Caleb Porter is drawing on his painful experience with the U.S. U-23s to build a new identity and ethos in Portland.
The former University of Akron and U.S. U-23 coach came to MLS already highly regarded in the U.S. soccer community. During his time in the NCAA ranks he took Akron from a mid-level program and created one of the biggest powerhouses in college soccer. From 2009 through 2012, one of Porter's players from Akron went fourth or higher in the MLS SuperDraft. In 2011, five of the top eight draft picks came from the small Ohio-based school.
Last year, prior to accepting the Portland gig, Porter had a disappointing stint with the U.S. U-23 national team. The Americans, heavy favorites, failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
"That gave me a taste of the level and allowed me to be with professional players and to gain a lot of confidence," Porter told Goal.com. "It also humbled me and prepared me for the cruel nature of this business as well."
Once in Portland, Porter set about revamping the roster. In total, 15 players left the club before the start of the 2013 season. The nature of this business is cruel.
"I comprehensively evaluated the team and the pieces. I had a vision of how I wanted to build the team, you can see that in the guys that we kept as well," Porter said. "There were certainly some players that we felt weren't the right fit for the system we were going to play or weren't the right fit for the club."
Among the departures was Scottish striker Kris Boyd, on a Designated Player contract. Porter wanted mobile, fluid players capable of geling with his vision. He found 13 of them.
“We started over in a way and added a number of new pieces,” Porter said. “I don’t know if there is another team in the MLS that is starting six brand new players.”
The results, thus far, have been mixed. The Timbers currently have just two points from three games. Porter choses to highlight the positive trends in his nascent regime, including the grit shown in a 1-1 draw away against the Seattle Sounders.
“I thought the result against Seattle, with us digging deep, really gave us a positive sign that we are on the right track,” Porter said. “I think we hoped that we would have more points, but at the same time I am very encouraged by a lot of the things I have seen out of this group. It is important to have a perspective on what we are building here. Rome wasn't built in a day and it takes time to build a strong club.”
Last season, Portland conceded 56 goals in 34 games. Only two teams had worse defensive records. So far this season it seems those concerns still need addressinng. The Timbers have conceded six goals in three games, at a rate of two per match. Early goals-against have forced Porter into tactical adjustments midmatch.
"We are making some critical mistakes and that’s what we need to correct. We need to limit the quality of chances that the opponent is getting," Porter said. "Part of every team is finding the right chemistry and the right personnel in every position."
The offense has kept the team in games. With the additions of forward Ryan Johnson, new captain Will Johnson and playmaker Diego Valeri, Porter created a new attacking hub.
Depite the buzz brought by Porter and two come-from-behind draws, the Timbers have not yet won in 2013.
"I think it is a result based business, so always people are looking for results," Porter said of the Seattle tie. "In order for us to be a team that makes the playoffs for the first time, we have to get results. I think the fans like the identity they are seeing."