Caleb Porter, Portland Timbers head coach, took the league by storm in 2013. He led the club to their first ever playoff appearance, which included beating their rivals in the Seattle Sounders. The team made it all the way to the Western Conference Final where they fell 5-2 on aggregate to Real Salt Lake.
There were high hopes for the team prior to the 2014 MLS season. However, those high hopes came crashing down bringing Porter and the Timbers faithful back to reality. The Timbers struggled most of the 2014 season and found themselves just outside of the playoff picture by the time game number 34 finished.
That will happen when you begin the season with a record of 1-3-6 (win-loss-draw). To make matters worse, one of those early season draws came at the hands of the Sounders. Leading 4-2 with less than ten minutes to go plus stoppage time, the Timbers defense collapsed and allowed Clint Dempsey and the Sounders to come roaring back.
At that point of the season, roughly four or five games in, I could tell that these were not the Timbers of 2013 (personally, I was perfectly fine with that). I was watching a team that countless times the year before comeback from what seemed like insurmountable deficits to somehow come back and tie or win the match.
About midway through the season, I just figured that the other teams figured out how to play against Porter. MLS is one of those leagues, just like the NFL, that it does not take long for other coaches to find out the style you like to play. In order to be successful in MLS, you have to be willing to change as the season progresses (I have no idea how Sigi Schmid is so successful).
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It appears that Porter has finally figured it out as well or is at least trying to figure it out:
"“The biggest thing for me was last year experiencing more lows than I ever have. In terms of reflecting and analyzing and changing, that’s never been an issue for me, and I always just try to do that if there’s things to correct. But I think the biggest thing was just being in more low moments, where you’ve got to pull yourself out.”“For me now in year three, not that I didn’t have it figured out after year one, but a lot more knowledge, wisdom after year two. There were some mistakes that maybe I made in trying stuff that now I won’t make again because it doesn’t maybe work or translate. That doesn’t mean I won’t try new things, that’s a part of coaching, but you’ve got to know this league and what works. I feel like, above all else, now going into year three, I have a much better sense of what works and what doesn’t work.”"
While Porter is looking to figure out how to get back to the playoffs, he will have to try to do it without two of his biggest play makers. Both Diego Valeri and Will Johnson will not be available for the first couple of months; Johnson will be out much longer. Valeri had offseason surgery for an ACL injury and Johnson is still recovering from the broken leg he suffered last September in Toronto.
The Timbers will also be breaking in a new goalkeeper. Donovan Ricketts is no longer there to protect the net as he was selected first overall by Orlando City SC in the 2015 MLS Expansion Draft. Ricketts most likely would not have been in Portland anyway as the club had already signed Adam Kwarasey. Kwarasey also plays internationally for Ghana. When Sounders fans heard of the signing, they thought only one thing.
photo courtesy of MLS website/mlssoccer.com
To help shore up their defensive problems from last year, the Timbers made a trade with Salt Lake to acquire the services of Nats Borchers. The pairing of Borchers and Designated Player Liam Ridgewell will do their back line some good.
During the relatively short offseason, MLS clubs do their best to make a “splash” in signings players. You know when you were a kid and you did your best to get as much water out of the pool with a cannon ball? Sometimes the splash turns out to be nothing more than an empty pool of water. Porter acknowledges that sentiment:
"“You want to make splashes and signings, and you want the fans to be excited for new pieces. But I’ve seen that backfire a lot over the years. And perhaps we’ve made some of those mistakes in thinking the grass is greener with a player, and in reality maybe it’s not. … When I look at the best teams in this league, it’s pretty simple, it’s continuity in coach, players, strong core year after year.”"
The Timbers have done much better this offseason in the players that they have acquired. They did the correct thing in not protecting Ricketts for the expansion draft. They definitely made the correct move in bringing over Borchers for allocation money.
I know that the playoff field was expanded from ten to 12 this past offseason. In all honesty, the Timbers would have made the 2015 playoffs without the additional selection. I truthfully believe that Porter and the Timbers have gotten that much better and will be one of the teams to watch out for during the 2015 MLS season.
Quotes courtesy MLSSoccer.com