Caleb Porter, Gavin Wilkinson

Caleb Porter finally unveiled as Portland Timbers head coach


PORTLAND, Ore. — It took five months for him to finally touchdown in the Rose City, but once he did new head coach Caleb Porter laid out an unambiguous vision for the Portland Timbers’ future. Sitting next to a general manager (Gavin Wilkinson) who described his club as having “very, very high expectations and lofty ambitions,” Porter was unflinching while playing into the hope his new hiring’s created.

He addressed the skepticism born of the U-23 failing. He talked about his reputation for playing attractive soccer. He talked about why he chose Portland and the futures of high-profile players Kris Boyd and Darlington Nagbe.

Here are some of the big takeaways:

Portland was the right fit at the right time.

“In some ways, I was uncomforatble being comfortable at Akron,” Porter said, a unique way of saying it was time for him to go.

The move was the culmination of a 13-year journey he knew would end in Major League Soccer.

“As I started my coaching career 13 years ago, in the back of my mind I had the goal of getting back here to be a professional coach in Major League Soccer. I didn’t know if it would happen. I didn’t know when it would happen or how it would happen. But that was always a goal that I had in mind.”

But as D.C. United found out three years ago, Porter wasn’t going to leave Akron for just any opportunity. Portland, however, was the complete package for the Porter family.

“I certainly had a few other opportunities, but this was the one that was the best situation for me and my family, to come and join this wonderful community. For a lot of reasons, this was the right fit.

“We have the most passionate supporters in Major League Soccer. That was very attractive to me. We have a owner/president and a general manager who have a long term vision for success. Their philosophy, their vision was in line with my philosophy and vision. That’s very important to have that right marriage.”

What problems from 2012 need to be addressed first?

Porter tried not to speak of the past, but in talking about the changes he planned to bring to the team, comparing goals to failures was unavoidable.

“We need a little bit more experienced — not a little bit, a lot more experienced — locker room,” Porter said after initially explaining a reluctance to dwell on 2012. “Where you have guys who have been through this very unique league and season, where there’s a lot of travel, different climates, altitude. It’s not easy.”

Bringing in Will Johnson? Michael Harrington? Ryan Johnson? It addresses that need.

“These are guys that have been six, seven year pros in Major League Soccer. You know what you get out of them.”

source:  How will Portland play?

Make no mistake about it – Porter is bringing his much-discussed philosophy with him to Portland. While he said he’s not going to be “naive” about making hasty changes, Porter made it clear that a possession game intent on “dominant” play is the goal.

“We’re going to approach every game from the standpoint of what do we need to do in this game to win.”

But the Timbers will work toward playing the Porter way.

“Any good coach should have a philsosophy of how they approach the game, of how they approach training, and that’s a big part of the blue print, every single day.”

“Blue print” came up a lot on Tuesday, as did formulas and identities.

“If you look in Major League Soccer, the most successful teams have continuity. They have a formula they follow. They have a clear identity, and we will have a clear identiy here. We will have a formula we will be following, and you will see continuity. You’ll see consistency and ultimately, every decision we make will be based on that way we are going to be playing.”

“If we’re going to be a team that’s consistenly winning games, we need to move in a direction where we are the dominant team. … if you control major portions of the game, you increase your chances of winning consistently, and that’s the only reason I believe in the philosophy that I have.”

Does that mean the Zips’ formation will come with him from Akron?

What formation?

As Porter pointed out in the press conference, he adjusted formations as his personnel fit. For five years, he played a 4-4-2. For two others, he played a 4-3-3, a formation that’s erroneously been linked to his style of play.

Looking at the moves Portland’s made this offseason, the Timbers are setting up as a 4-4-2/4-3-1-2 (midfield diamond) team. But Porter made it clear he’d like to develop multiple options.

As Darlington Nagbe described it early last season (before Porter was announced as head coach of the Timbers), Porter’s is a philosophy that adapts the formation to the available players. When Nagbe was at Akron, he played a playmaker’s role that took advantage of the talents of Steve Zakuani and Darron Mattocks.

It’s not difficult to see a similar provider’s role crafted behind Ryan Johnson and Bright Dike, a role that could leave the Timbers looking like Will Johnson’s former Real Salt Lake team.

What does that mean for Darlington Nagbe?

Clearly the most talented player on the Timbers, Nagbe was a big part of Tuesday’s conversation. Is Caleb Porter the man that can bring the young star to his full potential?

Porter never said those words, but he did say he feels he has “buttons” he can push to get Nagbe to where he can be. And while the new coach was mostly complimentary of what Nagbe’s accomplished in over two MLS seasons, his former Akron coach is going to expect more out of him in 2013.

“In some ways, the youth of this team put more pressure on him to produce and perform, and he maybe hasn’t handled that as well as he should have, in terms of carrying the team. But he’s also a young player. There needs to be a little bit of patience for that, as well.”

“Going into his third year, [there are] going to be high expectations of him. I certainly expect him to perform.”

“I do know his talent. I do know what he’s capable of. There’s a trust there.”

source:  And where does Kris Boyd fit in all of this?

He’s the club’s most expensive player ever, but Kris Boyd has no role in Porter’s system. That Porter even addressed the touchy subject — let alone showed some brutal honestly while doing so — as a signal to Boyd, his representation, and the league. Kris Boyd won’t fit in Portland.

“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 we want to play,” Porter confessed. “With what I want out of my strikers, it’s going to be very difficult for him to offer what I’m looking for in that position.”

It’s no surprise. Nobody is going to mistake Boyd’s style for Zakuani’s or Mattocks’.

Though Porter didn’t close the door (later saying Boyd can prove him wrong), he might as well have. It was a shockingly frank confession within the context of an introductory press conference.

Yes, coach, but what about Nashville?

It was one of the first topics that came up once the press conference was open for questions, the one blemish on Caleb Porter’s otherwise stellar coaching record: Why didn’t the U.S. U-23s make it out of their first Olympic qualifying group, let alone challenge for a spot in the Summer Olympics?

It was one of his longest answers of the day, but one Porter was honest about, forthright, and prepared to give:

“There as a lot I took away from it. It was a five-month process. I knew it was going to be a high-profile, high-pressure job. I knew it was a tricky qualifying format. But again, I don’t avoid challenges. For me, it was an opportunity. I look at not what could go wrong, but what could go right.

“And in the end, it didn’t go right. I take responsibility for that. We failed. We didn’t qualify, and in my role as the coach, I take responsibility for that.

“But there was a lot of the process that went well. Overall, our record was 6-1-2, believe it or not. A lot of people wouldn’t remember that, nor would I want them to. Obviously, they’re going to remember the end. Including friendlies and everything, we were 6-1-2.

“In the qualify format, which is very tricky to be able to navigate, three games in five days, we were 1-1-1. That meant we got four points and that meant we didn’t go through.

“And that made it very difficult because the process was comfortable. It did go very well. Those are things that no one will know other than the players. But again, I think if you ask the players they’d say it went very well. They were prepared thoroughly. They were on boeard 100 percent.

“The Mexico game – the game we won 2-0, even though it was a friendly – they were the eventually Olympic champions, and not only did we win 2-0 but we controlled a majority of the match. For me, that was reinforcement of all the positive things that were going on.

“There were certainly things that I would do differently. Like any good coach, you’re continually eventuating yourself, your team, things that you can do better. There always needs to be a reflection, and there was a reflection on this process. I put together an extensive technical report that I presented to US Soccer with all those details.

“There were a lot of things that yes I would do differently. A lot of things I learned in the process. But there were a lot of things that went very well, too, a lot of things I would do the same. Overall, it was a great experience, one that will certainly helped me make this move.

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.

USMNT’s Yedlin talks Newcastle challenge, EFL Cup quarters

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26:  DeAndre Yedlin of Tottenham Hotspur controls the ball during the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Juventus FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 26, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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USMNT standout DeAndre Yedlin is gaining valuable experience fighting for promotion with Championship-leading Newcastle United, and will likely get the chance to help the Magpies into the EFL Cup quarterfinals this week.

Newcastle hosts Preston North End on Tuesday at St. James Park, and the 23-year-old Yedlin has been providing plenty to the Magpies under Rafa Benitez.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tuesday preview ]

Yedlin has appeared four times at right mid and four more at right back as Newcastle sits atop the Championship through 14 matches. He’s been in the 18 for every match since he arrived from Tottenham.

Manager Rafa Benitez has employed a lot of rotation in his squad given the congested schedule, and Yedlin has competed for time at the back with Magpies veteran Vurnon Anita and ex-Atleti back Jesus Gamez. The club’s right-sided attackers include even more options, headlined by the electric Matt Ritchie.

From The Chronicle:

“If you aren’t in form there’s always one guy will step in. They could take your place,” Yedlin said.

“That means every opportunity you get you must take and make the best of it.”

That’s the sort of competition we like to see abroad, and the reason players like Perry Kitchen (Hearts) and Matt Miazga (Vitesse via Chelsea) are lauded for taking steps out of their insta-starter status domestically (and again, I hate having to repoint out that it’s okay to feel this way and love MLS).

As for Tuesday’s match against Preston, here are Yedlin’s thoughts on being in the final 16 of the EFL Cup:

“It’s an important game. We are getting to the final stages of the cup now and obviously we want to win everything we can.

“It’s important to us. Like I’ve said the depth in this team is unbelievable. So I am sure whatever team goes out there will be extremely strong.”