All-Star: Caleb Porter eyes icon Pep Guardiola, but forges his own coaching path
PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Porter hasn’t exactly strayed far from the spotlight since he took over as head coach of the Portland Timbers ahead of the 2013 season.
His supreme confidence and high-flying on-field philosophy have made him one of the most talked-about coaches in MLS. The results followed, as well, in leading the Timbers to their first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs as the Western Conference regular-season champion and to a 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League berth.
This week, Porter will once again step under the spotlight as the head coach for the MLS All-Star team when they take on world powerhouse Bayern Munich on Wednesday at Providence Park (6:30 pm PT; ESPN2/Unimas).
He may have been handed the honor only due to the fact that Portland is serving as the host city, but it’s a still a chance for Porter to showcase his highly respected and brash coaching style to an international audience – and face off against a man he holds in the utmost respect, Bayern’s Pep Guardiola.
“Any time you can work with top-level players you get better,” Porter said after a recent Timbers training session. “This is another opportunity and experience that hopefully I’ll grow from and draw from for the future. Every situation is different.”
This situation, however, will be a short one.
After Porter coached the Timbers to a 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Saturday afternoon at the StubHub Center, he returned to the Rose City, where he’ll lead the All-Stars in just two training sessions before Wednesday’s game. It will only be an exhibition. But when it comes to Porter, nothing is too light-hearted.
Porter has said in the past that as as soon as the All-Star week begins he’d start thinking about lineups, strategy, how he’d run training sessions and everything else that goes into game preparation.
“It just gets your wheels turning, and when you get your wheels turning and you’re out of your comfort zone in a situation you’ve never been in, you get better and you grow,” Porter said. “And I look at all those things as a positive.”
Another positive, clearly, will be the chance to measure himself against Guardiola.
A legend at just 43 years old - only four years Porter’s senior - Guardiola left a lifetime of accomplishments as Barcelona’s head coach to lead Munich to four titles – UEFA Super Cup, Bundesliga, Club World Cup and DFB-Pokal – during the 2013-14 season.
“I like the way he leads, I like the way he interacts with his players, I like the fact that he’s hands on and passionate and he runs the trainings,” Porter said. “I like the fact that he’s a guy who gets the most out of his players. He’s a player’s coach, you can see that. Guys seem to play for him, and that kind of fits my style, as well.”
And while Porter said there are certain aspects about Guardiola’s style that interest him, he doesn’t attempt to mirror him completely.
“In theory, if it was as easy as just taking someone’s philosophy and system and just duplicating it, then everybody would play like Barcelona,” Porter said. “And that’s just not realistic. You’ve got to look at your team, you’ve got to look at your league, you’ve got to look at your opponents in your league and you’ve got to be adaptable.”
It’s why Porter has said his philosophy at the University of Akron, where he won the 2010 national title before coming to Portland, differs from how he approaches the professional game. The same is true, he said, with the US U-23 national team, which Porter led in a failed 2012 Summer Olympics qualifying bid.
He said his philosophy is a derivative of a lifetime of soaking in the game and researching what it is to lead. A voracious reader and researcher, especially when it comes to different philosophies of the game, Porter is just as likely to talk psychology as he is tactics.
“I think the key is, every top coach has a system that they work from, they have a methodology that they work from, they have a starting point,” Porter said. “And you can see it, it’s very clear. When you watch these teams, you watch some of these coaches who have been around and won games, you can pretty much see over time how they put their teams together.”
To be fair, how Porter puts the All-Star team together will have little to no effect on the trajectory of his career. Those judgments will come with subsequent MLS seasons and US Open Cup and Champions League campaigns. So far, Porter has yet to lead the Timbers to any hardware, but he’s just getting started, with the All-Star Game representing an appropriate way for Portland to show off a coach they hope builds his own legend in due time.
“I feel like I was meant to be at this level,” Porter said. “I’m enjoying every day. Obviously every day isn’t easy, but I didn’t take this job for it to be easy. If I wanted it to be easy, I’d be at college right now or coaching a club team. I’m going to be a coach for a long time.”