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: Petulant Costa tosses warm-up bib toward Mourinho; Headed for exit

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Diego Costa was unimpressed with his status as a bench player for Chelsea’s visit to White Hart Lane on Saturday, and less so when he wasn’t used as a substitute.

The Spanish international tossed his warm-up bib over his shoulder, in the general direction of manager Jose Mourinho.

The 2 Robbies and Rebecca Lowe talked about the incident on USA after the match.

[ MATCH RECAP: Spurs 0-0 Chelsea ]

Pedro started up top for the Blues, while Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were among Chelsea’s subs.

At this point, it seems Chelsea could be looking in a different direction come January’s transfer window. If he goes, there will be plenty of transfer speculation as to who could take his spot.

Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Chelsea

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LONDON — Chelsea and Tottenham played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho set their teams up to be difficult to beat and although Harry Kane and Eden Hazard went close, a draw was a fair result in the London derby.

Here’s three things we learned from the Lane on Sunday.


With Diego Costa dropped to the bench, those rumors of Jose Mourinho searching for an alternative striker to arrive in January where further fueled on Sunday. In his place Eden Hazard started up front with Pedro, Oscar and Willian in a false nine formation. To a degree, especially in the first half, it worked a treat as Hazard made diagonal runs in-behind Spurs’ defense and searching balls from Willian and Cesc Fabregas found him on multiple occasions.

The formation made Chelsea unpredictable and more stable as a defensive unit. Mourinho hasn’t used this ploy in the PL since April 25 2015, when his side went to Arsenal and ground out a 0-0 win with both Costa and Loic Remy out injured. On that occasion Oscar played in the higher role but Hazard wandered around up top on occasions. On Sunday, Hazard stretched Spurs’ backline and didn’t allow their defenders a moments peace. As for Costa, he cut a frustrated figure as he warmed up late in the second half alongside two teenagers, Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both of those players came off the bench but Costa did not as his angry reaction at being given instructions by Mourinho (plus him appearing to throw his substitute bib at Mourinho on Sunday) during Chelsea’s midweek UEFA Champions League win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv seems to have cost him his starting spot.


Starting up front on his own on, Hazard was given a tough task against Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld but he put in one of his best displays of the season, if not his best. He battled in the air and won his fair share against two, often three, defenders. Hazard chased back, made intelligent runs into the space behind the defense and had chances to score. In the first half he bent a beautiful ball out wide with the outside of his right foot and then timed his run into the box to perfection, sending his header just over.

In the second half he met a looping cross with a beautifully cushioned left-footed volley across goal which Hugo Lloris saved superbly. He was pulling off flicks and tricks with ease and on this showing the reigning PFA Player of the Year from the 2014-15 campaign was relishing his role in leading Chelsea’s fluid, energetic offensive quartet. Hazard isn’t quite back to his best but he’s getting there and was the best player on the pitch on Sunday.


Both dressed in smartly tailored coats with their hands in their pockets standing on the edge of the technical, Pochettino and Mourinho’s similarities were not only visible in their pitch-side demeanor but in the way their teams played on the pitch on Sunday. When Pochettino was pondering a move to Southampton in the Premier League back in January 2013, it was Mourinho who not only recommended him but was the man who gave Tottenham’s boss advice on coaching in England. The duo have different playing philosophies they preach to their players with Pochettino’s high-pressing style a sub-product of Marcelo Bielsa but on Sunday it was difficult to tell the two teams apart — Kane’s early chance set the tone for this encounter with him clattering into Asmir Begovic after Danny Rose‘ teasing cross — as both sets of players flew into challenges and tried to force the issue with quick counters.

Perhaps that is a bigger compliment to Pochettino than Mourinho, as the 43-year-old Argentine coach has turned Spurs into genuine top four contenders this season, while Mourinho’s Chelsea dug deep but lacked composure in the final third. Almost 10 years younger, it’s not hard to imagine that Pochettino could one day replace Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Given their jovial attitude towards one another on the sidelines in a heated London derby, Pochettino would get Mourinho’s approval as his mission to turn Spurs into a top four team continues to move in a positive direction.

Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Chelsea: Chances without reward at White Hart Lane

during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.
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Sunday’s early morning London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane saw a lack of finish, as the Blues and Spurs drew 0-0.

Spurs stay fifth, with 25 points, while Chelsea moves up a spot to 14th with 15 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Starting up top for Diego Costa, Pedro made a razor-thin run through the Spurs back line, but the through ball’s timing was off.

Asmir Begovic knocked down a tricky, low, bouncing shot from Harry Kane as the game hit 18 minutes.

Eden Hazard leapt above Jan Vertonghen to head a looping cross from Oscar just over the goal. And Pedro had a chance deflected over goal moments later.

It was Spurs’ chance to score off a cross in the 27th minute, but Son Heung-min’s header of a Harry Kane pass was well-parried by Begovic. Then Mousa Dembele forced the Chelsea keeper into a stretching horizontal save for a corner.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

The second half’s opening stages left plenty to be desired, with little happening aside from some questionable challenges. An injury to Ryan Mason brought Erik Lamela on for Spurs.

A 1-2 saw Lamela spring Son for a 64th minute chance, but Begovic was again there for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard smashed a volley on goal in the 67th minute. The superb cross came from Branislav Ivanovic, but Hugo Lloris was positioned to slap Hazard’s shot wide.

Costa did not enter the game, and comically tossed his warm-up bib over his head in the direction of Jose Mourinho. Like the chances in this match, it missed its mark,

Watch Live: West Ham vs. West Brom (Lineups, Live Stream)

during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on February 14, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.
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West Brom looks to build on its win over Arsenal as it continues a tough run of games with a visit to the Boleyn Ground to face West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

The Baggies have faced Leicester City, Manchester United and the Gunners in their last three matches, and start with Saido Berahino and Rickie Lambert on the bench.

It’s Diafra Sakho up top for the Hammers, as West Ham would like to get back on track after picking up just one point in its last three.



West Ham United: Adrian, Jenkinson, Reid (c), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Obiang, Kouyate, Zarate, Lanzini, Moses, Sakho. Subs: Spiegel (GK), Tomkins, Song, Cullen, Antonio, Carroll, Jelavic.

West Bromwich Albion: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans, Morrison, Fletcher (c), Yacob, McClean, Sessegnon, Rondon. Subs: Lindegaard; Gardner, McManaman, Lambert, Anichebe, Berahino, Chester.