that would give him one more championship than Cascadia counterpart Ozzie Alonso of the Seattle Sounders — widely considered the other top MLS defensive midfielders of his era.
Of course, Chara says those implications aren't on his mind at the moment, and that he's engaged in tunnel vision on the task at hand: Toppling a powerhouse and favored Atlanta side.
“I’m very, very excited because we have the opportunity to play in the final,” Chara said Tuesday. “We had a great season to get here, so it’s an amazing feeling right now.
“It’s kind of similar because I think in 2015, we went to the playoffs in the same situation. But I think this one is a little bit challenging because we’re going to play against Atlanta. I think that people say they’re the [winners] right now. But it’s soccer and you need to play the games [to decide].”
In order for any post-Cup legacy talk to matter, Chara and the Timbers must claim that second MLS Cup title. And when it comes to Atlanta, Chara said the Timbers are aware that nothing will come easy in the ever-hostile confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
However, the Timbers have already proven themselves capable of a result in Atlanta after earning a 1-1 draw there back on June 24, something Chara said can help psychologically as Portland prepare for Saturday.
“I think in that game, we were effective,” Chara said. “We played a smart game. I think we learned that when you play against Atlanta, you just must be focused at all times. … It’s a great feeling to play with that [many] people. It will be a great crowd and I think the team is already excited to play there.”
For Chara, there’s one more additional subplot for Saturday’s match worth noting, even if it’s not the most consequential: Bragging rights over his friend, former teammate, and current Atlanta midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who was arguably the face of the Timbers from 2011-2017.
“It’s going to be fun because I have a good relationship with Darlington,” Chara said. “We know that it’s a great feeling [for him] to play against Portland in this situation, the final game. It will be fun.”