Caleb Porter will finally take the dive into MLS.
The Portland Timbers on Wednesday announced that the 37-year-old University of Akron head coach will take over as their newest manager following the conclusion of the current NCAA season. He will assume his role with the Timbers and be introduced formally as the club’s second MLS head coach at a news conference in Portland in December.
“Put simply, I believe Caleb Porter is the best young soccer coaching mind in the country,” Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson said in a statement. “He is the right fit for the Timbers on every level. We went through an exhaustive and thorough search over the last couple months where we spoke with some truly excellent candidates, but Caleb quickly emerged as the consensus target. We look forward to 2013 and beyond with Caleb at our helm.”
Porter has been one of the hottest professional coaching prospects in recent seasons and his name was strongly linked to the D.C. United position in 2009 before Curt Onalfo took the job.
The University of Akron subsequently locked up Porter to a 10-year deal that runs through 2020 with a reported base salary of $270,000 annually plus incentives. The Akron Beacon Journal reported earlier this week that Porter's departure from the university would require a contract buy-out.
Porter's success on the collegiate level with Akron since taking over in 2006 — he led the Zips to the school's first-ever title in any sport in 2010 — earned him the nod from US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann to take over the Under-23 Olympic squad last year. That adventure ended in an embarrassing elimination in the group stage of CONCACAF qualifying in March.
“I am truly excited and honored to be provided this unique opportunity to coach the Portland Timbers, an organization that in a short-time has established itself as a model franchise in Major League Soccer,” Porter said in a statement. “I know that Merritt and Gavin are committed to long-term success for the Timbers and come December, I will be completely focused and driven to continue building a professional club in which the Timbers supporters, city and organization will be proud of.
"In the meantime, out of respect to the Akron program, I will not be commenting further on this matter until after the conclusion of the 2012 college season.”
The former MLS player — he was drafted by San Jose in 1998 and played for Tampa Bay before injuries cut short his pro career — joins the ranks as one of the youngest head coaches in league history.
“Caleb is ambitious and one of the most respected coaches in the nation,” Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson said in a statement. “He has consistently developed and produced talented players who have gone on to excel in MLS. We feel that his mentality, personality, skill set and coaching philosophy are a tremendous fit with the culture of the Timbers organization and we’re excited to bring Caleb on as the Timbers head coach.”
D.C. are currently led by the 35-year-old Olsen, New England's Jay Heaps recently turned 36, Martin Rennie heads up the Vancouver Whitecaps at age 37 and Montreal's Jesse Marsch is 38. Real Salt Lake's 39-year-old manager Jason Kreis took over the club back in 2007 when he was 34.
By joining the Timbers, Porter will be reunited with star midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of a number of college stars he coached at Akron who have moved on to become top prospects in MLS. 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 and five of the first eight selections in the 2011 SuperDraft were Akron products.
This year's edition of the Zips, who are currently ranked No. 2 by Soccer America and No. 7 by the NSCAA, kicked off their regular season last Friday with a 4-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast University. There are a minimum of 16 more matches left to be played in Akron's college season in addition to conference tournament matches and NCAA College Cup tournament games in November and December.
"We look forward to another successful season this year," UA president Dr. Luis M. Proenza told the school's web site. "The team certainly got off to a great start on Friday night. We will delight in each soccer match this season, knowing that we are watching an extraordinary coach and gifted student athletes. And at the end of the season, we will wish Caleb well as he moves on to the next chapter in his career, and brings the Zip spirit to the great northwest."
The Timbers, who are in last place in the Western Conference, are 13 points out of a playoff spot with nine matches left in the season. They earned their first win under interim head coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson when they beat Vancouver, 2-1 at home, last weekend. Wilkinson has a 1-5-2 record since taking over for the club's first MLS coach, John Spencer, on July 9.