Caleb Porter probably doesn’t see himself as defining Portland’s 2013 campaign, though if he does, he certainly won’t sell us. The first-year Timbers boss has preached a narrow-minded focus that’s consistently kept his team’s eyes on the next game. For him to pull back and look at what he’s done for the entire Portland organization would be an act of hypocrisy.
For all the qualities you can ascribe to Porter, inconsistency is not one of them. The confidence he’s radiated from the day of his unveiling has translated onto the pitch. Once there, the Timbers tied a record for fewest losses in a 34-game season (five), playing with a commitment to progressive soccer that’s way that’s helped build Porter’s mounting reputation. Ball on the ground and players in motion, the Timbers quickly made their Army forget their misgivings about John Spencer’s dismissal.
Writing for Overlap Magazine, Ives Galarcep seems to have been there the whole way. From his piece in the magazine’s latest edition:
IT’S HALFTIME OF THE FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON and of Caleb Porter’s professional coaching debut. A barrage of early goals has put the New York Red Bulls ahead, 3–1. The sellout crowd at Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field is just a little less loud than usual. As Porter walks down the tunnel and into the locker room, he’s formulating his half-time talk.
“I’m a student of psychology and I knew how important that speech was, and how important it was to send the right message in the first game,” Porter will tell me later. “It isn’t always about just screaming at players. You have to get them to believe and buy into what you want them to do.”
There would be plenty of time for screaming at his players. Today, he’s trying to build their trust.
“I’m not a betting man,” he tells his dispirited team during that talk, “but if I were, I would bet everything on you coming back in this game.”
The Timbers did come back, drawing the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners, 3-3.
Fast forward seven months, and Porter’s celebrating a high point – his first win over Cascadia rivals Seattle:
On a perfect night in October, Porter exits Jeld-Wen field through a door on the east side of the stadium and begins walking. Usually, after a game, he drives straight home. But tonight his Timbers have beaten their arch-rival, the Seattle Sounders, in what will probably stand as the sweetest victory enjoyed by Timbers fans since joining MLS. Porter is going to meet some friends for a celebratory beer near the stadium.
The three-block stroll to Kell’s Irish Pub takes a while. Porter is met by grateful fans who thank him. They’re happy about the win, yes. But they’re grateful for something bigger: Porter has imbued their team with heart, with toughness, and they want to let their coach know how much they appreciate him. Porter lets them know that the feeling is mutual.
“I really want to bring a winner for them,” Porter had told me back in March, referring to Portland’s famously devoted fans. “Every single game, they give everything, so I want to make them happy.”
There’s much more in Galarcep’s piece, one that tracks Porter from MLS player to college coach, from his failure to qualify the U.S. for the 2014 Summer Olympics to a possible Coach of the Year season in Portland.