It was against a backdrop of growing discontent that Caleb Porter — who soon will be named coach of the Crew — made his first professional foray into Columbus.
After accepting the head coaching job in Portland during the summer of 2012, effective for the start of the 2013 Major League Soccer season, the Michigan-born Porter brought a Timbers team boasting a 15-game unbeaten streak into what was then known as Crew Stadium. Crew fans, five years removed from seeing their team hoist the MLS Cup and not even three years past the infamous “Black Monday” that saw many of those championship players let go, were growing restless in the face of diminishing results under coach Robert Warzycha.
When the Timbers hired Porter from the University of Akron, not even two hours from Crew Stadium, it felt like a missed opportunity to many in the Nordecke. One day before Portland played the Crew on July 7, 2013, Porter sat down with The Dispatch in the lobby of the downtown Sheraton to talk about his return to the Buckeye State.
While at Akron, Porter had frequently made the trip to Columbus to observe and learn from Crew coach Sigi Schmid. Porter had coached 18 Zips who had gone on to play in MLS, including three on the Crew’s roster at the time: Wil Trapp, Chad Barson and Ben Speas.
Clearly, there was a connection between Porter and the Crew. Portland wasn’t the first MLS team to approach him, but it was the first to land him. Throughout, though, Porter said he’d always had an eye at least a little bit on being the Crew’s coach.
“I never really thought about specific places,” he said. “I hoped eventually that I would have the chance to be in Major League Soccer. Obviously being up the road, it’s something that you think about, (coaching the Crew), but I didn’t have a certain place in mind.”
How much had he envisioned coaching the Crew?
“That had been a dream of mine ever since I left MLS (as a player), but I didn’t know where it would happen or when it would happen,” he said. “I just felt like at the end of the day Portland was the right opportunity for me.”
Now, that dream is coming true. A source said the Crew is naming Porter as the replacement for Gregg Berhalter, who assumed the head coaching job for the United States men’s national team when the 2018 MLS season ended.
When he faced the Crew five seasons ago, Porter got to witness firsthand the MLS debut for Trapp, who had just come off the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“Caleb meant a lot to Willie,” Trapp’s mother, Liz, told The Dispatch two days after the game. “He’s been an encouragement to Wil even when he went to Turkey. Caleb would text him and say keep playing hard. It was extremely emotional that Caleb was there. Playing against him was a little bit awkward. Caleb can be kind of intense. He surely yelled at Wil many a time.”
Entering that game, Porter described himself as not an overly nostalgic person when it came to returning to Ohio. But then, as he was starting his professional coaching career, Porter was already well-familiar with the region.
“Yeah, we did a lot of recruiting around here,” he said. “A lot of our players over the years that we got were rooted in this area. It was a very good city for us in terms of talent pool. Obviously we had a big rivalry with Ohio State so we had a lot of memorable matches with them here. I’ve been to a lot of Crew games over the years. When we were at Akron we were always looking to better ourselves, to learn.”
This story originally ran in The Columbus Dispatch on Dec. 14
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