National Writer: Charles Boehm

New England Revolution: Caleb Porter era begins with trophy ambitions


The New England Revolution’s announcement of Caleb Porter as their next head coach this week offered one glimpse of the mindset around Gillette Stadium this winter.

Their decision to trade away both of their remaining picks in Tuesday’s MLS SuperDraft to Minnesota United FC in exchange for $100,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) sent another, as did the acquisition of 29-year-old fullback Nick Lima from Austin FC.

A chat with newly-appointed sporting director Curt Onalfo offers further confirmation of the expectations around a veteran-heavy, mostly-complete roster with their 2021 Supporters’ Shield still fresh in the memory.

Win-now mode

“Time was of the essence,” Onalfo told in a one-on-one conversation this week, recalling that he began interviews for the coaching hire on Nov. 30, the same day his own promotion from technical director was announced.

“We were looking for a strong leader, one that had a proven track record of success, extensive knowledge of MLS, someone that believed in our players and that had relentless energy, because these jobs, that's what it requires. So we went through a good process and we're a desirable job because we have a good team. And we're really pleased that we have Caleb as our new head coach.”

The Revs have two senior roster spots open and will consult with Porter about how best to utilize them. But with the permanent transfer of Argentine winger Tomás Chancalay already taking the place of the departing Gustavo Bou, 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Carles Gil’s 2024 option being unsurprisingly picked up and Giacomo Vrioni still on a guaranteed contract, all three Designated Player slots are filled. Meanwhile three teenage homegrowns are being promoted to join their established first-team core, a sign of an increasingly dependable academy pipeline.

Proven track record

Porter is being entrusted with maximizing what’s already on hand rather than refashioning the squad.

“For us, the important thing was, the coach really liked the group of players and believed in the players and that was clear to me in the interview process with Caleb,” said Onalfo. “He sees the good in players and he believes in players and knows how to build them up. He really liked our team, and that was a really big deciding factor for choosing Caleb.”

Porter is one of only three head coaches in league history to win MLS Cup with two different teams, having hoisted the 2015 trophy with the Portland Timbers in Columbus before leading the Crew to the same achievement at the same stadium five years later.

He arrived in MLS on the back of a sustained period of dominance of the college game at Akron, and his evolution from the Zips’ “death by a thousand passes” ethos towards pragmatism at the professional level helped convince Onalfo and New England’s owners that he can find the right formula for a Revs side that endured instability and frustration in the final months of Bruce Arena’s tenure as head coach and sporting director.

“Caleb has a distinctive style and that is very much in sync with how I view the game. So that's always really important. He's got an aggressive mindset,” said Onalfo. “So we want to be on the front foot, we want to be aggressive, and that's how Caleb's teams play. And we want to fight and we want to fight to the end, and that's what his teams do. He's very good tactically and he's able to adapt – and there's a lot of different ways of being successful in MLS.

“He's able to look at the opponent and with his clear identity of how to play, but also being able to make tweaks when you need to. So his flexibility, the fact that he's won at both places he's been at and that he's tactically flexible, I think was also something that was really intriguing to us.”

Back in MLS

Porter returns to the coaching ranks some 14 months after his departure from the Crew – “time to reflect, and learn and grow,” he told the Revs’ website this week – unafraid to embrace big goals and a sense of urgency, even musing aloud about the dream of a Revolution championship victory parade through the streets of Boston. That’s no small talk for a founding MLS club that’s reached five MLS Cups yet suffered heartbreak in all of them.

“The strong foundation that’s in place, the roster, [the fact that] it’s only a couple of years after a Supporters’ Shield win, that’s a big allure for me,” Porter told

“I think we need some pieces but not much. It’s a good group. Obviously, we lost a few players. We will add some players for sure, but this is a rebuild – it’s not an overhaul. It just needs a few pieces. As time goes on, working with Curt, we’ll continue to put our stamp on the team and the roster more and more, but I wouldn’t have taken the job if I felt there was a major rebuild or overhaul.”

Porter also took both Portland and Columbus through Concacaf Champions League campaigns, another useful attribute as the Revolution brace for their return to continental competition in the expanded and rebranded CCL, now once again called Concacaf Champions Cup.

Qualifying for CCC hands the Revs one of their earliest-ever starts to a season, with a two-legged, opening-round fixture vs. Panama’s Club Atlético Independiente de La Chorrera kicking off in Central America on Feb. 21, just three days before their league opener at D.C. United (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Concacaf participation holds the potential to elevate an MLS season into rarified air, though it also has a track record of unleashing vicious hangovers on the domestic front.

“That's never easy. There's no two ways about it. It's a lot of games to start the season,” said Onalfo. “So it's a matter of having a good start, making sure the guys are coming in with a good fitness level and then just progressing at the right rate and knowing that in the beginning of the season, you're still getting fit.

“You likely will have to utilize a good portion of the roster as well, because you're managing through travel and all that kind of stuff in the winter months and everything else, which isn't easy. So that's, again, where a coach that has a lot of experience knows how to deal with those things. And Caleb has been in the league for a long time and knows how to deal with busy starts to the season.”

After leading a marked positive upswing in the club’s fortunes upon his arrival in 2019, Arena departed the club in September following a lengthy investigation into allegations that he made insensitive and inappropriate remarks on the job.

The fallout from the matter clearly affected the team on some level, with multiple departures from the coaching staff and reports of significant internal strife. On the pitch, New England largely treaded water down the stretch and eventually got swept by Philadelphia in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs after a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference table.

Porter’s arrival, combined with the potent resolve of a battle-tested locker room spearheaded by the fiery Gil, fuels hopes of a fresh start.

“Listen, I'm done with – and I think all of us, I think if you talk to any players as well, they would just say, ‘You know what, it's time to turn the page and move on,’” said Onalfo. “I just don't think it's great to live in the past. We're really excited about this group of players and the future and our new coach. And that's where our energy is focused.”