Back in the day, D.C. United executives wouldn't have even had to locate Akron on the map.
Hard to blame them, really. The generally steady Zips weren't normally buzzed about as national title contenders before Caleb Porter came in and infused the place with belief, talent and wins. Why take an interest in the Rust Belt with Charlottesville right down the road?
Times, needless to say, have changed in D.C. Not only did United want to know what was going on with Akron and its undefeated team, it wanted to hire its Porter to be its next head coach, according to reports.
No thanks, Porter said. I'll take my five-year deal, my team filled with pro prospects and my kingdom at Akron.
“After reaching the pinnacle of college soccer this season, my vision will be to sustain the program for long-term success as one of the nation's elite programs,” Porter said in a statement released by his current and future employer. “This an exciting time for Akron soccer and with upgrades to the facility on the horizon I am confident we have all the resources necessary to continue competing for national championships for many years to come.”
That's right. The coach at Akron, a MAC school with a single-game record attendance mark of 2,369 heading into 2009 and facilities that a columnist for the Akron Beacon-Journal noted don't include “real locker rooms,” told D.C. United that he wasn't interested in their open gig.
Porter, a former MLS short-timer with San Jose and Tampa and one of the youngest coaches in the nation at 34, showed the loyalty and maturity even experienced coaches tend to lack by rejecting United's overtures and staying in a spot where he can have consistent success. Porter could have hopped to United or the prime college jobs available at Clemson and Indiana (where he starred in college and spent six years as an assistant) without anyone holding much of a grudge. Instead, he decided to stay put. Maybe he didn't think he was ready for the pro game or maybe, like he's said every time he's been asked, he really likes it in Akron. Either way, he's going to keep pulling in impressive recruiting classes and winning games at the college level while United moves in another direction.
So where does United go from here? The first movie probably involves repairing its wounded pride. United isn't used to this playoff-watching, coach-spurning reality. This imbroglio, like the on-field struggles over the past couple of seasons, makes it perfectly clear that United isn't any different or any more special than the ordinary MLS club right now. That reality is pretty uncomfortable for a club and a fanbase used to being exceptional.
More pressingly, there's the small matter of finding a new coach. Former Kansas City coach Curt Onalfo presumably moves to the head of the queue, though who knows what United will do at this point considering its apparent first choice just came off the board.
For the moment at least, the next step in that search won't include a trip to Akron.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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