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No reason to lament Caleb Porter’s appointment at Portland

Aug 29, 2012, 10:55 AM EDT

Caleb Porter

Allow me to play camp counselor this morning and allay some concerns from worried “parents” in the media and in some supporters corners around MLS.

While some set are clearly on board with Caleb Porter’s hiring as the second Portland Timbers coach, others see worry. There seem to be four primary concerns:

  • That he’s too young and inexperienced for the job.
  • That he has only coached in college.
  • That the Olympic failure in March proves his not fit for the position.
  • That this is somehow an “experiment.”

We’ll take them in that order.

Porter is 37, which means he will be the third youngest MLS manager. Ben Olsen (35) and Jay Heaps (36) are younger. Neither had a day’s worth of head coaching experience coming into the job – and it’s still too early to stamp a solid “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on Olsen’s time at D.C. United or Heaps’ days in New England.

Jesse Marsch, by the way, doing just fine so far at expansion Montreal, is just 38.

So, Porter is hardly too young.

This theory that college coaches won’t make it in MLS is poppycock. A quick list of successful MLS coaches who cut their coaching teeth exclusively in college includes Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Sigi Schmid and Schellas Hyndman.

Argument over.

Besides, what’s better: having only coached in college or having never been a head coach?

So, it doesn’t matter a lick than Porter has only managed in college.

The Olympic bust is a concern. It was a failure and a set-back to the larger developmental aims of U.S. Soccer. On the other hand, if Sean Johnson makes a routine save, if one ball is kicked upfield rather than dribbled into traffic, if a couple of defenders simply stand in the way and don’t go hurrying into an ill-advised tackle, this story has a completely different ending.

So, it’s a setback in the man’s career, but hardly a career ender.

Finally, I do not understand this lament that Porter’s appointment somehow represents an experiment. (I heard this one on yesterday’s MLS Extra Time podcast.)

Almost every MLS coaching appointment is an experiment. What doesn’t qualify as an “experiment” would be hiring Schmid, Arena, Bradley, Dominic Kinnear, or some other MLS coach currently keeping his team near the top. But those guys already have jobs!

So anything else is what it is – the deciders do their homework, get a feel for whom they can and can’t work alongside and then make their best guess. Let’s not pretend like it’s anything else.

Sure, you can recycle someone who has come and gone in MLS, and experience in a league with arcane personnel acquisition mechanisms does count for something. But generally speaking, hiring a been-there, done-that guy is just a way for upper management to feel a better about things and provide some additional cover if things don’t work out.

Plus, it’s an easier sell to fans, perhaps. So it’s the easy way out, but it does not increases the chances of success in any substantial way.

Jason Kreis, Kinnear, Bradley and Arena were all first-time head coaches when they took an MLS appointment. I’d let any one of those guys coach my team.

  1. mkbryant3 - Aug 29, 2012 at 1:41 PM


  2. joeyt360 - Aug 29, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    I think you’re underplaying the Olympics here, and don’t say that as someone all that pessimistic about Porter’s coaching future. (In fact, I agree with one of your other points, the bit about a so-called ‘college coach’. Based on what I’ve seen, there’s something about leadership that you either learn or don’t learn when a guy is the head guy, and looking over the track record of each, I’ve become generally more optimistic of hiring a guy that’s shown something running the show at a lower level than being an assistant at a higher one I also agree with your last point, your choices are either an ‘experiment’ or a WYSIWYG candidate with a mediocre record; to paraphrase Rick Pitino, Guus Hiddink ain’t walking through that door, Pep Guardiola ain’t walking through that door.)

    We were not, in fact, one mistake away from qualifying for the Olympics. We were one mistake away from having to play Honduras in the playoffs, a team that proved to be pretty good–but at any rate, we never should have been ‘one mistake away’ from anything in the first place. I thought, and still think, we were the most talented team in the group, and that team played three games and allowed FIVE goals. Five! Five goals in three games is not one mistake (especially when one of the three was basically a walkover), it’s just bad.

    And worse than the stat is the way we GOT there, because it looked like an example of pure stubbornness–the insistence that our group of guys play a ‘certain way’ that they didn’t know very well and couldn’t realistically have learned in a short camp. And when it spectacularly flopped against Canada, we didn’t adjust.

    So to me the real question concerning Porter is whether he’s just too stubborn to be a successful coach at high level. The question is not wholly academic–Aron Winter bombed out of MLS by being too stubborn to play a style that he could actually get players to suit. And on the other side Bruce Arena, huge ego that he has, has still managed to win in LA with an utterly different style than the one he won with in DC. That kind of flexibility is the hallmark of a top coach, and we’re going to have to see whether Porter has it or doesn’t.

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