Four day’s perspective may not be enough for what we saw on Sunday, particularly after Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “it was one of his best performances since I’ve been here.
“(Diego) Chara is very important for us, and he was incredible today.”
With Chara, we’re used to incredible. Last week, we talked about why, doing so in a way that risked making future praise redundant. But when a player performs like Chara did on Sunday, it’s only right to give that performance the attention it deserves. So what if we talked about Chara before? Now, there’s even more reason to talk.
If, per Savarese’s assessment, the long-time Timbers player gave one of his best performances since 2017 in Sunday’s 1-0 win against FC Dallas, it’s likely a game that belongs in the conversation as one of Chara’s best in Portland, period. Maybe the game lacked the significance of a playoff match or derby against Seattle (he scored two goals in one of those, once), but in his Sunday performance, we saw almost the entirety of Chara’s arsenal.
This isn’t the space to rank Chara’s best games, mostly because we haven’t had time to dive into those matches in detail. But for posterity’s sake, and for those who want to take up those arguments in the future, it’s worth pausing to document why Sunday’s game felt so awesome.
There are a lot of GIFs. In fact, this post is all GIFs. Sixteen of them. I won’t blame you for not reading about them all. Just know that after reviewing Sunday’s game, there were 16 moments that justified stopping the video, going back, capturing a GIF, and writing about.
That’s Diego Chara.
8:00 – The typical Chara
We’re used to seeing little plays like these, and to be sure, Chara’s not the only player in the world capable of doing this. But the frequency with which he executes things like this has made these plays mundane, even if there are a number of elements which, applying a string of skills, most players wouldn’t execute.
First, there’s the read: just being in the right place at the right time. There’s the control to pass the ball to Diego Valeri and then the willingness to play on. Within seconds, he’s gone from deep-lying ball winner to the most dangerous player in the penalty box, with only a desperate play by a Dallas midfielder preventing a shot on goal.
Chara does this all the time, so much so, we often don’t stop and take notice. But within six seconds, he went from sitting in midfield to a near chance on goal.
10:48 – The unexpected touch
This play ends with a decent chance at goal. Jorge Villafaña’s far-post drive may have been inches from Brian Fernandez’s boot. But it never would have happened it Chara doesn’t save that pass from Sebastián Blanco, and judging by the casual approach by the Dallas winger, at least one player was shocked at Chara’s ability to cover that ground.
18:12 – Perhaps his most unique skill
Does anybody use his body quite like Chara? How he does so will be a frequent theme in these GIFs, but notice his priorities. In his mind, he has possession without a touch. He puts himself between the man and the ball, then takes control.
Oh, and two touches later, he does the same thing, throwing himself into the player to create the space he needs to get the ball wide. And once he does it? He goes on one of his trademark runs, drawing the attention of a midfielder and centerback as Portland pushes forward.
This GIF would have justified a post on its own, and it’s not even Chara’s best moment.
21:31 – When it started to become special
It was this tackle on Paxton Pomykal that first make us stop and consider what the night could become. In one moment, Dallas is moving the ball wide of Portland’s six, to their No. 10, who is a touch and a move away from a choice of posts. Then, Chara happens, as it so often does, and Portland’s turned the ball over.
Pomykal was left appealing to the official, possibly because it would have been too embarrassing to appeal directly to Chara.
25:10 – Another lesson for young Pomykal
The use of the body. Pomykal has no sense of where Chara is, his shuffling steps taking him closer and closer to his mark. The moment he truly moves to the ball, though, Chara’s beat him to the spot. He’s put himself between man and ball, creating an easy retrieval for Larrys Mabiala.
This is a quintessential “thing that doesn’t show up in the numbers.” It’s not a tackle, interception or recovery for Chara. The only data point that will come from this will be an errant pass, and perhaps a recovery for Mabiala.
If people ever ask why Chara doesn’t put up better numbers, tell them it’s because the numbers aren’t keeping up.
26:00 – Stay in line
Again, it’s the mundane stuff. On one hand, this looks like a player passing a ball directly to Chara. But look where Chara is moving, and where he’s not. He’s shuffling to stay between players, cutting off the only passing option on a play were the forward pass might cause another player to instinctively drop.
But Chara doesn’t move. He knows the Dallas player has one choice. When Julio Cascante applies the pressure, there’s only one man who was going to end up with this ball.
35:11 – Worth the risk
Call this a foul if you want, but it wasn’t one on the field. And based on how Sunday’s game was being called, there was little chance this was going to draw a whistle.
That’s not even what we should be focusing on. Instead, think about the choice itself, and do so in terms of risks and rewards. The risk is committing a foul that hurts you, but 16 yards into your attacking half, that risk is practically irrelevant. Nothing dangerous is going to come from that dead ball. The reward, however, is winning the ball that deep in your opponent’s half and, that close to goal, catching them in a transition moment.
It's another thing Chara does constantly. It may be the place on the field where he is his most aggressive. He’s done the calculus and knows his risks, in this part of the field, will pay off. In this case, he’s won the Timbers another ball.
36:28 – Straight into the counter
It’s at this point that the highlights start running together, combining elements of two or three moments we’ve covered, before. Here we have the deep tackle we saw earlier in the half combined with the high risk from the GIF, above. Add in the dash forward that we saw from the first moment – with Chara getting the team behind the defense with his run – and we see a characteristic that’s very Chara.
It’s not just the single moment of a sequence. It’s the opportunity that moment creates. You don’t just win a ball and stand over the carnage when you can win a ball and make a run. It’s your chance to be a part of the next play that makes the first more valuable.
45:00 + 0:50 – Yes, we’re still in the first half
There are times Chara seems to know what his opponents are going to do before they do. At least, that’s one way to explain why he pulls off from the player he’s tracking, plants himself in the passing lane, and wins another high ball. Something about the reps he’s collected over his career told him how this play was going to develop. His sense memory was faster than Dallas’ recognition.
And, of course, he sparks another counter. And, of course, he ends up making a run on goal. But it all comes after he wins another physical battle – another place where he’s put himself between the man and the ball.
It’s the type of technique they should show at camps, even if, as we’ll see in a moment, Chara makes it look far easier than he should.
46:10 – Another good foul
The main criticism detractors have had over the years is his fouling, but as we’ve already covered, there is a risk-and-reward consideration to one branch of Chara’s fouls, one that makes most of those infractions smart moves. In other situations, the intelligence comes from realizing a foul is the lesser of two evils.
This is a great example. Chara’s already outnumbered as Dallas transitions down their left flank, but once the ball is played to Pomykal, Portland’s danger reaches another level. There’s a highway’s lane open for a through ball to a streaking Dominique Badji. The only thing left is for Pomykal to pass the ball.
Except, he can’t. The moment Badji bends into his run is the moment Chara starts closing the gap on Pomykal. Within seconds the counterattack is over …
46:21 – Turnabout
… and the real fun of this sequence starts. After a small delay, Dallas tries to play quickly, but Jorge Moreira combines with Chara to stop them. Within moments, Chara’s picked up the ball and is streaking upfield, now forcing the opposition into a tactical foul.
Let’s walk it back. At 46:04, Dallas has a 2-on-1 in midfield and an attacker about to run through a channel. Within 20 seconds they’ve been turned over, are about to give up their own counter, and are forced to take a foul.
Chara didn’t do it all himself, but he played the main part. The second half is already playing out like the first.
48:52 – This is just getting silly
Perhaps it’s not so easy to keep yourself between the man and the ball. Jesús Ferreira found that out the hard way. Trying to use the master’s spells against him, the Dallas forward is ripped, dropped, and forgotten as Chara quickly plays the ball upfield. Being a young athlete is about learning lessons, but in their cold, detached execution, some lessons become harsher than most.
55:08 – Proof he’s human
In fairness, this is Chara’s worst moment of the night, but we’re still going to find a silver lining. Here, he fails to contain Pomykal, ends up chasing the attacking midfielder, and eventually has to take him down.
The silver lining? Again, instead of giving Dallas a free run at his backline, he does the dirty work and takes the foul. And he does so before FCD can reach a place for a dangerous restart.
61:47 – End-to-end, trademark
It wouldn’t be a classic Chara game without one of these moments, a span where he defines play from box to box. On one end, he’s read Dallas’ sequence and helped intercept a ball – an interception that turns into an immediate counter. He drives the play, moves it wide, then runs into an open space in the attacking third. Through almost his play alone, Portland’s flipped the field.
It’s cut off from this GIF, but the Timbers eventually move play left, come back across the penalty box to Chara, who lays off for Fernandez in line with the right post. A great effort from a Dallas defender ended up disrupting the shot; else, Chara would have turned his interception into a goal.
63:52 – Out of nowhere
At the very beginning of this clip, you can see Chara. He’s on the left, where you’d expect a defensive midfielder to be, waiting for play to develop on Dallas’ right. As it does, he leaves frame.
Then, all of a sudden, he’s there. He explodes into the space, cuts off Bressan, and leaves another Dallas player appealing for … well, who knows? The assistant referee? Maybe anybody who’d listen. When the unexpected happens in sports, we tend to think it has to be a foul, against the rules, or in some other way illegal.
How did Chara come out of nowhere to cut him off? It has to be verboten.
78:49 – A final, mundane moment
A night of spectacular plays shouldn’t overshadow the little stuff. Next to his other efforts, this play seems like nothing, but it almost leads to a score. He pressures Pomykal, forces the negative ball that triggers Portland’s pressure, and seeds Marvin Loría’s tackle at the end of the clip.
Within the scheme, that is a play most midfielders should make. But Chara still read the play, executed, and forced the action Portland hoped for. It may be only his 14th or 15th-best contribution of the night, but against Dallas, Chara had already set a ridiculously high bar.