PORTLAND, Ore. – At long last, Rose City, meet Caleb Porter – in the flesh.
The Portland Timbers’ new head coach was finally introduced to media and supporters in a Tuesday morning press conference at JELD-WEN Field, nearly five months after the club announced he had been hired to replace former boss John Spencer.
In the expansive Q&A session, the former University of Akron coach addressed finally making the jump to the professional ranks despite a number of previous opportunities, in addition to the myriad issues that face the 37-year-old when the 2013 season kicks off in two months.
“This was a special situation,” Porter said, of course noting the ravenous support as a main draw. “It would have taken right fit. And the Portland Timbers was that right opportunity, that right fit.”
The infrastructure for success is already in place, the former US Under-23 head coach said. And his fingerprints are all over the team’s moves in the time since Spencer was dismissed, namely the in-season addition of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and the offseason acquisitions of midfielder Will Johnson, defender Michael Harrington and forward Ryan Johnson.
In Porter’s most pointed critique of the roster he inherits, he addressed the role of Designed Player Kris Boyd, the Scottish striker who saw diminished playing time after Spencer’s departure.
“After watching him play – and I have watched this team play quite a bit – Kris Boyd is a player that I think will have a hard time playing in the way that we want to play,” Porter said of Boyd, who led the team with seven goals last year and is under contract for another year. “And that’s no knock on Kris – he would fit in a lot of different systems. But with what I want out of my strikers, it’s going to be very difficult for him to offer what I’m looking for in that position.
“At the same time, if he comes back and he proves he can offer those things, he certainly will be given the chance to play like everyone else.”
It was a plain assessment of what Porter expects from the attacking philosophy he became known for at Akron. Boyd’s tenuous future with the club also coincides with the emergence of Bright Dike, who scored five goals in the Timbers’ final 11 games, and Johnson’s arrival, two players more congruous with Porter’s plans.
“The striker for me is more than that, than scoring goals, they need to fit into the team,” Porter said. “They need to be a guy first and foremost that is threatening to the backline. And ultimately, I prefer a bit more pacey, athletic, powerful presence in the striker position. ... [Dike’s] a handful, and I like that.”
Porter spoke about coaching midfielder Darlington Nagbe, the highly talented third-year pro who led the Porter-led Akron Zips to the 2010 NCAA national championship. Porter said he knows “what makes him tick,” but also said he’ll be treated just like every other player on the roster.
“I still think there’s more there,” Porter said. “But I also think he’s had a good couple years. … But going into his third year, there are going to be high expectations. I’m certainly going to expect him to perform.”
Ultimately, Porter said he knows what is expected of him, and that’s winning.
“Time will tell on that,” he said. “But certainly I’m going into the year with high expectations. But we’ll know better once we get into the season and start to see how the players perform and how the group comes together and how the chemistry in the locker room sorts out before we know how long it will take.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.