Editor’s Note: The Portland Timbers are on the eve of their fifth season in Major League Soccer—and 40th anniversary of their first season in 1975—as they prepare for Saturday’s season opener against Real Salt Lake (7:30pm PT). There are five players on the roster that have been with the club all five years of its MLS existence: Diego Chara, Jake Gleeson, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace. All five have grown with the club and been a part of some memorable Timbers moments.
Throughout this week, we'll showcase a story a day about each of the five. Five players. Five days. 5x5.
Here are their stories.
"I feel different because the fans are singing every game. I feel good [when they're singing] because I never feel tired. I don't know how to explain that, but for me, it's amazing the feeling of energy and hard work and pushing. I don't know how to explain that, but it's amazing."
Entering his fifth season with the Portland Timbers, midfield constant Diego Chara has only one thing on his mind.
"For me, the goal is the championship," he said. "The team needs the championship. This is the goal."
Chara ought to know. Few Timbers players have as much experience and authority, on the field and in the locker room, as the Colombian.
In 2011, his first season with the nascent MLS club, Chara started 27 matches, scoring two goals and notching four assists, further cementing himself as a central midfield mainstay.
Since then, Chara has started over 100 matches and played over 10,000 minutes for the Timbers. He has been an iron man in midfield and a player that has never shied away from the big moment.
And few moments were bigger for Chara than last April's 4-4 draw against Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders FC.
Chara rose to the occasion, scoring two brilliant goals against the visitors and helping his team defend a furious Sounders attack in the second-half.
But his performance has added significance; it came on Chara's 28th birthday.
"It is definitely special to score two goals on my birthday," he said after the game. He acknowledges now that the match remains one of his favorite moments as a Timbers player.
Chara has fit into the Timbers organization since the moment that he first arrived.
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"I feel like Portland is home because my family is good," he said. "I like the city. I like the people. They're good people."
Chara believes that he has also settled nicely into life on and off the field and his facility with the language has played a huge part in that adjustment.
"I feel a bit more confident with my English," he said. "I think this is a good thing for me on the field and for the team, too."
"My teammates have confidence in me and my work," he continued. "I feel good for that. I keep working hard every practice and every game for them and I am happy for that."
Such is his reputation that his Timbers teammates voted Chara their team MVP in 2012. Chara started all 28 games he appeared in that season, compiling 2,473 minutes of play—good for third on the team. Coming just one year after his arrival in Portland, Chara was deeply moved by the team MVP honor.
"This, for me, was incredible because it was a great moment for me and family," he said.
And yet, that season produced no goals or assists for Chara. His value doesn’t always show up in the scoresheet as Chara does all the important little things in a match: The difficult challenge, the perfectly weighted ball, the clutch defense . . . the list goes on.
“He grinds grass and has been and will be one of the most important players on the field because he does the work that not everybody wants to do, but he does it and he does it so well,” said goalkeeper Jake Gleeson—another Timbers player who has been here all five MLS seasons. “I think the most underrated player in the MLS for me is Diego Chara."
Since first arriving in Portland, Chara has seen his role in the club evolve. He’s become a leader on the club—even wearing the captain’s armband on a few occasions—as well as a mentor to fellow South American players. As for his play on the field, Chara believes he now plays an even faster and more central role than he did back in Colombia.
"I play the way I do because I like to have the ball and keep the ball," he said. "I play for my teammates. This is my job."
Sometimes, that job means tactically fouling opponents and getting physical in the midfield. After almost all of those challenges, Chara can often be caught smiling at the referee or at his opponent.
In Chara's opinion, though, there's nothing unusual about his response.
"This is my normal face," he said. "All my career, it's the same. I think it's because I enjoy the game, the soccer. This is my life. I smile because I enjoy it."