The Portland Timbers are a cherry club in Major League Soccer.
Owner Merritt Paulson is as dedicated as any in the game and the supporters make 21,000-seat Providence Park one of the most intoxicating venues in the league.
So it’s a safe bet, much like the United States men’s national team, that the Timbers will be in fine shape when they find the replacement for their current departed combustible coach.
[ PST SURVEY: Who should be next USMNT coach? ]
In Portland’s case, it’s Caleb Porter. The former University of Akron mastermind left the club on Friday, fueling speculation that he must be in talks to be the next USMNT coach.
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.