After a season with the Portland Timbers under his belt, Mike Chabala is quickly earning the trust of the “Timbers Army” as a fan favorite and trusted defensive force. As a defender, it’s rare to gain the notoriety that perhaps Landon Donovan, or Clint Dempsey may receive as some of the most prolific goal scorers in the game. But through his play and interaction with social media, Mike Chabala is becoming a household name for the young Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer.
The University of Washington product was originally drafted by the Houston Dynamo 44thoverall in the fourth round of the 2006 MLS Superdraft. In July of 2011, their inaugural season, the Timbers acquired Chabala via trade and immediately inserted him into a starting defensive role. As Major League Soccer is rapidly establishing itself as a legitimate professional sport in the United States, Chabala is loving every minute of playing in the new city he calls home. Fans of the Portland Timbers, better known as the “Timbers Army” could easily be compared to the fans of their NFL counterpart, Seattle Seahawks and the “12th Man.” They truly adore their Portland Timbers and the pride they have for representing their city.
Those fans help keep players like Mike Chabala motivated to produce. As social media has supplanted itself as an outlet for having a conversation with your favorite athlete. Chabala has become actively involved on Twitter, engaging those fans that adore him.
“Some people will argue that it’s (social media) not for professional athletes, or for everybody for that matter. But I enjoy engaging the fans… before the LA Galaxy game (in 2011), I was just interacting with and engaging some of the fans. I did a competition for some tickets and the guy that I ended up giving the tickets to was a die hard Timbers fan that had just recently lost his job and had never actually been to a game before. I kept giving him tickets throughout the season also, because we kept winning. I was able to give him his first tickets to see a game. Having the opportunity to reach out to somebody like that without actually meeting them was a really great thing.”
While playing with the Houston Dynamo, Chabala was not only an active member of the social media frontier; he was a contributing member of the community, participating in several fundraising activities, like the 2011 Cruz’in For A Cure, a fundraiser organized by former Dynamo teammate Danny Cruz. Cruz’in For A Cure helped raised funds that benefited Leukemia and Lymphoma research. He plans on bringing those qualities with him as he begins his first full season with the Timbers, but with training camp and preseason currently requiring the young defenders full attention, it’s business first.
“The main focus is the team and winning games to be completely honest. I want to continue to engage the fans and maintain what I have with them through social media. I think that takes a backseat in preseason and getting ready for camp… I plan on continuing to engage the fans and community through social media. Most importantly I have to make sure the team does well and I do well for myself. I’ll be doing plenty of giveaways along the way and reaching out to the fans. I plan on doing a lot more in the community than I have in the past. It was a big transition coming up here from Houston, so I think now that I have my bearings and once I settle into a regular schedule after camp, I’ll be reaching out to whatever opportunities that might present themselves.
Chabala and the Timbers are both entering their second season looking to improve on their 2011, 11-14 campaign. They’re going to have to do it without the services of former striker and US National Team member Kenny Cooper. Cooper, arguably the highest profile player on the Timbers rosters was sent to the New York Redbulls in exchange for a 2013 first round draft choice. The move was shocking to the fans and to the players. Cooper was a perennial goal scorer who skills appeared to have been diminishing in his brief stint with the Timbers. The front office felt that it was time to build and move on from Cooper.
“That was my roommate on the road man! I’m going to miss him, he was a great guy and great teammate, and he welcomed me to the team with open arms. I know that he’ll be deeply missed in the locker room and in the community; he did a great job with the community here in Portland. The way he carried himself in the locker room…not one person had a bad thing to say about Kenny on or off the field. That’s just professional sports though yah know; you go where the job takes you. I didn’t think that Portland was in my future at this time last year, but I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at. I hope he lands on his feet in New York and that he doesn’t have good games when he plays against us. I wish him all the best!”
We took to Twitter and got some great feedback from some MLS fans on the impact of the Kenny Cooper trade. One fan in particular Russ Goldman, offered his insight on the shocking move of Cooper’s departure.
“What is surprising to me is Cooper is a proven goal scorer in MLS and you would think he is a player you would really want to hold on to. It doesn’t surprise me that the Red Bulls wanted him. What surprises me is that Portland traded him as he is still in his prime at 27.”
With the departure of Kenny Cooper and his vibrant locker room personality, Chabala isn’t looking to step into a role that isn’t his. He and his teammates are all aware that Cooper’s locker has now been replaced and accept the business aspect of professional sports. Chabala has complete faith in second year captain Jack Jewsbury for helping keep the team focused and hungry.
“He’s a fantastic leader (Jewsbury) and he’s our captain. He’s the guy you watch and look up to, he could be described as a man of few words, but when he speaks you listen. That’s a special quality to have; he had a fantastic season for the club last season. My role is to just play the best way that I possibly can and help the club at whatever position they decide to play me at. That’s the main focus for me. I don’t make it my main motivation to wake up and be a personality, or anything like that, that ends up being a recipe for disaster.”
During the offseason, the Timbers have added some much-needed depth that excites Chabala and the rest of his teammates via the MLS Super Draft and acquisitions. In the first round the Timbers took Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a 6’2” 205lb center back from UCONN and Brendan King, a 6’0” 160lb midfielder from Notre Dame in the second round. The Timbers also brought in some talented players from Colombia; Jorge Perlaza, Hanyer Mosquera and Jose Adolfo Valencia. With a young squad one of the hardest building blocks to assemble is depth. With these acquisitions, the Timbers are quickly developing a young core that is looking to contend for the foreseeable future.
“I’m really excited for all the guys that we picked up this year, especially the Colombian guys that we brought in and some guys from France. There’s an incredible amount of talent in the locker room. There’s depth and competition at every position. I think that’s one part of the team that the coaches and ownership wanted to address in the offseason. It creates a healthy environment when guys are competing at every spot; it’s the battle that makes players better. The guys that have come in are working to earn their spot. It’s great to have depth and the youth that has been injected into the team, it’s going to be a lot fun and an exciting year for the club.”
The 2012 season is on the horizon and Mike Chabala is ready to help pave the way for a successful 2012 campaign. It should be another exciting year for the fans as they look to interact with Chabala via Twitter and public appearances. Expect big things this season from #4 as he looks to be a vital piece of the defensive strategy for the Portland Timbers. And don’t be surprised if you catch Chabala karate chopping a few celebratory logs with “Timber Joey” in 2012.