New coach Porter eager to put his stamp on Timbers

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

Updated: January 8, 2013, 10:35 PM

 

Caleb Porter file

n Age: 37.

n Coaching résumé: Head coach at Akron University for seven seasons. Zips teams won the Mid-American Conference title each season and won the 2010 NCAA title. From 2000 to 2005, Porter was an assistant coach at Indiana, helping the Hoosiers’ to NCAA titles in 2003 and 2004.

n Playing days: A defensive midfielder, Porter was the 26th pick in the 1998 MLS draft and played for San Jose and Tampa Bay before knee injuries cut short his career after two seasons. In college, he played four seasons at Indiana, where he was a team captain for three seasons. In 1997 he was runner up for the Hermann Trophy.

n Family: Porter and his wife, Andrea, have two sons, Colin and Jake, and a daughter, Stella Jane.

PORTLAND — Twenty-two minutes into his introductory press conference, Caleb Porter was asked how the highest paid Timbers player will fit into his vision for Portland's Major League Soccer club.

"Kris Boyd is obviously contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers," Porter said.

For a moment, it seemed that was all Porter would say about the Scottish striker. Instead, he delivered some real insight about himself and the vision he brings to Portland.

"What I will say is after watching him play quite a bit -- and I have watched this team play quite a bit -- Kris Boyd is a player that I think will have a hard time playing the way that we want to play," Porter said. "That's no knock on Kris. He would fit in a lot of different systems."

Tuesday morning's press conference at Jeld-Wen Field was the first opportunity for local media to interview the man the Timbers hired on Aug. 29. Porter's frank discussion of Boyd gave the media a juicy sound bite.

But more than providing insight into Boyd's potential place in the 2013 team, Porter's response demonstrated that the 37-year-old coach believes deeply in the vision of successful soccer he has nourished through 13 seasons of coaching -- the last seven as the head coach at Akron University in Ohio.

Porter was hired by Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson on Aug. 29, 2012 -- 60 days after Paulson fired his first coach, John Spencer. Porter spent the fall guiding Akron to a 18-2-2 season that ended with an unexpected loss to Creighton on penalty kicks in the NCAA Round of 16.

Porter said Tuesday that waiting to take the helm of the Timbers was "kind of annoying, actually. I wanted to be here. And yet I wanted to follow through again with my commitment to Akron."

His success there — a 123-18-17 record, the 2010 national title, and five consecutive trips to the Round of 16 — earned Porter a 10-year contract to coach at Akron, rare stability for any coach.

"In some ways I was uncomfortable being comfortable at Akron," Porter said. "I was ready, antsy, eager for that next step. I felt like I belonged here in Major League Soccer as a coach, and that I couldn't fully execute the vision that I had unless I joined the professional ranks."

Even the one blemish on Porter's résumé — he was the head coach of the United States under-23 national team that failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics — was a valuable step on his career path.

"For me that was a reinforcement that I was ready" to coach professional soccer, Porter said.

"One of the first things out of his mouth was that he wanted to play dominant soccer," general manager Gavin Wilkinson said, reflecting on the interview process. "When we started to break down what that meant, (Porter) was a perfect fit."

Porter's Akron teams were known for putting a premium on possession as the path to pressuring opponents. He said he is not locked into formations or personnel, but will work to make possession-driven soccer the Timbers' identity.

He summed it up this way:

"It means that hopefully in time with our training, with our player acquisitions, with certainly getting the culture right, that we start to move in a direction where we're controlling major portions of the game. And if you control major portions of the game, then you increase your chances of winning consistently."

In Portland, Porter is re-united with Darlington Nagbe, who won the Hermann Award as college soccer's player of the year while leading Akron to the 2010 NCAA championship. During his time at Akron, Porter had 17 players drafted into Major League Soccer.

Porter said Nagbe, who like the Timbers is entering his third MLS season, has had a good start to his career but has plenty of room to improve.

"In some ways the youth of this team put more pressure on him to produce and perform, but he maybe hasn't handled that at times as well as he should have in terms of carrying the team," Porter said. "But he's also a young player and I think there needs to be a little bit of patience there as well."

Youth, in fact, was one area Porter moved quickly to address. He said recent trades that brought in defender Michael Harrington, midfielder Will Johnson and forward Ryan Johnson were made to bring veterans to the club.

"We needed a lot more experienced locker room," Porter said.