In the 2013 Major League Soccer season, fans will finally see one of the USA’s most sought after coaches finally make the move into the professional ranks.
After seven successful seasons at the University of Akron, Caleb Porter now joins the Portland Timbers for their third MLS season. The former San Jose Clash and Tampa Bay Mutiny player enters the league with high expectations. Added to that will be the unenviable pressure placed up his shoulders by supporters hungry to make the postseason.
Porter joins the league as one of only a handful of former college soccer head coaches that have taken over MLS clubs. In recent years, more and more ex-players have made the transition into coaching, and many clubs have placed MLS experience high on their list of criteria.
Former players like Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen have turned their illustrious playing careers into burgeoning coaching professions. Of course, they are not the only former MLS players to do so; and Colorado, New England, Sporting KC and Chicago all have managers that played in the USA and Canada’s premier soccer league.
But it is still rare in MLS for a coach to take the step up from the collegiate ranks. In 2012, only three coaches began the season as head coaches in MLS after having been a head coach at a university.
Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid, two of the league’s most successful coaches in terms of trophies and longevity, and Schellas Hyndman all cut their teeth at the college level before entering MLS. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Paul Mariner and Philadelphia’s John Hackworth spent time in the college game as well; though Mariner was the only one not to have a head coaching role.
Porter now enters the league as perhaps the hottest coaching property to come from the college level in some time. The league’s teams have been circling over the Michigan-native since 2009 when he led the Zips to the NCAA Finals. He again wetted the appetites of MLS owners by going one better in 2010, winning the NCAA Championship.
In the last two years, Porter was unable to replicate NCAA Tournament fortunes, however, he was still able to produce talented teams. During his time at Akron, Porter saw the development of Teal Bunbury, Steve Zakuani and Perry Kitchen. Three players that have been solid contributors to their respective teams to say the least. And three players most MLS coaches would love to have on their roster.
His producing of players also led MLS teams to select nine of Akron’s players in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft; six of those players were selected within the top four picks. Perhaps most important, is all nine of those players are still in the league and have not fallen out to the lower reaches of the American professional soccer pyramid.
Though Porter has shown an excellent ability to develop youth between the ages of 18 and 22 and win in the NCAA, he may have to adapt his style of play and man management to accommodate older players. Of course, only time will tell, but he is already attempting to shake things up in the Pacific Northwest.
Last week, in one busy day, the team made numerous moves adding: allocation money, draft picks, homegrown player rights and Will Johnson. All of these moves have the potential to turn Portland into a playoff team in 2013.
With college soccer still being one of the major avenues for players to enter MLS, don’t expect Porter to be the last coach to also take that route. However, with the league’s reputation growing every year, and more former league players moving into coaching, it maybe a while before we see the next coach to be plucked from the collegiate level.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @CalcioFarmerand read Drew’s work at MLSTalk and Forzaitalianfootball.com, where he covers Italy’s Genoa CFC. Drew also hosts the Forzaitalianfootball.com weekly Club Focus podcastand writes his own personal football and travel blog at Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey.