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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Caleb Porter discusses his leap to MLS

By Marla Ridenour Published: July 7, 2013

Here's more from a telephone interview last week with Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter. In his return to Ohio Sunday in Columbus, the former University of Akron coach lost 1-0 to the Crew.

Q: How do you feel about where your team stands?

A: We’re entering a pretty exciting time because we have a chance to do something that’s never been done and that’s make the playoffs. We’re two games away from winning the Open Cup. We’re forging new ground and that’s very exciting for myself and the players. It gives you a lot of reinforcement that we’re on the right track. But we’re also staying really humble. We know as well as we’ve done we’ve still got another half of the year.”

Q: Do you see your system is working?

A: "Coming into this year, we wanted to evolve our club into a winning club. You never know if that’s going to mean always getting wins. Certainly didn’t expect getting as many as we have been. I was confident that we could make steps in the right direction in changing the culture and getting our philosophy in place. We knew we’d have more talent, a good group of guys. It’s nice to be at mid-season sitting where we are. Streak I’m not really thinking about. What’s interesting in professional coaching it’s all about points. It’s very clear, even more clear than in college where you stand. That’s been refreshing, compared to the RPI, you never know where you stand, it’s not an exact science. You’re at the mercy of the committee people and a math formula. That’s been nice.

"Even though we’ve gone 15 games unbeaten, we’re not satisfied, which is great. It reinforces that there’s a lot of belief in the locker room, this team expects to win games home or away, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. They understand they won’t win unless they perform and yet they do believe they’re one of the better teams in the league and they’re staring to believe we have a chance to do something special this year and hopefully win trophies, which this club has never done in the MLS era."

Q: Was it difficult to get them to buy in?

A: "The buy-in was pretty quick. I didn’t come in acting like I knew it all, and yet I tried to be very clear in expressing that I had a blueprint, that I had a formula, that I had a methodology. I wouldn’t be rolling it out on day one, but slowly they would understand what I want through training and through the messages I was going to be giving them every day. I tried not to overdo it. I tried to slowly evolve the club by making the right moves and getting the culture right and surrounding them with organization and professionalism. We’re six months in and we’ve seen a ton of progress. Because we’ve gotten results, we’ve got a team that really believes and has completely bought in."

Q: What's been the toughest part of the transition?

A : "Honestly in some ways I feel more comfortable, more at home at this level because I don’t have to sweat the small stuff. I enjoy mentoring and teaching college-age kids, not only in soccer but in life. But I love the fact I can focus 100 percent on football and that I’m leading me. Because they’re professionals I don’t have to babysit them or hold their hand on some of the little things. Pros just know or they don’t have a job. I can be more concise and simple, I don’t have to beat a dead horse.

"I can come in, make my points, organize ‘em, and I can trust they’re going to be professional, eat the right things, take care of the right things. They’ll absorb the tactics and little bit quicker, and I don’t have to worry about them going to class or getting in trouble. It keeps my head clearer because I can really dive into the training, the scouting, the team-building, the game-planning.

"The biggest transition has been the media. There’s so many media. There’s three or four times the amount of things I have to do with the media. I talk to a scrum every day. Interviews, TV. At first it was a lot to handle. It’s been more the amount and the exhaustive nature.

"It’s great because people care. They’ll dissect everything you say, every move you make. They will analyze and poke holes in everything you do tactically after games. You have to have thicker skin. You’re much more under a microscope in everything you do. It’s always been a strength, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

Q: You seem to be adapting your style to your personnel.

A: "I don’t do that. In college I could play the way we wanted to play. We were so dominant I didn’t need to be so adaptable. In the pros I knew our philosophy would be clear, it would be very similar to how we did things at Akron. But it would be much more pragmatic and adaptable game to game depending on the opponent. At the pro level the disparity between talent, teams and coaching is much more even.

"We’re still a possession team. We’re still a high-pressure team. We’re a team that wants to be in the front half. I believe we lead the league in possession. We lead the league in goals scored (28). We’re very attack-oriented, possession-oriented team. There are times we go a bit more direct because we have to. There are times we don’t press, it’s unrealistic to press for 90 minutes when you’re managing 34 games, a nine-month season and very compacted schedules. You can’t be naïve and you can’t be stubborn."

Q: What do you like most about the job?

A: "The fact that I’m working with me ages 20-35, players who play for their national teams, it’s a big rush to organize them and take them into games. And then the magnitude of being in games where there’s 20,000, 30,000 fans, it puts more relevance and more buzz on what you’re doing.

"I’m still the same guy, I’m still focused on the same things. There’s subtle tweaks I’ve had to make, when you lead different people you lead in different ways. I’m stimulated every day. I’m just happy."

Q: What are the crazy Portland fans like?

A: The fans are thirsting for a club that is successful. They haven’t had that. It’s exciting to be part of that and it’s exciting to be part of this league because the league is growing. The soccer’s getting better, the fan support is getting better. The wave of momentum, there’s a swell of passion. I feel like I jumped on board at a really good time. It’s exciting to be a part and also play a part in growing this league and being a part of the passion in this country for soccer.

"I miss the people at Akron, I miss my friends, the people I worked with, even players who are still there. But it was time. It reinforces it was time because I was ready for a new challenge and I’m certainly getting that challenge here."

Q: Have you had any special victories?

A: "The first win was special, at home against Houston Dynamo, they've been in MLS championship back to back years. Our first road win was probably for me a pivotal moment in this club’s era because we beat Kansas City on the road, it was a back and forth game, they were Open Cup champions last year, at the time they hadn’t been scored on at home; I believe they were undefeated at home. We beat them 3-2, that was a huge result, that gave us a ton of belief that we could compete against anybody."

Q: How is your family handling the move?

A: "They’re loving it. We found a nice spot in Lake Oswego. It’s a family-oriented community. We live on a cul-de-sac and there’s six families that live on the same street. Every day it’s like a playground with all the kids riding bikes and skateboards, that’s been great for my kids and it’s good for my wife, too, because there’s other moms in the neighborhood. They can hang out and talk; I’m gone a lot.

"We’re an hour and a half from the ocean, an hour from Mount Hood. You get a little of everything. We spent last weekend at the Pacific Ocean. We went to the Haystock Rock where Goonies was filmed. I’m trying to enjoy my life outside of soccer."

Q: Do you wear a suit for every game?

A: I kind of mix it up. I’ve worn a tie most games, but not every game. I’ve not worn a sport coat every game. That’s a bit of the norm (in the MLS).

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