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Timbers envision energetic play from Colombian combo

Striker Perlaza could help new midfielder Chara adjust to life in Portland, Major League Soccer
by:  Diego Chara

Deep in the jungles of Colombia there exists a factory. Financed by the late Colombian drug lord and soccer aficionado Pablo Escobar, the factory produces soccer players. These players are manufactured out of molten lava from the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Some of the players come out taller, some smaller. Yet, you know they come out of the Colombian soccer player factory by their trademarked dark complexion, cornrow braids, pearly white teeth and out-of-this world soccer skills. None of that is true, of course. But it would seem plausible when looking at Portland Timbers striker Jorge Perlaza and the team’s newly acquired midfielder, Diego Chará. “They look like they’re separated at birth!” Timbers coach John Spencer exclaimed after Monday’s training session at Jeld-Wen Field, noting, though, that “Jorge is a little bit taller.” Perlaza (5-10, 155 pounds) and Chará (5-8, 150) have known each other for a long time in Colombia. They played together with Deportes Quindío in 2006 and on Deportes Tolima in 2010. The two were reunited earlier this week, when Chará became the Timbers’ first designated player, signing for an undisclosed amount. Chará arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday morning and played in the second half that night against the Galaxy. Though he speaks very little Spanish and Chará and Perlaza speak next to no English, Spencer was willing to put forth a hypothesis that Perlaza had something to do with Chará choosing to come to Portland. “Jorge being here and seeing how we do things here and how he’s treated with a lot of respect and a lot of love from everybody from the organization —we really like him as a player and as a person — that helps,” Spencer says. “Obviously, (Chará) has been in contact probably regularly with Jorge, asking him what it’s like playing here. And Jorge is really enjoying himself, so he must have put in a good word for us for (Chará) to come.” International players often find the adjustments of living in a new country difficult. After a shaky start, Perlaza has started to come into his own in MLS, scoring his first goal in the Timbers’, 4-2 win against the Chicago Fire on April 14. Spencer is hoping that Chará can lean on Perlaza for support and help him make a quick transition. “Jorge will help because they’ve played together at Tolima,” Spencer says. “Moving away from home for the first time is always a difficult transition — different language and their family being back there. It will take (Chará) a little time, but quality players do adjust.” Spencer has big expectations for Chará, who has appeared in 206 matches over eight seasons in Colombia’s first division. “He’s very, very energetic,” Spencer says. “He gets around the grass, he covers every blade of grass on the field for 90 minutes. He’s very good at receiving the ball from the back four and linking up from the back to the midfield to the front players, so we see him doing a lot of good things for us. “I don’t think that finishing is his natural strength, but he can do it, if he’s given the chance. I just see him more of a type that sits in there and protects the back four and probably moves more side to side and just keeps possession for us.” nWhen the Timbers face Real Salt Lake at Jeld-Wen Field at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, they may be the benefactors of the CONCACAF Champions League. Real Salt Lake faced Monterrey on the road on Wednesday in the CCL final. That could mean Real Salt Lake will use its reserves against the Timbers. That would not mean a freebie for 2-3-1 Portland, though. Real Salt Lake (4-0-0) defeated the New England Revolution 2-0 using reserves. And the Timbers managed only a 1-1 draw against the Revolution earlier this season. “Their reserve players have a lot to prove as well,” Spencer says. “They’ve built a tremendous clubhouse there, where everybody is full of desire to succeed.” Regardless of which players Real Salt Lake puts on the pitch, Spencer is expecting a battle. “We’re possibly facing the best team in the last 24 months in Major League Soccer,” Spencer says. “Their ambitions are really very, very high now.”