The Portland Timbers head coaching job is one of the most high-profile positions in Major League Soccer. Not just because of the incredible fan support, but also because of the success and reputation for entertaining soccer built in the five years Caleb Porter ran the show.
Now Porter has chosen to walk away to seek new challenges, leaving open a job that most coaches would jump at the chance to have.
It isn't a perfect position by any means. The Timbers are from being Philadelphia Union-cheap when it comes to spending on players, but they are also far from being on par with the likes of Toronto FC, New York City FC, Seattle or LA Galaxy teams of the past. That doesn't mean a coach can't succeed there — Porter proved that — but it may have been one of the factors that drove Porter to free himself up to eventually land a position in a bigger market at a club with deeper pockets.
Then there is Merritt Paulson, a passionate owner who is the antithesis of the hands-off absentee owner some other MLS teams have. Paulson and Porter are two strong-willed men with big egos, and they engaged in a delicate dance over the past five years, and the reality is that, in some ways, it's surprising their marriage lasted as long as it did.
Where does Porter's future lie? Those thinking he may wind up with the U.S. national team are jumping the gun a bit, as the 42-year-old is very much a club coach who thrives on the day-to-day managing of a team. That doesn't mean he would turn down the USMNT job, but it's tough to see him turning to the international game at this point in his career.
Porter can bide his time and see what develops in 2018. MLS keeps expanding, and new teams with the vision and financial muscle to try and build a winner would be wise to knock on Porter's door, as would established teams that need a new leader. Porter is very much a big coaching personality by American standards, one who surely wouldn't mind guiding a team in New York or Los Angeles one day.
Porter could also probably use some time off. After five years in Portland, putting in the kind of hours he has, you couldn't blame him for wanting to take some time to enjoy his family before going after the next big challenge in his career.
As for the Timbers, they won't struggle for options. The stack of resumes on general manager Gavin Wilkinson's desk will be tall. Who will the Timbers turn to as the next in line to run one of the league's best teams? Here is a look at some top candidates:
GIOVANNI SAVARESE . The New York Cosmos coach has been one of the most successful managers in the U.S. for some time, but his efforts with the Cosmos haven't yielded solid opportunities in MLS. A respected tactician and man manager, he would be a good fit to make use of the talented squad in Portland.
MARC DOS SANTOS . The man who just beat Savarese's Cosmos in the NASL final impressed by winning a league title with a first-year team and has enjoyed success at multiple destinations, showing his ability to acclimate to new surroundings. He hasn't had his chance in MLS yet, but it should only be a matter of time.
TAB RAMOS . The U.S. Under-20 national team coach is a popular name in the race to be the next U.S. national team coach, but a chance to run his first pro team, and have it be a team as talented as the Timbers, could be appealing for the former U.S. legend. His reputation as a player, and track record of success with young players would make him an appealing option.
JEREMY GUNN . After having so much success with another coach whose experience came mainly from the college ranks in Porter, Paulson could be tempted to tap the college game once again. And who better than the coach of the two-time defending NCAA champion Stanford Cardinal?
PREKI . The former Toronto FC and Chivas USA boss has enjoyed success in MLS before, and while his USL side Saint Louis FC had a subpar season in 2017, he did well with the Sacramento Republic prior to that.
JESSE MARSCH . Surprised to see the New York Red Bulls coach on the list? With just one year left on his contract, Marsch could be a tempting target for Paulson, who wouldn't be afraid to spend the money it would take to pry Marsch away from the Red Bulls. Clearly a long shot, but then again nobody expected Porter to walk away from Portland either.
JAMES O'CONNOR . The Louisville City coach just won a USL title and is one of the best young coaching prospects in the American game. The Irishman enjoyed a long career in England as a player — including stints at Stoke City, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday — but it is his work with the USL side in Louisville that has turned heads. The 38-year-old doesn't have a long track record as a head coach, but has already impressed.