BEAVERTON, Ore. – Diego Chara marveled at the idea that this is his ninth season in Portland, pausing slightly after the first question of his post-training media scrum to emphasize the number’s magnitude.
“I’m very proud to be part of [the team] again,” the veteran Colombian midfielder said, his presence representing the final remnant of the Timbers’ initial MLS squad.
In 2011, Chara missed out on preseason festivities, joining the team for an early-season game in Los Angeles where, having just stepped off a plane, he would make his MLS debut the same day against the Galaxy. As such, 2019 represents his eighth set of winter activities with the group – still one preseason more than any of his teammates have had in Portland.
“It’s a little bit weird, because I’m the only one who played the first season of the team,” he said, “but I think I feel the same responsibility. This year will a little bit hard for us because we did a real good job last year, and I think we can be better.”
One aspect of the season that will be different for Chara is life away from the field. In October, Chara and his wife, Sindy, welcomed twins to their family, with the Timbers mainstay missing his team’s regular season-ending road trip to Vancouver as his wife delivered the couples’ third and fourth children. When the Timbers returned from their offseason on Jan. 21, Chara completed his first MLS break as father of a four-child household.
“It’s a different life,” he explains, when asked how this offseason compared to the others. “With four children, now, I’m very happy, and also very happy with the responsibility of being a father, which isn’t easy. But I try to be the best I can at it, and I try to enjoy the fact that I have the family that I have.”
The Charas already had two daughters, Mariajose and Allison, before the arrival of their twin boys, Diego and Ángel, so life as newborns’ parents is nothing new. The nuances of that life as a professional athlete, though, present distinct challenges.
Soon, Chara will depart with his teammates for two weeks’ training in Costa Rica, after which the Timbers will spend a fortnight in Tucson, Ariz. Even once the Chara’s life returns to normal, they will have to deal with 12 Portland road games before the end of May. Daddy is to spend a lot of time away from home.
“Right now, we have a lot of help from my mother-in-law,” Chara explains, switching back to English. “Maybe my parents are coming to help, too. I know, for my wife, it’s hard, but she’s smart. I think we need to figure out what’s going on with these 12 games away.”
It’s part of the reason why, when asked how he’d advise another parent in his position, it’s difficult to impart specific lessons. Life as a professional athlete has enormous benefits, but it also demands sacrifices which, in times like these, become unique struggles.
“Always, in this job, it’s a challenge to find time for family,” he says. “You just have to try and be as good to your children as you can, and to keep working hard.”
Part of that hard work is preparing for a new season, even when those preparations haven’t officially started. Most athletes have regimens they adhere to in their offseasons to keep them from returning to training camp grossly out of shape. For Chara, getting quality time with his family is part of that process – an emotional recharging, of sorts.
“Not much has changed,” Chara said, of his offseason routines. “I think the most important part is decompressing, spending time with my kids, and just trying to enjoy that as much as possible. For me, that’s what’s most important.”
The highlight of that decompression period, he explained, was a winter trip to Florida, where he and his extended family carved out time to enjoy Orlando, as well as Clearwater Beach. “Fue algo especial,” he said, describing a trip which, over his near-decade in North America, represented a first.
“It was something very special, because it was with my brothers” – former professional soccer player Felipe, and current Clube Atlético Mineiro attacker Yimmi – “with their children, with all my family, my wife's family … It was the first time that we are all in the United States.”
For Chara, the consistency of his temperament partially explains why, of all the players who’ve come through the Rose City since 2011, he has endured. But in the topic of his family, and the blessings he sees in his family’s latest arrivals, some of that consistency wavers. A light comes to his eye, confirming a joy that transcends anything he could achieve on the field.
“They’ve already grown up so much in three months,” he shares, of his sons, “any day with them is so special, and each one is so different. I’m very glad to have been giving this opportunity, to be their father.”