Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Caleb Porter will coach the Timbers, will not have to play El Salvador

Welcome to the big show, Caleb.
Merritt Paulson has the attention span of Bobcat Goldthwait, so it only makes sense that those Twitter lambastings about Gavin Wilkinson finally sunk in. And here we have Caleb Porter, he of recent U23 failure. Welcome to MLS our newest coach and Portland's third since joining MLS. It smells like baked beans in here.

The facts:

— Porter is 37. He's been coaching at Akron since 2006 and has an obscene record of 106-17-14 on the college level. That is not a typo. Welcome to college soccer.

— In the last 10 years, Schellas Hyndman is the only other college coach to jump straight from college to MLS. He's enjoyed a fair bit of success, but he also had a lot more experience than Porter. If you can spot another I'd love to know who he is.

— Porter built a cozy pipeline to MLS. Perry Kitchen, Darren Mattocks, Darlington Nagbe, Steve Zakuani and Teal Bunbury are all his products. There are more still.

The opinions:

— College is so very different from MLS life that, as I discussed briefly with Nutmeg Radio on Twitter today, there is no precedent for Porter's move. In most situations that tends to be a negative, because as the Supreme Court could relay, precedents are hard things to set. Hyndman has had success, but he was also older when he came into the league and had faced his share of adversity at SMU. Where is Porter on that scale?

— In a results-based U23 tournament format, Porter said after the El Salvador game: "You can't measure success always on results." If we're on the training ground at de Toekomst? Sure. At Olympic qualifying? No. That's nonsense. In competitive fixtures (especially in international tournaments of some regard) its one of the only things to judge.

— Don't get too hung up on Porter's record at Akron. It's impressive (very impressive), but it's also a skewed metric that has no bearing on his ability to succeed in MLS. College soccer is notoriously bereft of parity, which is a brick wall that waits for Porter in MLS. The women's game is much worse (if you want proof go check out Anson Dorrance's record at UNC), but it's there in the men's game as well. Porter's salary was north of $300,000 and Akron was a rich team in collegiate soccer terms. They played on a slanted field, essentially, where Porter could toss out wingers like Zakuani and strikers like Bunbury and his opponents had to grin and bear it. Yes, Porter did his deed in helping to get Akron to that place, and for that he deserves praise. A lot of praise. But then you still run into the fact that the resources at his back and the players at his disposal made life considerably easier than he'll ever have it in MLS.

— And where this thread ultimately leads us is here: How valuable are those college program-building skills in MLS? How many cross over and how many will he leave in Ohio? Portland is firmly a middle/upper middle-table team in terms of investment, meaning Porter will have to, in some small way, coach 'em up first and rely on a shrewd scouting eye second. Can he do this? Of course. He got good players to Akron somehow. But he'll have to do it on a leash now. Jury is out. He's obviously a good coach on a baseline level, and that should carry him through some rough patches. But how good of a coach is he? His level of talent was able to mask it at Akron.

— The bottom line here was that Wilkinson could not stay and Porter was a hot name. That, to me, was all the endorsement a knee-jerk guy like Paulson needed to yank the ripcord. I'm interested to see how Porter responds because he is a true pro coaching tabula rasa. The essence of my point is that we don't know yet. Portland fans will be cautiously optimistic because they see his history with Nagbe and his desire to implement the 4-3-3 and they will cheer. And that's okay. But it's also okay to see some troublesome signs, some things that lead you to scratch your chin questioningly like a U23 campaign that recently went off the rails.

In any case, I hope he succeeds. Portland is a fantastic place to play soccer, and MLS needs that market in the playoffs consistently. Can Porter get them there? Hopefully Paulson 1.) leaves enough pieces at his disposal to work with once he gets there in time for 2013, and 2.) Gives him more time than he gave Spencer. I'm not sure about either.

- Will Parchman


jon said...

"so it only makes sense that those Twitter lambastings about Gavin Wilkinson finally sunk in. "
I know about the recent twitter firestorm (which for the record drew a "meh" from me and I'm not even in Wilkinson's corner) but I don't know what the above sentence means.

Anyway, MP and GW have said all the right things since the announcement and this Timbers fan is cautiously optimistic. And Porter seems to have at least said the right things regarding what he learned form the Olympics failure. It is very interesting that they consulted Porter on the recent GK trade (which I didn't care for -- though Rickett's distribution is pretty awe-inspiring) and apparently MP took in a few road games with Porter by his side. I honestly don't think it's MP crushing on the current hotness so much as MP wanting a coach he thinks will develop his young team à la Jason Kreis.

J.D. Springer said...

Wonder how the kids at Akron feel about Porter leaving now. This is another illustration of why college athletes should have less restrictive transfer rules.

Jay said...

Well, then the kids at Akron can learn what the basketball and football players experience on a regular basis. If one long-term effect of a stable MLS is a stronger coaching pool in the college ranks, I'll take that as a positive. Having those opportunities is good for the coaching pool, and good for the pool of players going to college. And if there's a coach good enough, sure, bump him up to the pros.

Now, the devil's advocate position on the matter would be to suggest that Porter is the John Calipari of college soccer. Rides star talent to titles in the college ranks, but when the stakes are higher, he's a no-show. Now we'll find out.

Will Parchman said...

A Nick Saban analogy might also become appropriate...

dikranovich said...

in the famous words of nicks father lou, "they are killing me whitey, they are killing me."

Bill said...

We will see how the new coach adjusts to pros. Although I do not understand why, literally right off the bat, Porter blandly states at his first press conference in Portland, that Kris Boyd would be a player who unlikely fits into his system. Boyd is a fine player.
We will see how the season goes.

Unknown said...

Oh, the difference a year it asshole...RCTID!!!