PORTLAND, ORE. – Minnesota United midfielder Thomas Chacon still is 19, the same age he turned the day he left Uruguay to join a new league and start a new life in August.
You might not have known he’s still that teenager, not the way he scored his team’s third goal in a 4-2 preseason victory at Portland on Wednesday.
In the 63rd minute, one of United’s tallest players — newly signed 6-4 Aaron “Big Celery” Schoenfeld — launched a slanted left-footed strike from the left side that Timbers goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic dived to block with both hands.
The ball bounded on the far side to Chacon, who at 5-5 is the Loons’ smallest player. Waiting in space, he controlled it and feigned a shot with his right foot, then switched it to his left as both defender Marco Farfan and Ivacic slid by.
With that left foot and a veteran’s pause, Chacon calmly guided the ball past Ivacic’s outstretched arm and just inside the left post.
“I was pleased with Thomas, to get a goal and took it well,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “A lot of composure, some really good stuff. It’ll do his confidence no end.”
Chacon contributed on United’s first two goals, both scored at the far post by new midfielder Raheem Edwards. He made a nifty move with the ball to avoid a sliding tackler along the left sideline. Then he ran free to create the first goal in the same order as the second: Chacon to striker Mason Toye to Edwards.
It’s not quite baseball’s Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combo of long ago, but it proved a winning combination Wednesday.
“Chacon and Toye, we’re starting to get each other’s way of playing,” said Edwards, 24, recently acquired from Chicago. “Thomas is a talented player. He’s young. But he’s going to grow into his football. He has that ‘it’ factor.”
That’s why United paid a nearly $4 million transfer fee for him last summer in a long-term play that’s all about the future. Chacon played little for United during its playoff race late last season. At the time, Heath reminded that Chacon was signed for five years, not five weeks.
He bonded last season with longtime Loon and fellow Spanish speaker Miguel Ibarra, who became his confidant and companion. Now Ibarra is gone, signed by Seattle after United didn’t renew his contract.
“He helped me in everything,” Chacon said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I’m always going to be very thankful for him because he was helpful since the moment I arrived.”
Heath says Chacon’s preseason form is “looking great” so far, in nearly every area.
“I don’t know what’s happening with his hair,” Heath said with a smile about Chacon’s long blond curls.
Chacon was part of the starting 11 against Portland that was all reserves except for veteran Ike Opara. He and most others played to the 70th minute.
United ends preseason play Saturday afternoon against Vancouver in Portland. Chacon will begin this new regular season next week as a reserve who will play the wing. His role depends on whether United adds Argentine attacker Emanuel Reynoso or another player at that “No. 10” position, one that someday could become Chacon’s despite his size.
“I played with Giovinco, so size is not a difference,” Edwards said about former Toronto teammate, 5-3 Italian star Sebastian Giovinco. “It’s not about your size. It’s about your smarts. He’ll grow into that, and he’ll be a great player.”
TV schedule set
The Loons will have seven nationally televised games this season, with their other seven regular-season games to be aired on the Fox Sports North networks. Their March 1 season opener against Portland will be on FS1.