Darlington Nagbe doesn’t believe he’ll have to sell his Portland Timbers teammates on their new coach, Caleb Porter.
Nagbe played three seasons for Porter at the University of Akron and helped lead the Zips to the 2010 national title, earning the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top player in the process. But Nagbe, whom Portland made the second overall pick in the 2011 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, believes most of the Timbers have heard of Porter.
“A lot of guys know who he is from the U-23s, and they watched some Akron games,” Nagbe said last Wednesday night at UA’s sendoff for Porter at InfoCision Stadium. “They know how he likes to play.
“I thought eventually he was going to be a pro coach. I think he’s going to be one of the best in the league. Portland’s excited to have him. I’m excited to be under him again. He taught me a lot.”
Several former UA stars now playing professionally attended the event for Porter, coupling it with Nagbe’s wedding Saturday in Cleveland. All expressed faith that Porter’s style of soccer will translate to the MLS.
At UA, Porter compiled an .832 winning percentage, fifth-best all-time in collegiate soccer, and took the Zips to the College Cup in 2009 and ’10.
“He’s going to be the same coach he is in college,” said Anthony Ampaipitakwong, now playing professionally in Thailand after a stint in MLS. “He’s going to have the same philosophy of dominant soccer.
“I guess you call it the beautiful game — which is a lot of possession, a lot of passing, a lot of movement. That will be great for the MLS because a lot of teams in the MLS play direct. His style of play will complement whatever team he has.”
Michael Nanchoff, a Walsh Jesuit graduate who also played for the national champions, said some might be skeptical about Porter. In the 19-team MLS, Porter, 37, is just the fifth coach hired directly from college in the league’s history.
“There are always doubters out there, but for the ones who believe in his system, me being one and a lot of my old teammates as well, they feel it will work,” said Nanchoff, now with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“I think he’s going to do extremely well because just like he did here at Akron, he carried a professional program at the college level. I think that will translate fairly easily to the professional level. And he’s going to an incredible organization, too.”
In 2012, the expansion Timbers averaged 20,438 fans, the capacity for JELD-WEN Stadium, a former baseball venue that underwent a $40 million renovation.
“The stadium is awesome,” Nagbe said. “It’s downtown. Everything is close in, so when everyone starts screaming and cheering, it’s real loud. It’s the best atmosphere in the league, in my opinion.”
Steve Zakuani, UA’s first No. 1 overall pick in 2009, finished his fourth season with the Timbers’ rival, the Seattle Sounders. Zakuani is convinced Porter can make the transition.
“When he came to Akron he had a vision of what he wanted to do, and he actually accomplished it,” said Zakuani, whom Porter came to London to recruit in 2006. “I think he’ll go to Portland with the same mentality. He knows what he wants. He’s the kind of coach, he knows his direction and he’s going to go for it.
“I do wish him success at Portland, not against Seattle, obviously.”
Kofi Sarkodie reached this month’s MLS Cup final with the Houston Dynamo. Sarkodie said he saw Porter’s character after the Zips lost in the NCAA title game in 2009, then won it the next season.
“If you transfer that into him getting the Olympic job, Caleb is kind of the new and upcoming coach,” Sarkodie said. “He has a lot talent. He’s a great scouter; he sees the game well. When you have a coach who’s young and doing that so early, it really amplifies how much skill he has. I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Nanchoff had one warning for UA fans considering a trip to Portland.
“I’ve played there a couple times,” Nanchoff said. “Bring earplugs because your ears will be ringing.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.