By PAUL DANZER
Columbian staff writer
The most successful active men’s college soccer coach in America will next season become the head coach of the Portland Timbers.
Caleb Porter, whose Akron University teams have won more than 82 percent of their matches and the 2010 NCAA national championship, will become the second head coach in the Timbers short Major League Soccer history when he takes over in December.
“He’s the right guy to grow this team. Just a unique talent,” Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson said.
Just 37 years old, Porter has been the head coach at Akron since 2006. He will coach the Zips through the end of their 2012 season before joining the Timbers staff. Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson, who spearheaded the search for a new head coach after John Spencer was fired in July, will continue as the interim coach through the nine remaining matches on the 2012 schedule.
Porter was not available to comment beyond statements released on Wednesday by the Timbers and by Akron University.
“I know that Merritt and Gavin are committed to long-term success for the Timbers and, come December, I will be completely focused and driven to continue building a professional club in which the Timbers supporters, city and organization will be proud of,” Porter’s statement said. “In the meantime, out of respect to the Akron program, I will not be commenting further on this matter until after the conclusion of the 2012 college season.”
Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe was the college player of the year on Akron’s 2010 national championship team. He described Porter as a winner.
“I met him when I was 17 and he’s been there for me ever since,” Nagbe said. “He’s a great coach. Loves to attack. He’s going to be honest with everything he does. He’s a winner most of all, and he teaches the game.”
In a statement released by Akron, Porter said the decision to leave the Zips for the Timbers was difficult.
“I always believed that it would take a truly special situation for me to leave Akron, and the Portland Timbers position is that type of opportunity,” Porter said. “… After many conversations with my family and close advisors and, given my long-term aspirations, I feel this is the right time and place for me to take the next step in my coaching career.”
Paulson and Wilkinson each said they spent a lot of time with Porter during an interview process that involved eight serious candidates, three of whom were finalists for the job. Paulson declined to name other candidates who were interviewed for the job.
“It was a mutual interest from the get-go” between Porter and the Timbers, Paulson said. “We had a lot of interest in this job. I interviewed a coach who was recently at the helm of one of the top English Premier teams who was interested in the Timbers.”
Porter served as the head coach for the United States under-23 men’s soccer team that failed to qualify for the London Olympics, a bitter pill for USA soccer.
Paulson said he was impressed by Porter’s ability to analyze what went wrong for the U.S. Under-23s in Olympic qualifying.
“This is a coach who is a cerebral coach,” Paulson said. “He’s a great leader, a great tactician. He’s extremely reflective.
“He’s poised to do some great things, but we’ve got to give this time to grow as well. That’s something that I want to be clear about from Day 1.”
Wilkinson said Porter shares the Timbers vision for creating a style of soccer that emphasizes attack-oriented possession.
“I know that he wants to dominate possession,” Wilkinson said. “He wants to keep the ball, wants to move the ball, wants to create chances pretty much at will and to play dominating soccer.”