Caleb Porter

Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’


Part of the lore around Portland’s rise is the concept of Porterball, a term the Timbers’ head coach will never own. NBC’s Kyle Martino brought the moniker to national attention this summer, but it’d been whispered for some time, even if Caleb Porter’s always bristled at any implication such a term could transcend the team itself.

But with a focus on style evident from early on — when the coach himself would focus on shots, passes and possession as indicators of the team’s progress — it’s no wonder a style that’s so different than John Spencer’s became a focal point. It’s not only that Porter likes an approach emphasizing possession, pressing and movement, it’s that the difference in philosophy brought such a drastic change in the standings.

So as Portland enters Thursday’s second leg on a nine-game unbeaten run, it’s worth asking what’s happened to Porterball. Most people may not have noticed it’s wane, but it was evident on Saturday. While beating Seattle 2-1, the Timbers ceded 60 percent of the possession and 20 shots, seemingly by choice. It just doesn’t fit the Porterball narrative.

[MORE: Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle]

“[Seattle] had a little bit more of the ball, but that was a part of the game plan,” Porter said on Saturday, clearly happy with the result. “We wanted them to have a bit of the ball so we could roast them on counter-attacks, and I thought we were very dangerous on the counter all day long and I thought we were organized.”

The roasting may have been confined to a handful of moments, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The one goal conceded? It was off a long throw. Beyond Seattle’s goal, their best chance was a late corner that Clint Dempsey put of the crossbar from just over six yards out. Everything else was pretty well-controlled, including a Dempsey shot in the fist half which, though it grazed the crossbar, would have nailed Donovan Ricketts’ hand had it not led to a goal kick. Though Seattle racked up low percentage shots, the game’s next-best chance was probably Ryan Johnson’s, who was unable to convert a late second half breakaway that would have left Portland up three.

“They had some shots from distance. They didn’t have a ton of great looks where they got in behind us,” Porter said. “I thought we were very organized and played a very pragmatic game plan, and it’s a win on the road.”

source: AP
Portland’s fans were introduced to Caleb Porters’ style by a team that played a different game that John Spencer’s. Come the end of the season, however, “pragmatism” is something for which Porter has strived. (Photo: AP)

The premature death of ‘Porterball’

Pragmatic? Conceding possession? Willing to lose the shots battle? When the heck did this happen? This isn’t Caleb ‘Porterball’ Porter, guardian of the next era of American soccer’s approach. These are the words of Bruce Arena or Dominic Kinnear after they’ve lulled their opponents into mistakes.

The change isn’t about Seattle, necessarily. It’s been happening since early September, with the results apparent after Portland returned from Carson after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Chivas USA (Sept. 14). They’d go on to win their next two games 1-0 (Colorado and Los Angeles), finishing second in possession, shots and total passes each time. Over their next five games, Portland would only score more than two goals once (a 5-0 at Chivas to close the season) while conceding multiple goals on only one occasion:

Date Opponent Final Possession Shots Shots
on Goal
Sept. 20 Colorado 1-0 49-51 9-13 2-1 397-412
Sept. 29 LA Galaxy 1-0 47-54 5-9 3-2 413-465
Oct. 6 at Vancouver 2-2 51-49 14-16 3-8 435-410
Oct. 13 Seattle 1-0 49-51 15-11 3-3 409-418
Oct. 19 Real Salt Lake 0-0 44-56 9-8 4-0 371-476
Oct. 26 at Chivas USA 5-0 53-47 17-12 9-4 462-405
Nov. 2 at Seattle 2-1 40-60 10-20 5-5 325-483

These are the last seven games of Portland’s unbeaten run (first Chivas result left out). If you toss out the two games against the non-playoff teams, you see some consistent outcomes – a complete change from the early season’s possession-based approach.

Portland losses the possession battle every time. They almost always get outshot and out-passed, but they’re never giving up more shots on goal. For all of Sigi Schmid’s hopes that Seattle’s quantity of chances will come good in Seattle, his team’s performance on Saturday just fits the bigger picture. They’re playing Portland’s game; not the other way around.

“I’ve prepared [my team] for Plan A or Plan B,” Porter said after the Oct. 13 win over Seattle, his team having used their “Plan B” to even the season series with their rivals. “When you’re playing good teams, you have to prepare for that …”

“The reality is when you have two teams playing each other who both want to do the same thing, they’re going to have moments when they’ll have us deeper,” Porter explained. “I’ve tried to prepare these guys to be composed and mature when we’re playing with a lower block …”

source: AP
Porter concedes that Portland’s early approach needed to adapt, observing his team was either controlling games or “getting run through.” (Photo:AP)

Learning from early season mistakes

It’s a change that’s about more than versatility. Interspersed with Portland’s five losses and 15 draws were moments were being too aggressive had cost the Timbers points, often from winning positions. They wanted to press. They wanted to play in the opponent’s half. But they were also giving up key goals.

“Earlier in the year we were up the field, pushing and playing well, or we were just getting run through,” Porter conceded, after the 1-0 win over Seattle. “We’ve kind of down shifted just a little bit to balance our team. Just a little bit.

“We’re a little bit more setup to win games this time of year. This time of year, [they’re] going to be tight games.”

Now when the Timbers gain a lead (another point of emphasis within the team), they have a way to hold on, and when they claim an early lead, the numbers look very non-Porterball. Before earning their second goal on Saturday, Portland had held 48 percent of the possession, while the Galaxy were also able to pad their statistical edges after the Timbers went up 1-0.

As his playoff debut showed, Porter made the right decision, siding with pragmatism over idealism. But what does this mean for Porterball? Does all the talk about possession soccer, pressing and playing in the other team’s half take a back seat to a more conventional approach?

Not entirely. Like Porter says, it’s about having a Plan A and an alternative, and if he has to step back from some of the high-minded talk from earlier in the season, so be it.

“When I fail, I look at it and correct it,” Porter said. “Same with [my team]. I think that’s a big reason why we’re winning these games now.”

Watch Live, Stream links – Man City vs. Saints, every 10am ET game

Southampton v Stoke City - Premier League
Leave a comment

Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Manchester City vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Injury-hit City will look to rebound from that crushing home defeat to Liverpool last week, while Saints also need to get back on track but Graziano Pelle is missing.

Sunderland vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

The Black Cats put in a composed defensive display away at Palace on Monday to win, while Stoke have won two-straight games and victory could take them into the top six.

Aston Villa vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Boy, it’s getting serious for Villa. Remi Garde’s side were battered at Everton last week and Jack Grealish is in trouble. Watford are solid and will fancy this, big time.

Bournemouth vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Cherries are without a win in seven and let a 2-0 lead slip at Swansea last week. Everton are flying after a 4-0 win over Villa with Lukaku and Barkley running the show.

Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Alan Pardew facing his former team and even though the Eagles are struggling to score goals, they’re in a much healthier position than relegation-haunted Newcastle.

Can Leicester stay top? Will Vardy set a new PL record vs. Man United?

Leave a comment

Okay, this is really happening.

Leicester City are top of the Premier League and they host second-place Manchester United at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) on Saturday.

With Jamie Vardy equaling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s PL record of scoring in 10-straight games, can the man who was playing non-league soccer a few years ago set a new record against the Red Devils to keep the Foxes top of the table?

[ MORE: PST Extra archive ]

As for United, Louis Van Gaal‘s remain strong defensively and have been grinding out wins. Can they keep it up and mount a serious challenge for the title?

Jenna Corrado and I discuss all of that in the video above, so just hit play to take in the latest PST Extra.

Report: Teixeira closing in on $45 million Chelsea move

Leave a comment

Alex Teixeira could be a Chelsea player as soon as the January transfer window opens.

The Shakhtar midfielder, 25, has said the clubs are “deep” into talks to sign him with the Daily Express in England claiming that a $45 million deal is being negotiated as Jose Mourinho tries to bolster his side for the second half of the season.

[ MORE: PW’s picks for Week 14

Teixeira has scored 23 goals in 23 games for the Ukrainian outfit this season and the Brazilian would certainly slot in at Stamford Bridge with plenty of his countrymen to help him settle into life in England.

With reports claiming that Mourinho is looking at alternatives to Diego Costa up front, plus the duo having a disagreement during Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League win in midweek, it seems like the Blues really are looking to strengthen in attack as they try to overcome a shocking start to the season which has left them languishing in the bottom half of the table and 12 points off the top four.

Other reports claim that Mourinho wants more from Costa in attack but it’s likely he will remain at the Bridge as the focal point in the Blues’ attack.

Teixeira, who has been at Shakhtar since 2010, could play just in-behind Costa and help reignite Chelsea’s season. He has scored 85 goals in 218 games for the Ukrainian powerhouse and could follow in the footsteps of his former teammate and countryman Willian in making the switch to Chelsea. That worked out for everyone involved in the past and with Chelsea desperate for reinforcements, despite Mourinho saying on Friday that he doesn’t expect to make any transfers, Teixeira could well be another Shakhtar player who could flourish for a top European club (see, Douglas Costa, Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryanand, Luiz Adriano et al.).

Jose Mourinho wants Diego Costa to process game situations “faster”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho isn’t worried about Diego Costa‘s lack of goals this season, but he does know the problem.

Costa scored the winner against Norwich last time out, but has just three goals on the year and has looked frustrated often in recent matches. And the boss believes there’s still work to be done with Costa, particularly off the ball.

“Everything is OK, no problem, no problem,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference before Chelsea visits Spurs on Sunday. “But he’s not reading the game properly in these actions. That was my opinion. As a striker he must read. You have to play not only when you have the ball but when others have the ball. You have to anticipate things and read the game faster. Everything is an accumulation [of confidence]. You’re not on fire again just because you’ve scored a winning goal against Norwich. It’s all a process.”

Mourinho exploded at Costa in the waning moments of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the manager focused on improving the Spaniard’s effort level.

“In the game I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with the movement he did,” Mourinho said. “He told me a few nice words from where he was. And nothing happened.”

Despite the manager’s frustrations, Costa could be the only option on Sunday. Radamel Falcao is injured and Loic Remy’s wife is scheduled to give birth soon, leaving Chelsea’s main man as maybe the only man.

The match against Spurs is a huge one for the Blues. Chelsea seems to have recovered slightly from its early-season tumble down the table, but their only two wins since the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in mid-September have been against Aston Villa and Norwich, and a marquee win would see them firmly announce an intention to return to last season’s form. The competition will be stiff, as Spurs’ high press could frustrate Costa, potentially sending him into another mood. But it could also give him opportunities should the hosts slip on Sunday.