The Portland Timbers have made it official, announcing the hiring of New York Cosmos architect Giovanni Savarese as the successor to Caleb Porter.
Savarese, 46, led the Cosmos to three NASL Championship Games in his first run as a manager, following a playing career that included stops at Millwall, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Swansea City. He attended Long Island University, and was capped 30 times with 10 goals for Venezuela.
He’s an intriguing hire for Portland, who won an MLS Cup but suffered from inconsistency under the highly-regarded Porter (twice missing the playoffs but twice earning the West’s No. 1 seed). While the Cosmos regularly spent well, Savarese navigated the uncertain waters of a nascent league with regular success.
“I am both excited and proud to become the head coach of the Portland Timbers, and this is an ideal fit and outstanding opportunity for me as I take the next step in my coaching career,” Savarese said. “The passion, ambition and support surrounding this club is truly inspiring, and I am sincerely honored and grateful for this opportunity to lead it on the pitch and to build on the club’s history of success for the community and the incredible supporters of the Portland Timbers.”
The hiring has been rumored for some time. Though Savarese was loyal to the Cosmos, the NASL’s future has been hung in the hands of the legal system for some time due to a bold lawsuit against U.S. Soccer Federation. The NASL contends that the relationships between the USSF, Soccer United Marketing, United Soccer League, and Major League Soccer have conspired to stop the NASL from competing with MLS as a D-1 league.
Porter’s name has been raised for some time as a successor to Jurgen Klinsmann or Bruce Arena and, at the risk of becoming a Cold Takes Exposed case, there are myriad reasons to dismiss him from consideration for the gig (which isn’t to say he shouldn’t be a risk-reward hire for another MLS side).
Porter has an MLS Cup Final win as Portland boss, though it should be noted it came in a season the Timbers had to rally to make the playoffs. He’s led the Timbers to two No. 1 seeds in the West, and won a national championship at Akron.
Those are all incredibly positive, but the reasons he’s a risk for a program in disarray are many.
His previous experience with the U.S., leading the Olympic qualifying team, saw a fairly-loaded U-23 fail to escape the group stage of qualifying.
For all their successes, the Timbers twice missed the MLS Cup Playoffs during his five seasons in charge.
Despite it’s low profile prior to its national championship, Akron, was very good before he arrived under Ken Lolla, now with Louisville, and has been quite good since he left under Jared Embick.
This isn’t to say the 42-year-old Porter is not a good coach. That would be foolish, and it would be interesting to see how he’d fare leading an overseas club or other national team.
But his record simply isn’t strong enough to take the reins of the USMNT. As silly as this sounds, perhaps he could’ve been a name to consider should the Yanks have squeaked into the World Cup with Arena. But they didn’t, and risk is not the name of the game right now.
Let’s start with his Portland tenure.
Timbers under Porter
2013* – 1st place, West; 3rd overall; 6 clear of 6th
2014 – 6th place, West; 11th overall;
2015* – 3rd place, West; 5th overall; 6 clear of 7th, MLS Cup champions
2016 – 7th place, West; 12th overall
2017* – 1st place, West; 6th overall; 7 pts clear of 7th
The Timbers may still be alive this season had Diego Chara not been injured in this season’s playoffs, and that should be noted. It should also be mentioned that Portland did not fire Porter, according to all accounts.
Yet it’s difficult to look past that, and it’s not the only argument against the Porter risk.
Let’s not overlook the failure to qualify for the Olympics in 2012, when Porter led a massively talented U.S. roster to third place in Group A behind El Salvador and Canada.
After beating Cuba 6-0, the U.S. lost 2-0 to Canada before drawing El Salvador 3-3. For those wanting to argue it was a weak American cycle of players, the U.S. had the following in the squad: Bill Hamid, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Brek Shea, Joe Corona, Perry Kitchen, Ike Opara, Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, Amobi Okugo, Teal Bunbury, and Jorge Villafana.
Then there’s Akron, where Porter barely lost and recruited a treasure trove of MLS SuperDraft picks en route to his national title. It’s the least point of the bunch, but to hang a hat on that acumen is to ignore that Akron’s been a relative national contender, given its size, for decades, and that Lolla has Louisville humming while Embick has not booting possession since taking over.
There’s a further point to be made regarding personality and Porter’s penchant for touchline drama. Goodness knows half the duty of a national team coach is massaging big egos, and Porter’s self-impression is significant in stature.
Now the U.S. may well hire Porter, and he may right the ship and lead them to a Confederations Cup-clinching Gold Cup win, a Copa America semifinal, and a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal under a potentially Golden Generation.
That’s great. I’ll be very happy to be wrong. But let’s hope the Yanks call upon any number of safer options with international experience or a safer and more tested domestic resume.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A person familiar with the decision confirmed that head coach Caleb Porter has parted ways with the Portland Timbers.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made by the team. The surprise move was first reported Thursday night by FourFourTwo.com.
The 42-year-old Porter has been coach of the Timbers for the past five seasons, compiling a 60-50-52 record and guiding the team to the MLS Cup Championship in 2015. He was named the MLS Coach of the Year after his first season with the team in 2013.
He signed a long-term contract extension with the team in January, 2016.
Porter tied the Major League Soccer record league record for fewest losses through his first 100 games with just 25. This season he coached his 150th game in the league.
The Timbers qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League twice during his time with the team. The Timbers also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2013, his first season with the team
The Timbers finished this season as the top seed in the Western Conference, but fell in the conference semifinals 2-1 on aggregate to the Houston Dynamo. The Timbers were decimated by injuries in the semis, including midfielder Diego Chara, who broke a bone in his foot.
“This is one that hurts for sure. We fell short. We felt we could move on, but we didn’t,” Porter said after the game. “When the dust settles I think we will look back and realize it was a good season, but it’s also a season where you think to yourself `what if?’ `What if we were at full strength?'”
Porter came to the Timbers from the University of Akron, where he was head coach of the Zips from 2006-12. He went to the NCAA College Cup championship game twice during his tenure, winning the title in 2010.
After that loss to Houston to end the season, Porter praised his players.
“One to 25 they were all good guys and there was a great spirit in that locker room. That’s really what made us the team that we were this year. It’s the team and the locker room and the guys’ character,” he said. “So I really enjoyed spending a lot of time in the trenches with these guys. Like I said in a couple days we will realize it was a good season. We made a lot of steps forward this year. We still need to make more steps, but we had a good bounce back from last year.”
Which managers should the USMNT consider to replace Bruce Arena?
PST decided to take a look at five managers worth the USMNT’s attention.
Peter Vermes (Sporting KC)
The former USMNT player is surely one of the names that has been talked about for years now when mentioned in the same breath with the national team job. His resume in MLS speaks for itself, including an MLS Cup title and numerous U.S. Open Cup triumphs.
From bringing out the best in Graham Zusi and Matt Besler to establishing relationships with like young American talents like Erik Palmer-Brown, Vermes has proven that he has the eye for talent, while doing so without spending large amounts of money. His philosophy in MLS has been one of a rarity by not targeting top international talents like Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa.
Tab Ramos (U.S. U-20 national team)
The 51-year-old will likely receive high consideration for the job given his U.S. Soccer standing, and rightfully so. Ramos is widely-considered one of the top midfielders in the USMNT’s history, while playing a role in two World Cups (the first of which came with Vermes in 1990).
The former player knows the inner-workings of the U.S. system and has played an important role in developing some of the country’s top players in the past between the national team academy and even building his own academy based out of New Jersey (NJSA 04).
2017 has been somewhat of an anomaly for Pareja and his FC Dallas side, but make no mistake, this man is highly qualified for the national team job. In fact, he offers something quite useful that could benefit the USMNT greatly if he were to be hired. Not only did Pareja play in MLS for over half-a-decade, but his success in nearly four seasons with FC Dallas, where he also spent the majority of his playing career, is undeniable.
His relationships with hispanic players has helped Dallas become one of the top clubs in MLS on a consistent basis, and he played an influence in goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez making the switch from representing Mexico to playing for the USMNT. Similar to what Jurgen Klinsmann did with dual-nationals, Pareja could do the same.
Caleb Porter (Portland Timbers)
Since 2012, Porter has been one of the foremost targets of the USMNT job among fans and media alike given his relationship with U.S. Soccer and his success since coming out of the ranks of the University of Akron, which has become one of college soccer’s most prevalent schools.
The 42-year-old has already won an MLS Cup with the Timbers and MLS Coach of the Year, making him a prime target for the job because of his ability to find success on multiple levels of the game. Additionally, Porter managed the U-23 national team during 2011 and 2012, however, in the lead up to the Olympics he failed to guide the team to the Summer Games.
Gerardo “Tata” Martino (Atlanta United)
The dark-horse contender on this list for sure, but Martino is realistically the best candidate if you’re strictly looking at his experience and resume. The veteran boss has managed both the Paraguayan and Argentine national teams during his coaching career, leading the former to the quarterfinals in 2010.
He’s managed Spanish giants Barcelona as well, which certainly adds more dazzle to his prior history as a coach, but his short time in Atlanta has already made him one of MLS’ top managers. With the expansion side, he’s not only clinched a playoff spot in the club’s first season, but done so in style with a squad of players that most teams would kill for. There’s no question that Martino has an eye for talent, and perhaps he’ll be able to help grow some of America’s best youth.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.