PORTLAND, Ore. – Yimmi Chara knows the questions will come, but if the smile on his face provides any hint, he’s looking forward to answering, even if his explanation will seem obvious. Still, when the Portland Timbers assemble for preseason in three weeks, and the media flows to the team’s Beaverton training facility to help bring in the Timbers’ 10th Major League Soccer season, they’ll need to hear it in his words. Just because an answer is obvious doesn’t mean the question shouldn’t be asked.
“How big a part did your brother play in this move,” they’ll ask, with Yimmi now having officially joined his older sibling, Diego, as a member of the Timbers. Were this most other brother pairings, the connection would still be news, but Diego is not just any Timber. Having now made 278 league appearances in Portland, Yimmi’s older brother has crafted a legend for himself during his nine seasons at Providence Park. Statue outside, ring of honor, any honorific within the club you could think of. Diego Chara has earned it all.
“It’s the first (reason),” Yimmi says, giving his first of many replies to the question, happy to repeat the theme which, over a 15-minute conversation on Providence Park’s eastside, became overriding. It’s two weeks before his move to Portland can be finalized, and over the course of a quick visit, he’s seen the team’s training center, newly-expanded stadium, and taken his physical. That he looks almost exactly like his brother, five years his senior, keeps the move’s underlying theme close to the surface. As much as Yimmi’s arrival is about adding another chapter in his career and adding a key piece to the Timbers’ roster, it’s also, obviously, about family.
“A fundamental part of me being here was being able to play with him, to be near him and his family,” Yimmi reiterates, about his brother. “I think that was the biggest part.”
The two haven’t played together since 2010, when both played for Deportivo Tolima in their home country of Colombia. Yimmi was only 19, still four years from making his debut with his country’s senior national team, while Diego was already into the prime of his career, about to make his Cafetero debut, and on the verge of his career’s next challenge. Their time together would prove short.
The next year, Diego left for Portland, where he has become arguably the most important player in team history. Beyond nine seasons as a midfield standout, producing a championship in 2015 and a regular playoff qualifier, Diego has been the key culture-setter for the organization. The level of respect and professionalism he’s constantly conveyed since his 2011 arrival led one of the team’s former assistant coaches, Sean McAuley, to call Diego’s arrival, “the best thing that ever happened to this club.”
It’s part of the reason why Yimmi’s signing was, for the Timbers front office, a long-term goal. The idea of getting a second Chara would have obvious benefits on the field, with a pedigree that includes huge clubs in Mexico (Monterrey) and Brazil (Atlético Mineiro) complementing Yimmi’s international-level profile. Off the field, though, he’s cut from the same cloth as his brother, something reflected when he was asked what he knew of the Timbers.
“It’s a team that tries to be a family,” he said, after first citing the fan base, as well as the team’s recent places in the postseason. The idea of family, though is something his brother has also imparted on the club.
“I think it’s the most important thing, isn’t it,” Yimmi asks, rhetorically, when told about his brother’s impact on the team’s culture. “Because when you work, I think the idea of family, it becomes a point of freedom in your job, where you’re supported by all of your brothers and sisters. Whatever happens, be good or it could be bad, I think the concept of family is fundamental in these types of careers.”
The obvious similarities between the two will be physical. The brothers are roughly the same height. Perhaps a half-inch separates them. They wear their hair similarly, both in tight braids. Yimmi even shares a smile which, through Diego, has become iconic in Portland soccer. Only the younger’s braces mark a difference. Yimmi has a more muscular build, but even with that distinction, it’s hard to believe there are five years between them. At a glance, Diego and Yimmi look like twins.
And at first listen, the similarities also extend beyond their look. Over a whirlwind day in Portland that saw him on the ground for less than two days, Yimmi exhibited every quality his new team had come to expect from a Chara. Whether it was during introductions and tests with the team’s training staff in Beaverton, or in response to the various videographers, photographers, writers and front office staff that surrounded him all day, Yimmi exhibited a quiet deference that some, in his brother before, had mistaken for shyness. Instead, it’s respect, given with the same unwavering consistency that defines his brother’s professionalism. There was also a patience in trying to connect with new co-workers and colleagues, people who, thanks to a language barrier (Yimmi only speaks Spanish), were still part of another world.
It’s a world, though, that had sought him for some time. Years before Yimmi agreed to move to Portland, the Timbers had been in polite pursuit, often through his older brother, but always cognizant that the timing had to be right for the player. When he was in Mexico, at Monterrey, it wasn’t. As he competing for a spot on Colombia’s 2018 World Cup team, the match wasn’t quite right, either, and when the opportunity to move from Mexico to Brazil arose, Chara had another, unique opportunity to pursue. Portland would always be in the Chara business, but how long would the opportunity to play in Brazil be there?
Now, though, Chara is just short of his 29th birthday. He’s also coming to a league that has opened its checkbooks over the last few years. And, perhaps as importantly, there’s his brother, now the father of four of Yimmi’s nieces and nephews, who will be entering his 17th year of professional soccer. Diego’s play seems timeless, but as the sports cliché goes, time is undefeated. Yimmi would always have a path to Portland, but going forward, for how long would that path also include Diego?
“For so long, I had the dream of playing in a new place with my brother,” Yimmi admits. “But it’s not easy is it? Because you always have other goals, and other things you want to do. But in the end, one of those goals was always to play again with my brother.”
As of today, those whys and whens, the other goals and things to do, become anachronisms. After a decade’s ride through his own soccer world, Yimmi has come full circle, reunited with the brother who was there at his start. He knows he’ll be asked about it, but he’s more than ready to tell MLS why he’s come to rejoin Diego.