Editor's Note: MLSsoccer.com's long-form series "The Word" goes in-depth with Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter to talk about his journey towards the club's 2015 MLS Cup triumph. In the excerpt below, it begins with the team's failure to qualify for the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs. Including interviews from Porter, his mentor Jerry Yeagley at Indiana, his wife and other colleagues, the story expands to show how Porter reflected on what needed to change following that 2014 match in Texas for the team and for himself both on and off the field. You can read the whole story on MLSsoccer.com.
CALEB PORTER COULDN'T BEAR TO WATCH.
As midnight closed in, Porter paced the empty hallways of the Portland Timbers’ hotel in Plano, Texas, a quick drive south of where a few hours ago his team had beaten FC Dallas in their final game of the 2014 regular season. The Timbers’ playoff fate was in the balance – and out of their control.
More than 2,000 miles away, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Colorado Rapids were in the midst of a high-stakes match that – to the satisfaction of the Timbers players, assistant coaches and staff watching in their rooms – remained scoreless. If Vancouver lost or drew, Portland were in.
Porter paced. The helplessness was more than he could handle.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the game,” he says now. “… so I just walked around the hotel and waited.”
He kept his cell phone close, assuming it would buzz with a text or call once the match at BC Place was final. But as the minutes ticked by and Saturday night closed in on Sunday morning, Porter’s phone remained silent. The message wasn’t lost on him. The season was over.
By virtue of a thundering Kendall Waston header, the Timbers’ Cascadia rivals had claimed the Western Conference’s fifth and final seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs, eliminating the Timbers in the process. Instead of licking his wounds with his staff or commiserating with a loved one, Porter went to his room, turned off the lights and went to sleep.
The next morning the Timbers boarded a plane for Portland, a long offseason of pointed questions and roster shuffling ahead of them. Many of those questions would be asked of Porter, still smarting from the first major setback of his MLS coaching career.
His way had failed. The way that sent the Bloomington Cutters to their first-ever Indiana state title. The way that – as an assistant at Indiana, where his head coach said his drive would “tear the heart out of an opponent” – helped the Hoosiers win a national title. The way that turned unfancied Akron into a national-title winning juggernaut. The way that delivered an MLS Coach of the Year award to his mantel after his first professional season.
This is the story of a man so confident that his way was the way, he’d fight you to defend it. It had brought him this far, scratching and clawing for every inch, working himself silly honing and developing it. If his way wasn’t working – at soccer, at life – then he simply wasn’t working hard enough.
But on that October night in Plano, Porter finally submitted. Then he took stock of his life.
“It took me failing with the playoffs for me to re-evaluate myself, my coaching and my life in general,” he says. “The priorities I had in my life.”
Caleb Porter would have to change.