PORTLAND, Ore. – It was a happy accident that steered a scouting mission to Colombia by the Portland Timbers leadership to a game featuring Deportes Tolima.
Head coach John Spencer and general manager/technical director Gavin Wilkinson went to South America to look at a different team, but when an agent asked them if they’d like to see Tolima take on Millonarios, they added it to their schedule. It was a fortuitous bit of itinerary adjustment.
“We saw these two guys and we were like, ‘Jeez, if we could get a hold of these two we might have a chance at getting some success,’” Spencer said.
The "two guys" on the Tolima side that day were forward Jorge Perlaza and midfielder Diego Chará.
Wilkinson quickly contacted the club to inquire about their availability, and when he and Spencer came back to Portland they sat down with owner Merritt Paulson to weigh the monetary issues.
“We thought if we could get them and (ownership) backed us 100 percent, which is truly amazing for any franchise, we’ll see two very good players for the Portland Timbers for a long, long time,” Spencer said.
Perlaza’s contract expired just in time for him to come to Portland for training camp. He has started every game so far this season, and he scored his first two goals in Thursday’s thrilling 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire. His first one on the night was also the goal that christened the Timbers' new home, JELD-WEN Field.
Following that performance, which endeared him to the Timbers Army even more, he is set to start on Sunday, when FC Dallas come to town (3:00 p.m. PT, ROOT SPORTS; 95.5 The Game and La Pantera 940 AM (Spanish); MLS Matchday Live).
On Wednesday, Perlaza's onetime Tolima teammate Chará was announced as Portland’s first designated player. He is a box-to-box midfielder who impressed Spencer and Wilkinson with his energy and commitment. He is expected to join the team in about a week.
Perlaza and Chara have played on various teams together since they were in school. Perlaza said they met when they were 12 years old.
The extension of that friendship and on-field partnership has the potential to shape the Timbers immensely in their inaugural season in MLS.