Caleb Porter is more than a man with a plan—he's a builder with a blueprint.
So go the hopes of the Portland Timbers, who unveiled their new head coach in a morning press conference that introduced the serious and often-reflective Porter, 37, to Soccer City USA four weeks after his arrival in town. One of the most accomplished college coaches in the country, Porter offered this vision of a club that can now officially be called his:
"It's about winning," said Porter, who leaned forward and adjusted his scarf with a slight smile after being introduced by General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. "The most successful teams have continuity, a formula they follow, and a clear identity.
"We'll have a clear formula that we'll follow, and ultimately, every decision we make will be based on the way we're going to be playing."
That new way to play, Porter hinted, involves controlling the ball and dominating possession, and his style—labeled "aesthetically pleasing" by some, he #humblebragged—will require the right players. And no, that doesn't appear to include striker Kris Boyd, who Porter said "will have a hard time playing the way we want to play." Quick to note Boyd could fit nicely elsewhere, Porter went on to describe his system's ideal striker as "a bit more pacey, athletic, powerful..." Yes, that sounds a bit more like Bright Dike, who emerged as a starting forward late last season and whose stock has continued to rise in the offseason. Of course, any system on any pitch could find a use for seemingly emerging superstar and former Akron Zip Darlington Nagbe, a soon-to-be-third-year pro Porter said he expected bigger things from in 2013.
"I know what makes [Nagbe] tick and what buttons to push," Porter said. "My understanding of him and my ability to maybe manage and motivate him the right way will hopefully help—there's a trust there."
And trust me, there's much more after the jump. Go!
Can one get a sense of a coach after a 45-minute press conference? Probably not, but I'll give it a go: Porter seems like a serious guy, perhaps less affable on the surface than Spencer (who isn't?) but certainly just as blunt and reflective in assessing himself, the Timbers and their collective challenges.
Say what you want about Spenny; he was a straight talker—a trait Porter seems to share despite the difference in delivery. Like Spencer might, when Porter was holding back a touch and choosing his words carefully this morning, it was clear as day. And while the phrases "Kris Boyd is obviously contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers...[long pause]" and "Darlington has...[short pause]...progressed" seem innocuous enough when read here, in context and delivery, they were the two most interesting (read: revealing) moments of the presser.
Another word that kept popping up? Hunger.
Wilkinson mentioned it three times in his introduction of Porter, and the new coach made it clear that this day and the many matches ahead are something he's envisioned since retiring from MLS after "a rash of knee injuries" in 2000. With that bit of unfinished business in mind, Porter's longest answer of the day followed a question on what he'd learned from his failure to qualify the United States U-23 National team for the 2012 Olympics. The reflective response included lessons (he prepared an extensive technical report on the program after his departure), a touch of defensiveness (he pointed out the team's 6-1-2 overall record and "tricky" qualifying format) and a bit of philosophy ("I look not at what could go wrong, but what could go right," he said).
Porter pointed out that he'd had other opportunities to jump to the pros, but that Portland was a destination he'd kept tucked in the back of his mind for some time. Admitting he was somewhat "uncomfortable being comfortable at the University of Akron—where he built the Zips into perennial national title contenders—Porter said coaching the Timbers was one of the few gigs that could lure him from Ohio.
"I was ready, antsy, eager for that next step," Porter said. "I felt like I belonged here in Major League Soccer as a coach. I couldn't fully execute the vision I had until I joined the professional ranks."
He said the ever-ardent Timbers Army played a role in his decision, calling Portland home matches a "top-class environment" and its supporters the best in Major League Soccer and, perhaps, North America.
"If I'm going to be a pro coach, I want it to feel like a pro job," Porter said, noting recent signees are eager to play their home matches with the North End behind them. "It's not a tough sell to get players to want to be members of the Portland Timbers."
That statement yielded a nod from Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, who walked into the Timbers' Community Room at Jeld-Wen Field and sat front-row-center, iPhone in hand and red-soled shoes on feet. With a hushed room filled with media awaiting Porter and tapping away at smartphones, Paulson jokingly likened the scene to "a funeral" and assured reporters, "this isn't the [press conference] where we fire the coach."
In fact, it was quite the opposite. And if you listen to Porter, such a scenario isn't part of his master plan.
"My vision is to build the Portland Timbers into a club that is competitive with the top clubs in Major Leauge Soccer," Porter said. "We have a methodology. We have a blueprint in place that will act as our daily road map to get that accomplished."
Full video of presser: