When the Portland Timbers hired head coach Caleb Porter in 2012, hopes and doubts abounded. Porter, 37 at the time, had turned the University of Akron’s men’s team into a national powerhouse. But a brief stint coaching the US Olympic soccer team ended in failure to qualify for the 2012 games.
Two years later, some doubts linger. In Porter’s debut season, the Timbers topped their conference and Porter earned MLS Coach of the Year. Then, after a dismal start, the team missed the 2014 playoffs—a high-powered offense undone by a weak and unreliable defense.
As the Timbers take the field again on March 7, we asked soccer pundits—and Porter himself—to grade the performance so far.
“This is a bottom-line business. Ultimately, I’m evaluated on the bottom line. So we were not happy that we didn’t make the playoffs. But the big thing I’ve learned as a head coach is you can’t overcorrect. In my early days of coaching, I overcorrected many times. But as time goes on, the real key is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.... We felt ultimately that we had a few things to correct, but that we were really on track at the end of the year.”—Caleb Porter
“What he built at Akron was not luck. It was a testament to how good he is at developing young talent. Some people look at Caleb as a young, cocky coach. I look at Caleb as very confident, very detailed oriented, and a very deep thinker.”—Kyle Martino, analyst for NBC Sports
“The 2014 team was extraordinary in its ability to pick itself up off the mat, even through the crushing defeats. The players believe in what he’s doing. He’s keeping the locker room intact. The question is whether there’s a pattern of slow starts. That’s something he has to address.”
—Chris Rifer, writer at Stumptown Footy
“We know he’s a junkie for the sport. He will work harder than anyone else, or kill himself trying. That’s not always a quality that exists in MLS. You have to live and breathe this league. I think Caleb has got that gene. Any lack of experience, you can make up for with hard work.”
—Alexi Lalas, former US national team icon, analyst for Fox Sports
“The team improved in the course of the season last year. As a coach, that’s a sign that you know what you’re doing. That’s probably been Porter’s biggest strength. The challenge in 2015 is that attractive soccer and winning soccer stay in the same discussion.”
—Matt Doyle, mlssoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst
“He sticks to his guns about what he thinks works. I find that a respectable trait: you have an idea—this is what works—and we’re going to stick with it, come hell or high water. He hasn’t made adjustments maybe as quickly or as carefully as he could have.”
—Greg Lalas, editor in chief at mlssoccer.com (and brother of Alexi)