News & Blogs
Armchair Analyst: Positives and negatives of Porter in Portland
By: timbersfan , 12:16 AM GMT on September 07, 2012
Do you like the Caleb Porter signing for Portland? Because I do.
Here are a couple of positives:
He'll likely keep Darlington Nagbe playing like this. Way back in February, everybody in Timbers camp assured me that Nagbe was one of the most talented players in the league. Then head coach John Spencer went so far as to say he's the most talented player in MLS.
I shook it off as a coach predictably trying to build the confidence of a youngster who'd shown flashes, but didn't seem to have the mindset (or a clear position) to be successful. Nagbe didn't score enough to play as a second forward, didn't pass aggressively enough to be a No. 10, and didn't work the flanks like a winger. Barring the Goal of the Year vs. Sporting KC, his 2011 season was, frankly, disappointing. He was a guy you'd want on your side in five-v-five keep-aways, but not in a game that counts.
GOAL: Nagbe puts the Timbers ahead
And that continued to be the story until about three weeks ago. Something clicked, and now Nagbe is a devastating force any time he's in the final third. Y.P. Lee doesn't get left on his rear too often, but that's exactly what happened this weekend when Nagbe scored the opener in the 2-1 win over the Whitecaps.
I'm happy about this not just because the Timbers deserve a bit of luck, but because Nagbe is in the process of getting his US citizenship (and is reportedly fairly close). And anyone who's playing this well, and is that tidy with the ball, will hopefully translate that to the international level.
Porter, of course, coached Nagbe at Akron, and brought the best out of him there. So purely from a "Selfish US Fan" perspective — yes, I like this hire.
I also like what Porter's done with Akron. Recruiting to northeast Ohio is, we'll say, just a bit harder than recruiting to Westwood or Chapel Hill. He had a vision for his program, and saw it out against fairly significant odds.
That success in the college ranks is actually a pretty good predictor of MLS success. It's something I had the chance to talk with Frankie Hejduk about last season, as he was riding the wave to his second Shield/Cup double with one of the great teams in MLS history. He'd done so before, back in 2008 with the Columbus Crew — one of the other great teams in MLS history.
To paraphrase, Hejduk felt that the biggest similarity between the 2011 Galaxy and 2008 Crew was the way the teams were managed. Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid — the two best managers in MLS history (apologies to Dom Kinnear) — had created an atmosphere that Hejduk compared to college, an atmosphere of competitiveness but unity that he said doesn't often exist at the professional level.
Coming from a guy who's played in the UEFA Champions League, the CONCACAF Champions League, a pair of World Cups and won the Supporters' Shield winners in three different decades, that observation has some weight.
Porter, by all accounts, is cut from the same cloth. A lot of people see a college background as a handicap, but Frankie and I see it as a plus.
And here are the negatives:
Porter's Under-23 Olympic qualifying team was lamentably rigid. He stayed with the 4-3-3 come hell or high water, and the US both burned and drowned. The Canadians exposed his squad badly, and then he failed to adjust for the group finale against El Salvador. You want to forget, but you remember.
It's a case of him failing to make the best use of his available resources. This past U-23 group was loaded with pacey wingers and fullbacks who can cross, and big, strong forwards who can finish those crosses. A 4-4-2 was called for given the personnel — imagine El Salvador trying to contain Terrence Boyd and Will Bruin, just for a moment if you would. It's laughable.
But the adjustment never came. It was 4-3-3 to the very end, and it was ugly. The good news for Timbers fans is that he hasn't been that rigid at Akron, so perhaps it wasn't really his call with the U-23s.
He gets cute and plays guys out of position far too often for my tastes. Sometimes the best bet is just to keep it simple, and he seems to be against doing that a bit too often. I don't know if it's because he's young or if it's just how he's wired, but it definitely puts a ceiling on my expectations from him.
Anybody who watched MLS in 2011 — anybody! — could've told you that Perry Kitchen (another Akron product) was going to struggle at central defense in Olympic qualifying. It was also fairly apparent even at that point that Amobi Okugo would end up being a backliner.
Yet Kitchen spent the tournament in the heart of defense, while Okugo played defensive mid. Five months later, that's practically inconceivable.
Not to sell the job short, but 90 percent of managing is keeping the players pointed in the right direction emotionally and then putting everyone in the right spots on the pitch. I have little doubt that Porter will be successful at the first (I can't stress this enough: Every single player I've talked to who's played for him at any level absolutely loves him).
For the second ... if I were a Timbers fan, that's where my worries would be.