Timbers coach has a mind for winning

Porter has turned team around with aggressive play, teamwork and pyschology

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter

Published:

 

General manager was 'a good fit' with Portland's coach

By Paul Danzer

Columbian staff writer

When Caleb Porter decided to leave a secure job ay the University of Akron to coach the Portland Timbers, the deciding factor was the philosophy of owner Merritt Paulson and general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

"I wouldn't have taken the job unless I felt like there was a good fit and a good match," Porter said. "Obviously, a lot of it was philosophically what I heard from them."

It was during a trip to Seattle to catch a Sounders game when Porter became comfortable with the idea making the to jump to Major League Soccer. He spent more than eight hours meeting with Wilkinson and Timbers assistant coach Sean McAuley.

That trip was an early opportunity for Porter and Wilkinson to interact, to learn a little about each other. It was the beginning of a professional relationship that has pushed the Timbers rapidly forward.

Sixteen players on the Portland roster were not Timbers last season. And that doesn't include goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who came to Portland in an August 2012 trade.

Wilkinson points to a re-envisioning of the club, in addition to the hiring of Porter, as the reason the Timbers changed direction so completely in one year.

"There was a philosophical change on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to get there," Wilkinson said.

Many of the changes were subtle, according to Wilkinson. But the key was to get the players to understand the club's mission and their role in it.

"Does every player clearly understand the way we want to play? Does every player clearly understand the direction of the club? Do they understand the history of the club? Do they understand how important our supporters are to us?" Wilkinson said. "There were a lot of variables that we thought were very, very important for everybody to understand where we want to go."

Wilkinson is in charge of finding and acquiring players to fit the way the Portland Timbers want to play. He and Porter meet weekly to discuss the roster and player budget. When it is time to make a trade or sign a player, both the general manager and the coach are involved.

"It's got to make sense for what I want (in a player)," Porter said. "It's got to make sense for the business side. It's got to make sense (to Gavin) too. Because he's got a good eye, too, and if we don't both like (the player), then maybe there's something wrong."

Wilkinson said he is most proud that the process for charting the franchise's path after a disappointing 2012 season has brought success in 2013.

"We redeveloped the scouting process, the acquisition and succession planning. Pretty much everything," Wilkinson said. "Again in the offseason, we will go back to the drawing board a little bit and revisit what worked and what didn't work and how we can move forward again as an organization."

Certainty.

As strange as it sounds for a third-year franchise that has never won a playoff series, that is a key advantage the Portland Timbers will carry with them into Jeld-Wen Field today for their playoff match with the rival Seattle Sounders.

Not that the Timbers are certain of victory — a one-goal advantage in the series guarantees nothing. But of all the ingredients that first-year head coach Caleb Porter brought to the Timbers, perhaps none played a larger role in the club’s startling rise than certainty.

“The power of being a player under Caleb is that when you take the field you already know what you need to do to impress the (coach),” Timbers assistant coach Sean McAuley said. “If you do what the (coach) wants, you’ll probably get picked (to play) the next game.”

General manager was ‘a good fit’ with Portland’s coach

By Paul Danzer

Columbian staff writer

When Caleb Porter decided to leave a secure job ay the University of Akron to coach the Portland Timbers, the deciding factor was the philosophy of owner Merritt Paulson and general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

“I wouldn’t have taken the job unless I felt like there was a good fit and a good match,” Porter said. “Obviously, a lot of it was philosophically what I heard from them.”

It was during a trip to Seattle to catch a Sounders game when Porter became comfortable with the idea making the to jump to Major League Soccer. He spent more than eight hours meeting with Wilkinson and Timbers assistant coach Sean McAuley.

That trip was an early opportunity for Porter and Wilkinson to interact, to learn a little about each other. It was the beginning of a professional relationship that has pushed the Timbers rapidly forward.

Sixteen players on the Portland roster were not Timbers last season. And that doesn’t include goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who came to Portland in an August 2012 trade.

Wilkinson points to a re-envisioning of the club, in addition to the hiring of Porter, as the reason the Timbers changed direction so completely in one year.

“There was a philosophical change on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to get there,” Wilkinson said.

Many of the changes were subtle, according to Wilkinson. But the key was to get the players to understand the club’s mission and their role in it.

“Does every player clearly understand the way we want to play? Does every player clearly understand the direction of the club? Do they understand the history of the club? Do they understand how important our supporters are to us?” Wilkinson said. “There were a lot of variables that we thought were very, very important for everybody to understand where we want to go.”

Wilkinson is in charge of finding and acquiring players to fit the way the Portland Timbers want to play. He and Porter meet weekly to discuss the roster and player budget. When it is time to make a trade or sign a player, both the general manager and the coach are involved.

“It’s got to make sense for what I want (in a player),” Porter said. “It’s got to make sense for the business side. It’s got to make sense (to Gavin) too. Because he’s got a good eye, too, and if we don’t both like (the player), then maybe there’s something wrong.”

Wilkinson said he is most proud that the process for charting the franchise’s path after a disappointing 2012 season has brought success in 2013.

“We redeveloped the scouting process, the acquisition and succession planning. Pretty much everything,” Wilkinson said. “Again in the offseason, we will go back to the drawing board a little bit and revisit what worked and what didn’t work and how we can move forward again as an organization.”

For all the talk of “Porterball,” a style that asks players to pressure opponents around the field, the new coach’s most significant influence just might be his ability to clearly define for each player his job within a game-plan.

“From Day One when he came in here, he made it clear what every single guy’s role on the team was,” defender Jack Jewsbury said. “When you can define everyone’s roles, it makes it easier for everyone on the field.”

Watching from Akron, Ohio, Jared Embick has not been surprised by Porter’s success in transforming the Timbers.

Embick is the man who stepped into Porter’s shoes coaching the University of Akron men’s soccer team after six seasons as an assistant coach there under Porter.

“I always told him he could go in (to MLS) right now and compete for the league title, no question about it,” Embick said.

Embick said one thing he learned early from Porter was to have a style, a plan for how you want your team to play, and stick to it.

Tactical adjustments and lineup choices are the coaching decisions that spark the most scrutiny. But the psychological side of the game is perhaps more significant.

“He’s always been very good at getting the most out of players, or pushing them to reach their potential — at times even more than their potential,” Embick said.

Porter, 38, said that the influence of a player’s mind on success or failure has intrigued him since his playing days.

He has studied the subject and while at Akron had the opportunity to work with Larry Olsen, a performance consultant to Fortune 500 executives and author of “Get a Vision and Live It.”

“He changed the whole way I look at life,” Porter said of Olsen. “How I look at meaning, the things I say and the things I do. How I parent, all that stuff. He really got my wheels turning in modeling.

“Everything you say matters. Your presence matters. And if you’re not aware of that, you’re not going to be a good coach.”

Another book that influenced Porter is “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.

“It talks about how the mind works, and how successful people typically have a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset,” Porter said. “I think that’s a real key to learning, and to being a good coach over time is your mind is open.

“It’s like a parachute, right? Your mind only works if it’s open.”

Porter has certainly opened eyes in his first season with the Timbers. But Embick sees Porter as just getting started.

“As long as he’s there (the Timbers) are going to contend for championships,” Embick said. “Caleb is not someone who is going to rest on past success,” Embick said. “Trust me: He’s going to be pushing the envelope as long as he’s coaching.”