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Caleb Porter

There’s a little Mourinho in Portland’s Caleb Porter


Caleb Porter has been one of US soccer’s rising stars ever since his days at Akron, and much of that promise has finally been fulfilled with this year’s Portland team. His Timbers have finally reached the MLS Cup final after the head coach’s false starts with the US under-23s in 2012, as well as with the Timbers last season.

But despite his success, Porter has become one of the most divisive figures in American soccer; not for his style or tactics, but for his antics. From his very famous spat with Pep Guardiola during the 2014 MLS All-Star Game, to his fight with FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja back in March (not repeated during the Western Conference final), to his dust-up with Bruce Arena back in 2013, Porter is not one to avoid public confrontation. He seems more graceful after the fact ,in his post-match press conferences, but the stacking of these incidents combined echoes of another manager, Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho.

Porter has been accused of complaining to officials incessantly about calls that go against the Timbers, while Mourinho has made an art of deflecting blame away from his players, using statements such as “a campaign against Chelsea.” But the similarities go far beyond that. Even comparing the two’s public spats with Guardiola would be too reductionist. Although both managers provide great entertainment post-match, calling Porter the MLS Mourinho doesn’t seem a stretch at all. It’s not just their personas, but their styles; specifically, their willingness to be pragmatic.

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There has been endless tinkering to the Timbers roster to ensure that it was perfect for this run, and up until a little help from the goalposts against Sporting Kansas City, it seemed there were questions rising around Porter and his job. Why so many false starts, false dawns, and promise wasted with the money spent? Portland has proven on more than one occasion that Porterball can be some of the most aesthetically pleasing soccer in the league, and yet they can be one of the most pragmatic teams in the league at the same time.

Part of that comes down to the players that seemingly have the most value to the Timbers. Diego Chara is one of those players that are emblematic of the soccer Porter wants to play: technical yet gritty; beautiful and pragmatic all in one stroke. While the Timbers have some exceptional talent in front of the Chara’s and Will Johnson’s in Diego Valeri, Lucas Melano and Darlington Nagbe, it seems that their influence feels muted in comparison to Chara, Johnson and the player that might be their most valuable, Nat Borchers. The quality on the ball and the ability to play on the deck has always been present, but without that spine and stiffness, the Timbers seem to always fail to meet their potential.

Mourinho has some of the most talented players in the world at his disposal, but the most influential men end up being Nemanja Matic (a classic no. 6), John Terry (the most old-fashioned of the old-fashioned English center halves), and forward players who offer themselves up on the defensive side of the pitch. Mourinho’s willingness to muck up the game and take a draw seems similar to what Porter can coach his Timbers to do, before both men follow up those performances with their characteristic post-match antics. For those characteristics, both have become loved and hated in equal measure.

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Porter’s vision and promise could be fulfilled if they hoist the Cup on Sunday in Columbus. One of the traits he does not share with the Special One is in his own personal trophy cabinet, but should that change, all of the sideline dust-ups, false starts and effortless pragmatism could finally lead to what Mourinho has made his specialty: winning trophies.

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