Timbers

Overlap Magazine chronicles the MLS rise of Caleb Porter

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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.

The piece is available right now at NBCSports.com. You can also subscribe to the magazine through iTunes.

Portland vs. Real Salt Lake: Another Timbers boogeyman to kill

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Most of Caleb Porter’s post-match press conferences are pretty boring, and in that way, he’s no different than almost every coach in Major League Soccer (if not the entirety of professional sport). Occasionally you work with coaches that seem to love a microphone more than the training ground, but the Timbers’ boss isn’t one of them. He’s polite, confident, talkative and direct, but he’s not an entertainer. And he’s not somebody that’s going to reveal anything he doesn’t have to.

Yet in the wake of Portland’s Sunday win over the rival Seattle Sounders, Porter used a moment’s digression to reflect on the Timbers’ rise, recalling an anecdote from last year to highlight the change he seeks in the Timbers-Sounders dynamic.

From Sunday’s post-match press conference:

One of the things I realized today, prior to the game, is that a year and a week ago, I was sitting on the couch, (and) a couple months prior I had been named head coach. I was getting ready to watch the Timbers play Seattle at Seattle. Alexi Lalas texted me — and I hadn’t made any comments; I hadn’t been [presented as head coach] officially — and he said “Do you have anything to comment on about the game?”

I said one thing. I said “the Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders.” That was no disrespect to Seattle, and it really wasn’t about the game that day. It was about the future.

There’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should a legitimate contender. We should be capable of beating the Sounder and [it not] being a miracle.

So it think it’s very satisfying a year later here we are, getting results and getting points against the Sounders. I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club.

It’s a great clip, and it speaks to the unique dynamic between the Pacific Northwest’s epicenter and its fiercely independent sibling to the south. But it also slightly mischaracterizes the dynamic between the teams. After all, Portland did go 1-1-1 against Seattle in 2012, the same record they have this year. That’s not exactly dark into light stuff, there. Portland won Cascadia Cup last season.

If there is a team the Timbers have particularly struggled with, it’s the one that’s visiting JELD-WEN on Saturday – the team that will fight Porter’s side for supremacy in the West (and potentially the Supporters’ Shield). Now with 53 points, the Timbers are one ahead of Real Salt Lake, a team they haven’t beaten since 2011:

  • That year, Portland’s first in Major League Soccer, they defeated RSL 1-0 on Apr. 20 at JELD-WEN Field, ending an 18-game regular season unbeaten streak Jason Keis’s team carried into that match. Kenny Cooper volleyed home a Kalif Alhassan cross to give the Timbers what’s become and outlying. Though the Timbers would get a 1-1 result to close the year in Utah, that spring victory remains Portland’s only win over RSL.
  • Last year, RSL’s March 31 win in Portland exacted some revenge, with late goals from Jonny Steele and Kyle Beckerman dramatically overcoming a Darlington Nagbe double to give the visitors a 3-2 win. RSL would go on to post 3-0 and 2-1 wins in Sandy to sweep the season series.
  • This year, Real Salt Lake’s dominance has persisted, albeit in a less-overwhelming fashion. During an August stretch that saw the teams play three times in 24 days, RSL won twice and drew once. They knocked the Timbers out of U.S. Open Cup and posting four goals in a game where injuries and suspensions saw Caleb Porter counter Kreis’s diamond midfield with a 3-6-1 midfield overload. Final aggregate score across those three games: 9-6, RSL.

Three years, eight games, and Portland’s won once. They’ve conceded 19 times with a -9 difference. If there’s any team that’s pushed the Timbers around, it’s RSL, not Seattle.

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter has Portland at the top of the Western Confernece, but he still hasn’t solved the Timbers’ Real Salt Lake problem. The franchise is 1-4-3 against RSL since joining Major League Soccer in 2011. Porter has gone 0-2-1 against them this season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

So what’s the secret to RSL’s success? Since John Spencer’s no longer coaching Portland, we shouldn’t read too much into 2011 and 2012’s results. Those were limited, flawed, and mistake-prone teams (as most first and second-year squads are). Perhaps Real Salt Lake’s depth, strength in the middle, and adherence to a consistent approach leaves them particularly predisposed to exploiting those kinds of teams? They know how to execute when opportunities present themselves.

This year, however, it’s more likely the Timbers are on the wrong end of a like-for-like, part of the reason Porter may have been willing to try a six-man midfield in their last meeting. Though the teams’ set-ups are different, their stylistic approaches are similar, meaning if Portland’s well-drilled scheme plans to leverage possession, movement and pressure to gain an edge, they’ll in part have to beat a more-talented team at their own game.

The good news for Portland: They’ve generally been close enough to where a few breaks could turn these results. At least, this year they have. They’re also playing at home on Saturday, where they got their only point of the season against RSL. And while Portland’s squad may not grade out as well if we coming up with ratings for FIFA14, players like Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso and Michael Harrington have been transcending that perception all season. If the Timbers play well, the talent gap could be irrelevant.

Still, RSL has become a boogeyman for Portland, one that’s gotten results out of JELD-WEN before. This Saturday, they’re not only looking for a result. They’re looking for the West’s top seed.

MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

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  • Teams tied for third in Western Conference
  • Portland’s 15-match unbeaten run snapped last week
  • Donovan out, Johnson unlikely to play

Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers appear to have taken their streak-snapping result in stride, their 1-0 defeat in Columbus putting an end to their 15-game unbeaten run. Though they were four games short of history, Portland had yet to become preoccupied with their streak, all of coach and players insisting the run wasn’t a point of conversation within the team.

That they played last Saturday’s game down a man for nearly 80 minutes made the loss that much easier to take.

“It’s not a bad thing to taste defeat,” Porter explained, “we haven’t in 15 games. We’ve had a great run of results, and now that it’s midseason, it’s not all that bad to get bloodied and taste defeat. This team will respond positively from defeat, like good teams do, and I’m looking forward to seeing their response [this] week.”

There is no better test than the defending champs, with the teams meeting Saturday night (11:00 p.m. Eastern) at JELD-WEN Field. Even with Landon Donovan away at the Gold Cup, LA serves as a type of de facto standard. They’re still the team you’d least want to see when they’re in big game mode, as FC Dallas found out on Sunday. If Bruce Arena asks his team to hit fifth gear, the Timbers will face their stiffest test of the season.

Last month, Porter got his first glimpse of the defending champs, Portland getting a 0-0 draw in Carson on June 19. Omar Gonzalez was still away with the U.S. national team, though it didn’t matter. The teams played to a relative stalemate, the Galaxy able to offset the Timbers’ possession game while creating the match’s best chances.

You’d think things would improve for Portland in the snug surroundings of JELD-WEN’s field, but without Will Johnson, the Timbers will be missing their best player. The Timbers captain was back in Portland on Friday, no longer with Canada at the Gold Cup, but he along with Frédéric Piquionne, back from duty with Martinique, look unlikely to play (Rodney Wallace remains with Costa Rica). That means another start for Ben Zemanski beside Diego Chará in midfield, the duo tasked with protecting a central defense that will be without the suspended Pa-Modou Kah.

It’s more opportunity than Robbie Keane, our mid-season MVP, needs to be effective. He and Gyasi Zardes could be more than Futty Danso and Andrew Jean Baptiste can handle, if Portland loses the midfield battle. And with Marcelo Sarvas (who missed the teams’ first meeting) and Robbie Rogers seemingly getting better as their summers progress, LA should be even more formidable through the middle than they were at StubHub Center.

If that midfield holds up and LA gets their second straight win in Portland, the Timbers will have their first major setback of the season – a result that will be a clear indicator of where Porter’s project sits in the Western Conference’s pecking order. A Timbers win, however, will provide validation for the streak they lost, giving them a valuable three points against the standard-bearers in Major League Soccer.

More: LA and Portland each have 30 points, four points behind Real Salt Lake for first in the Western Conference … The Timbers have played one fewer game … Of LA’s seven losses this season, six have come on the road.

MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy

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  • Portland on a 13-match unbeaten run
  • Galaxy have allowed eight goals in their last two games
  • LA took nine of nine points from Portland last season

Remember that one time Caleb Porter lost a Major League Soccer game? Unless you’re a Timbers or Montréal Impact fan, you might not, because that single loss came in the season’s second round, before narratives around the league’s two most surprising teams became entrenched. But now, three-and-a-half months into the season, that March meeting at JELD-WEN looks like one of the more important games of the young season. The East-leading Impact remain the only team to derail Portland, while the Timbers have a 13-match unbeaten run.

If Portland’s to catch FC Dallas’s record of 19 without a loss (set in 2010), they’ll have to navigate a six-match stretch that includes four road games and two meetings with the defending champion Galaxy. But for a team that’d only won two road games in their MLS history coming into the season, games away from JELD-WEN suddenly pose surprisingly few fewer concerns. The Timbers have MLS’s only unbeaten record away from home (2-0-6).

The Galaxy games, however, could reintroduce an element Portland hasn’t dealtwith since the beginning of their run: Doubt. Coming into the year, the Timbers needed to prove their new coach’s concepts would lead to results, something that became evident by the middle of April. Since then the team has pushed on, become a confident, efficient team that’s as capable of opportunistic wins as impressive results. Yet although the Timbers have proved themselves against conference leaders (FC Dallas), league stalwarts (Dom Kinnear’s Houston), and some of the league’s most talented squads (Sporting Kansas City), the one true benchmark remains.

There is something different about the Galaxy. Two-time league champions, managed by the league’s best coach of all time, possessing transcendant talents like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Los Angeles is a unique challenge no matter the circumstances. The MLS embodiment of Atreyu’s mirror, LA engender doubts in anyone, not just the Timbers. Even without Omar Gonzalez, away on national team duty, the Galaxy are capable of presenting a greater challenge than any team in Major League Soccer. Even if they only sit fifth in the West, if LA decides tonight meeting in Carson’s a big game, recent history says they’re likely to win it.

Whether the Galaxy are capable of flipping the switch right now is a point of concern. Two weeks ago, the team was routed in New England, an embarrassing 5-0 loss that failed to serve as a wakeup call ahead of last week 3-1 defeat in Utah. Without Gonzalez, the team’s allowed eight goals in two games, terrible form to carry into a match against one of the league’s best attacks.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, their weaknesses play into LA’s greatest strength. Depleted by injuries at the back (having lost and Mikael Silvestre and David Horst while Futty Danso left Saturday’s win over Dallas), Portland will be particularly susceptible to a league best counter attack that’s buttressed back-to-back titles. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have done a great job protecting their center backs from other team’s counters, but other teams don’t have Donovan pulling the strings, Keane making the runs. Particularly away from the snug confines of JELD-WEN Field, Portland could see their vulnerabilities exposed.

There is, however the case to be made for Johnson and Chara. As well as the help they get from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, the support they receive as an outlet from Michael Harrington, as well as the disaster insurance that is right back Jack Jewsbury. Look beyond the drawbacks of Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean Baptiste and you see a complete picture that explains why a defense that was seen as a preseason liability has yet to pose a significant problem. The pieces around the men in the middle are compensating for the issue.

And against an LA central midfield that’s failed to assert itself this year — one that will be without Marcelo Sarvas (suspended, yellow card accumulation) — Portland may be able to claim another result. Without his partner, Juninho will need to find the form he carried through the middle of last season. Given his talents, that only seems like a matter of time, but unless he can pick up his game against a Timbers system that sends numbers at opponents with each change of possession, the Galaxy will have a difficult time springing those nightmare-inducing counters.

Regardless of who wins, we’re like to learn something tonight at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff). If Portland wins and climbs to the top of the West, they’ll send another notice to the rest of the league, claiming as validating result against the league’s standard-bearers. And if LA derails a team that carries a 13-match unbeaten into Carson, it will be affirm their place as the league’s true litmus test, rendering any contenders’ progress irrelevant until they’re tested against the defending champions.

Other notes: Omar Gonzalez will miss tonight’s match while on international duty. José Villarreal is also gone, with the U.S. U-20s, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace, returning from international duty with Coast Rica … Los Angeles took all nine points from Portland last year, scoring five times in the team’s last meeting … Portland have never earned a point in Carson … Brian Rowe got the start last week in Utah. Few Galaxy fans would be upset if he keeps the struggling Carlo Cudicini on the bench … Todd Dunivant returned to full training this week. He could start only his third game in nine … Portland’s unbeaten run is the 10th-longest in MLS history … The run leaves Porter tied with Tom Soehn for the longest streak for a first-year head coach. Soehn did the same with D.C. United in 2008.

Notes from Cascadia: Martins, Akron, road demons and fan focus

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SEATTLE, Wash. — “What,” Santos Laguna attacker Herculez Gomez asked on Twitter. “You can sign ringers for CCL?” Hastaged with “#TheMoreTheMerrier”, even the American abroad was showing some excitement for Seattle’s latest signing.

Nigerian attacker Obafemi Martins touched own at Seattle-Tacoma airport near 5:00 p.m. local time on Friday. A small cadre of reporters met Major League Soccer’s newest designated player, with conversation inevitably drifting to Saturday’s big game.

“[The club] told me and I saw it on Twitter — the rivalry,” Martins said, asked about Seattle and Portland. “I hope we’re going to win tomorrow and I hope to see the game.”

He may do more than just see the game. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid was coy when asked about Martins’ potential involvement on Friday, even if fans see his long trip ahead of a week with Nigeria as a sign he’ll be in uniform.

“[H]e’s eligible for (the 18-man lineup) tomorrow,” Schmid said after Friday’s practice. With Martins still en route from Spain during the Sounders’ morning practice, Schmid elected to take a wait-and-see approach.

“He hasn’t had a chance to train with us yet or get to know the names of his teammates, but what’s really great and encouraging is his desire to want to be here, his desire to undertake the journey and wanting to be part of where we’re at, be part of the rivalry. He knows the importance of the game. I know (sporting director Chris Henderson) has been on the phone with him and talked to him about the importance of the game, and he wants to be part of that. His loyalty is to the Seattle Sounders and I think it’s a good example that he’s showing by the effort that he’s making in getting here.”

source:  Rivalry within the rivalry

It would be a stretch to say the fans will overshadow a derby pitting a Champions League semifinalist and a Cascadia Cup holder, but for MLS fans across the country, the supporter culture that follows Seattle and Portland distinguishes this rivalry.

That’s why a Friday quote from Portland star Darlington Nagbe (right) is both obligatory and, potentially, incendiary:

“Every time we go (to Seattle), our fans are louder than their fans.”

That comment got media attention in both Multnomah and King counties, and rightfully so. As much as Nagbe’s response is a nod to the Timbers Army, it’s a dig at Seattle’s various supporters’ groups – perhaps an unnecessary one.

But to fully know where Nagbe’s coming from, you need to understand four aspects of this rivalry.

  • Fans are always being lauded – “Regarding our fans is always big in our minds,” Schmid said on Thursday. Tthe approach is no less adulatory in Portland, but Merritt Paulson and his team are well-aware of the power of the Timbers Army. From each organization, there are constant nods to the fanbase – signs of acknowledgement and thanks from the club’s brass. Whether it’s Paulson or Adrian Hanauer, Darlington Nagbe or Steve Zakuani, you won’t have to prod long to get a prominent figure to say something nice about the fans. It’s the default response.
  • And the fans are a big part of the rivalry – There’s a reason why so many Seattle and Portland games are on national television. The atmospheres are near-unparalleled, and that translates to broadcasts. It also makes the fans part of the story, which is why almost every interview you heard from Cascadia this week touched on the role of fans. Conduct enough of those interviews and keep tweaking how you ask your questions, you’ll get a comment like Nagbe’s.
  • From a certain point of view, Nagbe is right – By car, Portland’s just is two-to-three hours south of Seattle. It’s an easy trip, which is why the Timbers may have four-digits worth of support in CenturyLink’s north end. Let in before many of their Sounder counterparts, the Timbers’ traveling Army will be have an advantage early. And when they pick their spots right, you’ll be able to hear their chants through your speakers during Saturday’s game.
  • But as with any good rivalry, you see what you want For the most part, Seattle fans will out shout Portland’s on Saturday. And they should. They’ll likely out-number their competition 39-to-1. But the Timbers fans deserve credit for getting some of their shouts through, just as Seattle’s traveling support is also able to find a few moments’ glory during their ventures to Portland. If you’re Nagbe and  looking at things from the Timbers’ point of view, you’ll remember the times when the TA’s songs came through in Seattle. But a Sounders fan wouldn’t be wrong to focus on the times their chants echo through Jeld-Wen.

source:  First of many Akron reunions

With former University of Akron players sprinkled throughout the league, ex-Zips boss Caleb Porter (right) is in for a series of reunions throughout the season. At some point, he’ll meet up with Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. Perry Kitchen plays for D.C. United. Kofie Sarkodie’s now a starter for Houston.

But Saturday will be something special. Seattle has two ex-Zips, with former MAC Hermann Trophy winner Steve Zakuani expected to start with right back DeAndre Yedlin, who was in Ohio with Porter last fall. Add that to the three Akron players on Portland’s roster (Nagbe, Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff) and five Zips will be in uniform on Saturday.

“It’s weird having so many of the guys in the league at this level doing so well,” Zakuani said. “We were just studying for midterms together two years ago.”

It’s the second time in four months there’s been a mini-reunion in the northwest. Many former Zips were in Portland this winter for Darlington Nagbe’s wedding.

“I’ve known [Darlington] since we were 16 years old when we played in a summer league together back in Ohio,” Zakuani said. ” So I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s my friend.

“I spoke to him a couple of days ago. I was in his wedding.”

Many former Zips stay in touch. Even Yedlin and Zakuani, six years apart in age, had a relationship through the school before they were teammates in Seattle.

“Akron can be something special,” Zakuani said.

With the school set to be well-represented at CenturyLink, the school’s soccer program could be in line for a special Saturday. So could the man who cultivated Akron’s talent factory.

Road demons take a back seat, still linger for Portland

Through their Major League Soccer existence, the Timbers have had two distinct faces. At home, they’ve proven themselves capable of beating anybody, as Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose found out last season. The Earthquakes took only one point from two games at a team that finished eighth in the Western Conference.

On the road, Portland isn’t anywhere near as threatening. In their 34 MLS matches away from Jeld-Wen, the Timbers have won only three times. Their one road win of the 2012 season came on the season’s last trip, a Cascadia Cup-clinching victory at Vancouver.

“One of the things this club needs to do to have a better identity is do better on the road,” new captain Will Johnson told OregonLive.com. Johnson joined Portland this offseason after five years with real Salt Lake.

“The things I’ve found is getting a mentally tough group of guys who will stick together,” Johnson said, asked what it takes to have success on the road. “Who will battle through and weather the storms? If you can get a block (of guys) together and the guys have bought into the fact that, ‘Listen, we’re going into a street fight. This isn’t going to be pretty. It’s not going to be fun, but it’s what we have to do to get to where we want to go.'”

Their last trip to Seattle was Oct. 7, a 3-0 loss in front of 66,452.