Michael Harrington was a key addition ahead of the 2013 MLS season. After being selected third overall out of North Carolina by Kansas City in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, Harrington went on to be a core part of their squad for six seasons. Acquired by Portland in the offseason via trade, Harrington joined the likes of Donovan Ricketts, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri as key new players to the team.
Already an accomplished veteran MLS presence, Harrington had a career year in 2013 with the Timbers hitting personal highs for games and minutes played, leading the team with 2,951. He also featured in 14 of the club's 15 shutouts during the regular season, and helped the club set an MLS single-season record with 11 home shutouts during the regular season and helped the team to the best regular-season record in the Western Conference as the Timbers qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in their MLS history.
Now returned to North Carolina, Harrington checks in about what made that 2013 season special and what he remembers most from his time with Portland.
After a 12-year professional career, you retired just last year. Where’s home for you currently and what have you been up to now that you’ve stepped away from playing?
I went back to the Raleigh, North Carolina, area to play one final season with the USL team here – North Carolina FC (NCFC). Really, that move was to continue playing, which I wanted to still do, but also get myself back to an area that, number one, is close to home – my parents still live in Greenville – and to move back to where my roots are in soccer. My youth club roots with CASL, which is now NCFC; I played there as a youngster. And I went to school at Chapel Hill. I just felt like it made a whole lot of sense, for me.
I’ve known, really since 2013 when I was playing in Portland, I wanted to coach after I was done playing. Caleb Porter had a lot to do with that. Just knowing that I wanted to coach, wanted to move back to the area … at the beginning of 2019, I was looking for a job, searching for a coaching opportunity and I ended up reconnecting with Carlos Somoano, who is the head coach at UNC and he encouraged me to finish my degree. I had essentially just two classes left to finish my degree. He made it work so that I could come back in the spring and volunteer as an undergrad assistant for North Carolina and I was able to finish my degree. Come the summer time, we had one of the coaches on staff move on and get a head coaching job and I was able to slide in to that position and be able to join on and be an assistant full-time.
I’ve been doing that full-time now for about a year. I also am doing club coaching as well. I just found out I’ll be doing work with the pre-academy with NCFC in the fall. That’ll be great to work with some of the better younger players in the club. So just doing a lot of coaching and being a husband and a Dad.
This year marks the club’s 10th MLS season. When you think back on your time in Portland, what are moments that stand out for you? Your favorite moments?
Thinking on the field … I scored a goal in preseason game in 2013; pretty decent goal actually, too. So just celebrating that goal in front of the Timbers Army was a cool way to start my career there, my time there. That was a really special moment for me. At that time I was hungry to get back into the fold and become a starting player in the league, become a regular starter. That was a really nice moment for me. I felt like at the end of preseason I had established myself, at that point, as a starter for the team.
Obviously, the entire 2013 season in general. It was just amazing. Coming from where the club was at that time; we hadn’t made the playoffs at that point. And to come into the league and we only lost like five games throughout the whole regular season. It was really, really special. A special moment, for me, also that season was going back to Kansas City. We played Sporting KC – I believe it was in April – we went back to Kansas City and we beat them, 3-2, on the road. A little bit of redemption, for me. I had been there for six years. Just to be able to go back and play there, but also win and in a pretty dramatic fashion – it was a pretty intense game – that was one of my favorite moments.
I’d also say the way we took it to Seattle in the playoffs that year. We beat them at their place and then came back and led, 3-0, at our place and then they scored a couple goals late. All-in-all we kinda kicked their butts a little bit there in that playoff series.
That 2013 season was special, for me.
You were an important member of our 2013 team that helped turn the club around. In particular, the backline that season was very good – 15 shutouts, including 11 of those at home (an MLS record). What do you recall made that defensive group so special that season?
When I look back on that team, what I think made that team and that year, specifically, so special was just the overall hunger of the players that we had, and also the coaches that we had – really just our entire group.
Really when you look at it as a whole, everybody – from the coaching staff to the players – really had a lot to prove. And I think that approach really showed up in our play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And not just the back four, but Will Johnson and Diego Chara in front of the back four and the kinda of work rate, the toughness and tackling ability that those two bring. You also had guys like Rodney Wallace, who was on the front line, putting all kinds of pressure on the opposition’s defenders. That just made the game more predictable for us as a defensive unit. I can’t go without mentioning Donovan Ricketts and the season he had, some of the saves he had. I saw on Twitter not too long ago, you posted highlights of him that season and, obviously, he got Goalkeeper of the Year. I look back and I don’t even remember all of those saves that he made. You think back, “I know he made a couple of good ones, you know” but man, it was crazy how many saves he made that we ended up winning those games or at least tying those games.
I just point to the hunger of the players and the coaches, and I think that really showed up in how we attacked other teams.
Favorite Timbers memory off the field?
The city, in general. I was lucky enough to live right downtown; a very central location right in the heart of Portland. I was really able to experience the city, from all of the great restaurants, the great coffee shops. I really embraced the city and that really, for me, was the big part. Feeling like a part of the Portland culture and enjoying that time there.
Obviously, my teammates as well – great teammates. I still talk to some of those guys today. It was a little more brief than I hoped for, especially after the way it started so well. But I would say that 2013 was probably my career year – the best overall season, the best overall experience as a whole as I had in my professional career.