Keeping Diego Chara around a big deal for Portland Timbers
The big splashes have happened elsewhere in MLS.
Last week, the Seattle Sounders plucked free-agent designated player Albert Rusnak from Real Salt Lake and LAFC acquired U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
Meanwhile, it's been a relatively quiet offseason in Portland, where the roster decisions have featured departures (goalkeeper Steve Clark, right back Josecarlos Van Rankin and the pending transfer home to Argentina for Diego Valeri), along with the prolonged negotiation with Sebastian Blanco, who as of Jan. 16 remained unsigned. As the Timbers open training camp this week for a 2022 season that begins Feb. 26, there is still a lot to be sorted out with the roster.
Yet, one of the more significant announcements in MLS last week was the news that Diego Chara's contract with the Timbers has been extended through 2024.
That the team captain will be 38 years young when that contract expires should be no concern to anybody who's watched him frustrate opponents by wrecking attackers' plans for 11 years. Aside from goals for the home team, few actions from Timbers players elicit the passionate reaction of a Chara recovery sprint that erases an opponent's scoring chance.
Because his job description is to be a disruptor — and because he so revels in his job — Chara certainly draws the ire of opposing fans. Because he has seen 101 cards and scored 12 goals in 11 regular seasons, he is known elsewhere as more of a villain than as a respected, talented competitor.
The point here is this: While the rival Sounders added to an already impressive group of attacking players, the Timbers rewarded the man who is and has been the club's heart with an extended commitment. Will Diego Chara, who turns 36 on April 5, ever lose a step? That's a question that's been asked for about five years, and just might be asked for another five before the answer is "soon."
For Timbers supporters, the Chara contract extension is a bit of good news from an offseason that was largely gloomy.
That's not to say that the Timbers' future is bleak.
The departure of Valeri, who reportedly will return home to his first club, Argentina's Lanus, was expected. (MLSSoccer.com reporter Tom Bogart reported that a testimonial match between the Timbers and Lanus at Providence park will be part of celebrating Valeri's Timbers' legacy). As sentimental as this moment is, Valeri's departure is hardly a surprise. It does symbolize what 2022 might be in the arc of Timbers history: a transition season.
The roster got younger last week with the addition of the fourth homegrown player to come through the Timbers youth academy and sign a MLS homegrown player contract.
An 18-year-old forward, Tega Ikoba moved to Portland from Alabama as a 16-year-old to join the Timbers Academy. He scored six goals as a freshman at North Carolina in the fall and decided he was ready for the professional game.
At 6-foot-3 and with speed, Ikoba's physical tools are intriguing. He spent the past two preseasons with the Timbers, scoring a goal in a match against Phoenix Rising last preseason.
Also, last week, the Timbers announced the addition of veteran goalkeeper David Bingham, who is expected to compete with Aljaz Ivacic for the starting job now that Steve Clark left for Houston.
Portland has been linked in reports to another youngster: 19-year-old Argentine defensive midfielder David Ayala. If acquired, he would join Santiago Moreno as a U22 Initiative player on the roster. Ayala has played more than 30 matches at Argentina's top league. Whether he can become the next Diego Chara, or is a young player the Timbers eventually sell on to a larger club, Ayala's arrival would be intriguing.
Whether or not they retain Blanco — or fill that slot with a new designated player — the Timbers do need to get younger, and the addition of Ayala (and, perhaps, a third U22 signing) would be a positive move in that direction.
In the Jan. 11 MLS SuperDraft, Portland selected Justin Rasmussen from Grand Canyon University, Julian Bravo from Santa Clara and Sivert Haugli from Virginia Tech, all of whom project as defensive players in the pros. None was signed entering this week.
• Oregon State had two players selected in the SuperDraft: forward Tsiki Ntsabeleng went 28th to FC Dallas and midfielder Sofiane Djeffal went 36th to D.C. United. The Beavers have had 14 players drafted dating back to 2000. After a standout collegiate career as a defender at Notre Dame, Grant High alum Philip Quinton was taken with the 25th pick by the Columbus Crew.
• Before joining the Timbers training camp, Yimmi Chara (Colombia) and Andy Polo (Peru) each played for his national team. On Jan. 16, Chara assisted on the winning goal against Honduras.
• Three Thorns players —Lindsey Horan, Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver — were among those invited to the January training camp for the U.S. Women's National Team. Not participating are Becky Sauerbrunn and Crystal Dunn. Sauerbrunn is recovering from having her eggs frozen for a possible future pregnancy. She recently explained her decision on Alex Azzi's "On Her Turf" podcast. Dunn is expecting her first child in May.
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