Diego Chara joined the Portland Timbers in April of 2011, becoming the club's first Designated Player. He was advertised by Merritt Paulson as a box-to-box midfielder and that was how he played his first year with the Timbers, making key defensive plays in the midfield, breaking up the other team's attack and dispossessing his opponents, while racking up four assists and two goals. He also made a name for himself as an exceptionally aggressive player, leading the league in fouls.
Chara's role with the Timbers changed a bit in 2012, when he played as more of a defensive midfielder and tended to sit deeper, often playing in the space between the offense and defense. Unfortunately, his offensive production dropped off, perhaps due to this new role, but back the tape up on a lot of the Timbers' offensive plays, especially the counterattacks like the play versus Colorado below, and Chara is often there, just a few passes behind the final shot.
(Look for the play that begins at about 1:51.)
This shouldn't come as a surprise. As the Timbers passing matrix showed, Chara's 86.04% passing accuracy is second on the team, bested only by Darlington Nagbe, and only Jack Jewsbury completed a greater number of successful passes than Chara's total of 1072. A recent Central Winger article explained that he has one one of the best secondary pass completion rates in the league, meaning a pass from Chara is significantly more likely to result in a successive completed pass.
Chara also seems to be blessed with boundless energy in drive. In a season when it often seemed as though the team had not bothered to show up, Chara alone always gave his all. His ceaseless effort earned him the title of both Supporters' Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year, the latter awarded to him by his teammates.
Perhaps Chara's best match of the season was the first home game against Seattle, when he completely neutralized Osvaldo Alonso. The significance of Chara's efforts should not be underestimated. Alonso is a hugely important player to the Sounders at both ends of the field and it was crucial that the Timbers not let him get too much control of the game. Chara may not have scored the goals, but he was key to that Timbers victory.
Should he stay?
Not that it is difficult to tell how we feel about this, but I'll say it anyway: absolutely. Like every player on the Timbers roster, Chara has areas he needs to improve on. I'd like to him get back a bit of confidence in front of the goal. He got a few scoring chances in 2012, but the 18-yard box seems to be the lone area of the field where he lacks composure. And while I think every team needs a bit of bite and I love his cheeky grin when he gets whistled for a foul, it would be nice if he could collect fewer yellow cards so we didn't have to lose him to suspension.
Ultimately though, if the Timbers are going to play pass-happy, possession style soccer, we will need our best passers. In a year when the Timbers will have a new coach and be trying to claw our way up from the bottom of the league, we will need our hardest workers. Chara fits into both categories.