The Portland Timbers started the season in such a way that even Seattle fans had to recognize the confidence and power that they entered every game with. Their start to the season catapulted them to the top of the table and separated them from the field faster than any other team in the league.
And then reality set in. After a draw at unbeaten Dallas, the Timbers were handed a bitter 3-0 loss on the road in San Jose. That was followed by a draw at home against Atlanta, a game with symbolic resonance that, among other things, certainly highlights the rise of competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. And then Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Montreal Impact.
Any result on the road in MLS is respectable. And a hard fought loss once in a while might even be worth more than a point in the long run. But Portland never had the chance. Let’s start with the PK.
Under twelve minutes into the game, the Impact were awarded a penalty kick when Portland’s Sebastián Blanco committed a foul in the box. Ignacio Piatti then converted the PK, and the home side was ecstatic to be up a goal against such a formidable opponent as the Timbers. And then it happened. Six minutes later, Diego Chará sealed the fate of the Timbers for the evening. Let’s call it ruined chance. A wasted game even.
On the local broadcast on Root Sports, the announcer said, “For the first time since the season opener, Caleb Porter can put out his top choice eleven,” while introducing the starting lineup. The Timbers finally had the opportunity to make a statement to the league, to put the rest of the teams on watch, to let their opponents know that the start of the season wasn’t a fluke. The Timbers are for real. And then it happened.
Piatti challenged Chará for a ball on the touch line on Portland’s defensive half. Yes, in my opinion, Piatti without question fouled Chará, but he continued to play and to move the ball upfield. Chará protested to the head referee but garnered no response. He then caught up to Piatti and lashed out at him, extending his arm towards Piatti’s face. Piatti fell to the ground and Chará saw red.
I enjoy aggressive play. I loathe stupid play. There is no grey area when it comes to making contact with another player’s face. You get thrown out of the game. Chará made the decision to get thrown out of the game, because it was more important to him to retaliate against Ignacio Piatti for a perceived injustice than it was to play the remaining 72 minutes of the game.
He put his team in a position in which they had to fight twice as hard to get 1/3 of the result. 72 minutes. You cannot give any team that much time with a man advantage. Chará’s passion is what makes him so effective. He is always one of the hardest working players on the field. There is no question that is true. He is one of the most important gears in the machine that is the Portland Timbers. His spirit and energy, his determination and willful work ethic are at the core of what made Portland the MLS Cup champions in 2015.
But there is no doubt that Chará’s passion does not just feed an impressive work ethic, it also feeds an impulsive, immature and unprofessional attitude that has placed him among the most carded players in the league over the course of the past three seasons. Since 2014, Diego Chará has been one of the top ten players in the league for yellow cards.
During their cup run, Chará received eight yellow cards and one red. The following year, he was tied for third in the league with a total of nine yellows. He also received a single red card that year. Eight players received two red cards that year, but it should be noted that most of them did not come close to nine yellows. Currently, Chará has three yellow cards on the season and just received his first red in the match against Montreal. The problem is, this extends beyond the field in Montreal, all the way back to the Northwest, to Century Link Field in Seattle on Saturday.
You absolutely cannot have a melt down like that. Hitting another player out of spite, in front of the referee? Right after a heated incident? After the ball has been played? In moments like these, in any sport, I always remember a quote from Monty Stickles, a tight end from the 1960’s, commenting in the NFL Film’s documentary, Crunch Course, “You never hit the guy back. You hit him first, because invariably the noise or commotion that it creates gets the attention of the referee, and then by the time he looks around, he’s catching the other guy.”
This is some advise that Chará could take to heart. The team played well and deserved points on the road. If the same result happened with 11 men on the field, it would be a different story. They had dangerous chances, even with only ten men on the field. They nearly took advantage of several set pieces. But no team can handle the pressure of 72 minutes down a man on the road. It’s too much to ask. And honestly, because of the nature of the foul that got Chará ejected, I have no problem saying, it’s disrespectful to his teammates and disrespectful to the fans. He put himself before the team in a reactionary fit that should be impossible at this point in a professional career.
Not only did the Timbers lose Chará for the remainder of the game against Montreal, but they also lose him for the next match, the biggest rivalry match in all of MLS history. On Saturday at noon, the Timbers head north to face the defending MLS Cup champions the Seattle Sounders. And rather than facing their rivals with their “top choice eleven” they’ll be forced to play without the one man who could stand toe to toe with arguably the greatest defensive midfielder the league has ever seen, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso.
Think I’m overreacting to the impact that the loss of Chará brings to the game against the Sounders? Then read this article from 2011, which hoists the Chará-Alonso dual up to the status of “Match-up of the Match”. Keep in mind this is the same article that muses, “It’s hard to believe that Chará has only been playing for Portland for three games”.
There’s a lot of history here. That’s the beauty of a true rivalry. I just wish Chará would be on the field to feel it.