Major League Soccer’s mid-season Coach of the Year: Caleb Porter

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When Ryan Johnson arrived in Portland from Toronto, people questioned the Timbers trading the SuperDraft’s third pick in a deal for what was seen as an average Major League Soccer forward. Will Johnson’s acquisition was applauded, but he wasn’t an All-Star, while Michael Harrington had been sitting on the bench in Kansas City. None of these were franchise-saving players for the Timbers.

Under Caleb Porter, however, those players are enjoying the best years of their careers. So is Diego Chará. And Rodney Wallace. Go ahead and add Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury to that list. And in Donovan Ricketts, the first year coach has returned a former top keeper to his best.

The across the board improvement in individual performances was one of the major argument in Frank Yallop’s favor as the former San Jose boss won last year’s Coach of the Year honor. Whatever combinations the Earthquakes head coach had come up with, they were translating into not only wins but also career years for almost his entire squad. While team results and individual stats are often confounding, they’re each places where you can see a coach’s influence.

Caleb Porter’s influence is usually described in terms of style, and with his want to maintain possession, move the ball quickly, press high after turnovers, and accept risk at the back while doing so, Porter has his team play differently than possibly any previous MLS team. But there are no figure skating judges awarding points for artistic merit.  Portland’s progress can be seen in their league-low two losses, their league-best plus-11 goal difference (even with Real Salt Lake), and their seemingly 180-degree turn around from a year ago.

And although it shouldn’t matter when we’re assessing Porter’s awards potential, we shouldn’t forget the skeptics that’d lineup up outside of Nashville, distraught after the then-Akron boss failed to qualify the U.S. U-23s for the 2012 London Olympics. The team’s failure to reach even the final round of qualifying was seen as an indictment of Porter, perhaps appropriately so. Ultimately, Porter’s one loss in nine games as U-23 coach was what people remembered from his first coaching foray outside Ohio.

In Major League Soccer, Porter has found quick redemption, but don’t use this as a reason to overlook Jason Kreis’s notable results in Sandy. Don’t take Schellas Hyndman for granted, and Marco Schällibaum deserves his share of credit at Stade Saputo.

But right now, Porterball is living up to the hype – expectations so lofty that Porter deserves recognition as the first half’s best boss.