Columbus Crew: Where does the club go after dismissing Caleb Porter?

Caleb Porter CLB

The Columbus Crew, less than 24 hours after a 2-1 Decision Day loss at Orlando City SC booted them from Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs contention, parted ways with head coach Caleb Porter.

Porter brought two trophies – MLS Cup 2020 and Campeones Cup 2021 – to the Crew, but also made the postseason in just one of four seasons at the club. He finished with a 45W-43L-37D regular-season record as well.

Where did things go wrong for Porter, whose team fell one win shy of the Eastern Conference’s playoff line in back-to-back years?

“There is nothing wrong with the game model,” Extratime’s Matt Doyle said. “But what we see in sports – not just soccer and not just MLS, but all sports – is sometimes the voice needs to change. Sometimes at whatever point, players tune the coach out.”

Doyle said after Columbus won MLS Cup 2020 over Seattle Sounders FC behind Lucas Zelarayan’s masterclass performance, they seemed set to be a “mini-dynasty.” But things went south and momentum quickly faded out.

Late-game woes

Columbus had a league-high 16 draws this year, winning just twice from mid-August through the end of the regular season. And they made a nasty habit of allowing goals from the 90th minute onward (MLS-record 11 in a single season), plus their 24 points dropped from a winning position were third-most in the league.

“For me, the last 20 minutes of a game or the last 15 minutes of a game often, on the best teams I've played on, comes down to less about the tactical set-up, while that's still important,” said Calen Carr. “But I think some of it is the culture or the personality of the team and I think what began to happen … is a little bit of a culture of maybe pointing the finger or expecting someone else to grab the game or to make a responsible play.”

With that persistent problem, the Crew brass made their call.

“I think there was a level of fear and acceptance in late moments and I don't think it's an accident,” said David Gass. “I think it comes from the top down inside that locker room. He couldn't fix the problem.”

Next hire

As for where Columbus turn next, the Extratime crew said there may not be a jumps-off-the-page option.

“There isn't a ton of MLS head coaching experience out there that's available if you are not pulling from someone who's currently coaching a team,” said Gass after Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser was floated due to his mutual Toronto FC days with club president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.

One possible option could come from within the club after Laurent Courtois guided Columbus Crew 2 to the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro title. Several first-team players were part of that run, and Courtois knows the inner workings of the club already.

“[Courtois] developed those guys, but also I don't think they were used properly at the first-team level to get the Crew across the line in MLS,” Gass said. “I think when Doyle mentioned they've rebuilt the academy, they've rebuilt the pipeline, you do want a coach who's going to use those guys. That's what Columbus, if they're going to be the team they're going to be and succeed in MLS, they're going to need to get some production out of that.”

For his part, addressing the media Tuesday, Bezbatchenko said they hope to have a hire made by December to see the course for preseason in January.

"We want to make sure we look at all layers domestically, not just in MLS present and past coaches, but possibly in other layers of the US soccer structure and the Canadian soccer for that matter," Bezbatchenko said. "We'll look internationally."

For more Extratime analysis and commentary, check out their latest episode here.