Portland's Paulson on Porter hire: "He gets our vision"

Caleb Porter

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BEAVERTON, Ore. – For Merritt Paulson, the future has always been just as important as the present.

And when it came to the future of the Portland Timbers – or "building something special," as the club's owner and president put it – the choice of Caleb Porter as the team's next head coach was the clear decision.

"He's very ambitious," Paulson said Wednesday to the throng of media that had gathered for the impromptu press conference. "He wanted to make sure he chose the right opportunity when he got it. And this is a powerful platform in the world of soccer. The Portland Timbers are helping to shape and grow the sport of soccer in North America like few other clubs in the league. He gets that. He gets our vision."

And a big part of the future is also part of Porter's past, as he'll be reunited with Darlington Nagbe. The current Timbers midfielder, regarded as one of the league's top young talents, was part of the University of Akron team that won the 2010 national title, the school's first NCAA title in any sport. Nagbe was subsequently selected by Portland with the second overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.

"It's going to be great," Nagbe said after training Wednesday. "He's one of the best coaches I've ever had."

Porter has developed a penchant for producing star players.

Former Zips striker Steve Zakuani was selected No. 1 in 2009, Teal Bunbury went No. 4 in 2010, Darren Mattocks was picked second overall in 2012. The big haul came in the 2011 SuperDraft, when five of the first eight picks were Akron products.

And after leading Akron to four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament's round of 16, Porter was tabbed as the US Under-23 team's head coach last year. He didn't have as much success at that level, as the US failed to get out of the group stage in Olympic qualifying.

Nonetheless, Paulson is certain he's tabbed the right guy.

"This is a coach who is a cerebral coach, he's a great leader, a great tactician, he's extremely reflective," Paulson said. "I think he's poised to do some great things."

It became clear during Wednesday's proceedings that, immediately after dismissing former coach John Spencer, Paulson and interim head coach/general manager Gavin Wilkinson turned their sights to Porter. Wilkinson said the interview process started from the moment Spencer was shown the door on July 9.

"This was an individual we met with right at the start of the process," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said he and Porter met a number of times, watching Timbers games at JELD-WEN Field and on the road. Porter and Wilkinson even went on a "road trip" of sorts to view another MLS game in person.

They apparently hit it off.

"It's nice to have somebody in that I feel very comfortable working with and looking forward to the future of Caleb being here," Wilkinson said. "And also it gives us a joint partner in evaluating the current talent that we have and also looking at the direction going forward and what we have going forward. ... For me, it was very easy communicate with him about the team, about individual players. We agreed on a couple of things and disagreed, and the disagreements were very healthy."

Nagbe said he wasn't consulted in the decision, other than to offer his quick opinion of Porter as a coach.

"He's going to be honest with everything he does; he's an honest guy and he's a winner most of all," Nagbe said. "He teaches the game and has a great philosophy of the game also. He simplified the game for me, made everything easier. He had the right guys there on the team, and everyone knew their roles. So everything just got easier."

It was also made clear that Porter rose to the top of a group of eight finalists and a short list of three, which according to Paulson included a coach "recently at the helm of one of the top English Premier League teams."

Paulson said he spoke to a number of coaches interested in the position, as well as solicited input from current and former US national team coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Bob Bradley.

"He wants to keep the ball, wants to move the ball, wants to create chances pretty much at will and play dominating soccer," Wilkinson said. "And that's what we're expecting, and hopefully that's what we'll get."

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.