Caleb Porter, portrait
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Caleb Porter Q&A, Part Two: Timbers head coach has history in Pacific Northwest

After a fall that saw the new Timbers head coach Caleb Porter staying in near constant contact with Portland general manager Gavin Wilkinson from afar while helping lead the University of Akron Zips through their successful 2012 collegiate season, Porter has since turned his focus solely to his new MLS head coaching position. Freshly arrived in Portland with his family, Porter is eager to start in on the new season.

READ: Caleb Porter Q&A, Part One - the Portland/Akron balancing act, team strategy for 2013 and more

In Part Two, we chat about what it was that made Porter decide to leave for Portland, how the experience of leading the U.S. U-23s national team helped better prepare him as a coach, and how he and his family are quickly settling into their new Stumptown surroundings. Interestingly, the transition is a return to familial roots of sorts given Porter’s childhood connections to logging and the Pacific Northwest. Helming the Timbers may have just been something that was meant to be.

Be sure to visit on Tuesday morning as we introduce Porter in a special live streamed news conference from JELD-WEN Field at 10:30 a.m. PT.

After a successful time at Akron, what do you think was the final selling point in your decision to come to Portland?
Caleb Porter:  My goal has always been to eventually coach professionally in MLS, and there were several opportunities to do so, but I was also in a very good situation at Akron where it would take the right opportunity for me to leave. For me, joining the Portland Timbers was that special type of opportunity.

In my opinion, they have the best supporters in the league, they have a strong infrastructure in place, they have an owner in Merritt Paulson and GM in Gavin Wilkinson who have a long-term vision for the club that was in line with my vision, and it’s a great place to live and raise my family. Ultimately, it was too good of a situation to pass up, and I felt it was the perfect timing and fit for me to make the move. I’m extremely excited to build something special in a community that is thirsting for a winning product on the field that is on par with their passion.

Photo: Getty Images

Your experience coaching the U.S. U-23s national team and the failure to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics was a trying one. But it also kindled a desire for new challenges. What was it about that time—both good and bad—that helped in your decision to move to Portland and MLS?
CP:  What people will always remember about my time with the U-23s is the bottom line, and the bottom line is we did not qualify for the Olympics. This was certainly a high-pressure, high-profile job with a very uniquely challenging qualifying format and I was well aware my body of work was ultimately going to come down to getting a couple of results. That’s international coaching, and at the end of the day, we went 1-1-1 in group play and that meant we didn't qualify.

I take responsibility for my role in this failure and it was devastating, especially considering we were so close to things being so different—we were literally 10 seconds and a routine save away from winning our group and moving on to play Honduras for an Olympic berth. But that’s football. It can be very cruel, and I suffered for some time.

Certainly, this was a very tough pill to swallow, but I believe in a lot of ways that experience prepared me mentally to deal with the highs and lows that are inevitable as a pro coach. Not to mention even though the end result was a disappointment, there were many positive experiences and lessons learned. What people won’t have a perspective on, and I don't expect them to, is that a lot of the process went very well. We had a 6-1-2 overall record (including friendlies) during the five months I was in charge. One result for me that will stick out as a positive reinforcement of the progress we were making, was our 2-0 win versus the eventual Olympic champions Mexico in a friendly. Even more promising was that we outplayed them and controlled the majority of the match.

Also, from a “buy in” and player management standpoint, things were very comfortable. I am confident if you asked the players, they would tell you that they were 100 percent on board and felt they were prepared properly. After the qualifying schedule, I have stayed in touch with many of the players because of the connection we developed.

In saying that, were there things that I would do differently? Yes, of course. As a coach it’s always important to reflect and make corrections if need be. There were many things I learned in those five months that will help me be better prepared to take on this new challenge with Portland. Some of those were things I would do differently, but also there were many things that went well and that gave me even more confidence, hunger and motivation to do positive things in Portland.

Porter sitting on a log, circa 1975

How are you and your family adjusting to your new surroundings in Portland?
CP:  My family and I have truly been loving Portland. A lot of people don’t realize this, but while I grew up in Michigan, I was born in Tacoma, Washington, so in some ways I feel like I’m coming back to my roots. Ironically, my father moved out to the Pacific Northwest in 1974 to work as a logger, and I was born out here in 1975—the same year Soccer City, USA was born with the inception of the NASL Portland Timbers!  

Funny how that all works out sometimes.
CP:  Very much so. My wife and I are thrilled to be living in Portland. It’s a tremendous place to raise a family and there are so many things that have captivated us already: You have the mountains, the ocean, a big city with shopping, restaurants and of course nice neighborhoods with good schools. What more could you ask for?

So far we have been enjoying the food and fine dining in the city a lot. Initially, we were staying in the Pearl District and taking advantage of the convenience of walking to restaurants, pubs, and cafes. The people are very friendly too, which was important to us coming from the Midwest. In such a short time we have already taken in quite a few things over the holidays.  For New Year’s, I drove the family to Lincoln City to stay on the coast for a few days. The view of the ocean was magnificent and the kids loved the fact we could walk on the beach during the winter. That couldn’t happen in Akron! I know my wife is eager to see Mt. Hood at some point. It’s been a fun adventure already to explore all that Portland has to offer, especially since the season will begin soon.

What do you think you will miss most about Akron?
What we will miss most about Akron is our close friends. We developed many friendships over the seven years there and we will miss seeing these people on a regular basis. At the same time, they are all excited to come visit us because they hear such great things about Portland and we also know we will make many friends here as well. It’s always important to maintain a sense of community pride, and one of the things you will always feel from me is an appreciation for the people of Portland. Without paying supporters, I do not have a job and neither do the players, so I feel a responsibility to make sure we entertain the fans. We will continue to earn their loyalty with the product we put on the field. Ultimately, I want to bring a championship-caliber team to this community. I’m very thankful for all the supporters who have embraced me already. I expect this relationship to blossom more and more as time goes on and, of course, as I follow through on my vision to build a winner in Portland.