Portland Timbers' Caleb Porter: Winning a title is like a drug...or ice cream

Caleb Porter at the first day of Portland Timbers' 2016 preseason, January 23, 2016

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Ned Grabavoy had a long offseason–probably much too long for the MLS veteran.

But The Portland Timbers, Grabavoy’s new team, has had just about the opposite.

The team had less than two months off between their MLS Cup championship and their first training session of 2016 on Saturday. And Grabavoy, one of a handful of offseason pick-ups by the defending champs, was all too glad to be back on the field following a disappointing season with expansion side New York City FC. (Their season ended way back in October.)

“My offseason was longer, much longer, pretty much, than these guys,” Grabavoy told media gathered at the team facility.
He said he spent much of his time off back in his hometown of Chicago, rehabbing a broken foot and contemplating his next move when he had his option to return to NYCFC declined, making him a free agent. That all happened while the Timbers were marching their way through the MLS Cup Playoffs.

And now that Grabavoy's with Portland, he said it’s easy to see first-hand the effect a championship can have on a club. “Guys are sharp day one the first week because they haven’t had much time off, and there’s that confidence there leftover from last season,” he said. “So I would think this first week would look sharper than most other preseasons I’ve been involved in.”

That’ll likely come in handy as the Timbers face a handful of new challenges heading into their six-week preseason. They'll spend the first week of that in the Rose City before transitioning to a 14-day camp in Tucson, Ariz. They'll then head back home again for the three-game Simple Invitational exhibition tournament.

The Timbers will have to integrate Grabavoy and fellow key acquisitions Chris Klute, Zarek Valentin, Jack McInerney, and Jermaine Taylor. They'll also have to deal with the losses of former team captain Will Johnson and starting winger Rodney Wallace, among others.

“I didn’t like losing some of the players that we lost, but I really like the fact that we have some new blood in the club, guys that will bring energy hunger, guys who didn’t win the Cup last year with the Timbers,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. “To just take the same group and do it again, oftentimes that’s a recipe for trouble because there’s a complacency that creeps in sometimes.”

Porter and the few players who spoke to media on the rainy Saturday afternoon, predictably, faced questions of whether there’s the potential of suffering from an MLS Cup “hangover,” and how they’ll deal with the expectations that come with defending a championship. Porter said those are nothing more than a convenient storyline for the press.

“It’s not really a factor in a good locker room and a good club that has the right culture,” he said. “We’re focused on a new season, and yet it certainly didn’t hurt that we won the MLS Cup.”

Jack Jewsbury, the veteran midfielder who has been with the Timbers since their inaugural MLS season in 2011, did admit that there’s a much different feel to the outset of this preseason. But it has a lot more to do with the short break, he said.

“I think there’s going to be expectations for the first time to get back to where we were,” Jewsbury said. “I think that in the past it was get to the playoffs and see what happens then. And now you’ve set expectations for yourself, this club, the fans that we’re not just going to be happy with having a one-off. We want to make sure this club is competitive on that level each and every year.”

And Porter said experiencing the pinnacle in MLS should be all the motivation his new group needs to do it all over again. “Guys that were here, they have now tasted what’s possible at the end of this long MLS road, and there’s no greater motivation to do it again,” he said. "Not many people feel that. It’s like a drug, you want it again–or ice cream.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com