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March 14, 2013 at 3:10 PM

A stop and chat with new Timbers coach Caleb Porter

Portland Timbers LogoPortland Timbers coach Caleb Porter held a conference call with local reporters for about 20 minutes this afternoon. I thought some of his answers were very thoughtful and insightful, so I decided to post the whole transcript below (even if it took forever to type up):

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(Opening comments…) “Well, certainly it’s a 34-game season, so every game is important, but this one takes on a whole different meaning — not only to myself and my team, but the fans. Obviously with both teams looking for their first win, both teams wanting to get off and jump start their seasons, both teams looking for perhaps bragging rights, to start on the front foot in the Cascadia rivalry, it’s a game certainly that I’ve had marked on the calendar because of the importance of it, and our group is looking forward to it.”

(Has defense been your biggest concern so far?) “I think it’s early in the season. Every team has their concerns after two games. You’re going to have things that you want to correct. I think with our team that’s certainly the side of the ball that we’ve emphasized, because we have given up goals and shot ourselves in the foot in a few moments. We haven’t given up a ton of chances, but the chances we’ve given up have been quality chances. It’s been a pattern or trend that we’ve seen over the first two games, and based on that trend we’ve emphasized that side of the ball certainly this week to correct. But we also don’t want to lose the positive things that we’ve done in the attack. So from my standpoint there are a lot more positives than negatives, but if we want to win games consistently throughout this year, we need to be tighter defensively, more balanced, and we need to quit shooting ourselves in the foot and having lapses in moments. We haven’t been broken down with long sequences, but it’s been set pieces, it’s been counterattacks, at times turnovers in the buildup, so those are things that you see in the games and those are the things you look to correct while still focusing on the things you’ve been doing well.”

(What factored into Mikael Silvestre’s tough start in that New York game?) “I take a bit of responsibility for that first half. We put him in a tough situation. He had flown in from Paris two days prior to that match, and he said he felt good, and he looked pretty good in training, and at the end of the day, he had not been on that field for several weeks. He had not been in a game at all — not worn a uniform in a real game — and not been with our back line probably enough for us to put him in that situation. But in the end, we needed him and put him in there, and I think it was a bit more of him adjusting and getting used to turf and getting used to playing in the back line with the other guys and also just getting adjusted to the environment there, as well, even though he’s played in big environments. I’m sure it was still, for him even, a bit impressive to see what it was like with our fans. To his credit, he was much better in the second half and I thought he had a good game against Montreal, so he has adjusted. He now has a couple weeks under his belt. We’ve had time to plug him in and get him sorted, and he’s had time to get used to the jet lag and really settle in with his family.”

(Did you think DeAndre Yedlin was ready to make the impression he has?) “I watched Yedlin in both the Montreal game and the second leg against Tigres, and he’s played very well. I knew his talent — obviously I coached him for two years and he was one of the, I thought, top right backs in the country. Very, very talented, athletic, and so yeah, I knew he would do well. I don’t know if I necessarily expected him to be doing quite as well as he’s doing. For a young player to step in and be starting and have the impact that he’s having I think is pretty impressive, and it says a lot about the talent that that young man has. It’s great to see for him and I’m happy that he’s off to a good start in his young career.”

(We spoke to both Yedlin and Steve Zakuani, and they both used “intense” as a way to describe you. Are you still that way or have you changed since coming to MLS from college?) “I am who I am, so my personality is my personality. I’m not going to change who I am, but I think with the pros you have to be a bit more calculated when you show that passion, that intensity, that competitiveness. You can maybe be a little less careful with college kids. It’s funny. I’ve said this in the eight weeks that I’ve been with the Timbers, going through training and obviously being in the locker room and managing situations: Certainly I’ve felt more at ease even than I was in college, because you have to temper and dominate your emotions. To manage adults and pro players, there’s a bit more finessing. … It’s a bit more methodical. So, I think yeah, I’ve probably been a little bit more just calculated to when I show my passion. But these guys have seen it. Probably with my guys at Akron when they were there, they probably saw it a bit more.”

(Not that you didn’t know about the rivalry before you came to Portland, but has there been a moment when you came to appreciate the rivalry?) “Well, I was always aware of it. Ironically, I was at the opening game at CenturyLink Field when Steve Zakuani played his first game, obviously well in advance of me having any idea I’d be the Portland Timbers head coach. I actually was in the stands in that first game and I was blown away with the atmosphere in that game. Then I also was at one of the first games in the first year with Portland, as well, and that was in advance of me knowing I’d have this job. I was in both stadiums live and was able to witness firsthand what it was like, so when this job became an option, a big part in me taking the job was the atmosphere at the games and obviously I think just overall the passion of the Cascadia region. I have a great appreciation for the rivalry, for the fans. I’ve studied it and researched it, and it’s something that means a lot to myself, our team, to the fans certainly, and it’s something where we’re going to relish the opportunity to go into CenturyLink and get our first win there in the club’s history. If you’re looking at the past, and the accomplishments of the Sounders, they’re clearly the team that’s favored in this game. The nice thing is games aren’t decided by the past. They’re decided on what happens over the course of the 90 minutes. In some ways, even though we haven’t won there, I’ve never been there, never coached there, and there are a lot of players on this team now that haven’t been there wearing a Portland Timbers uniform. So we talk about the past with this group, but we also talk about the fact that this is a new team. We’re 0-0 on the road and we’re certainly 0-0, this team, going into CenturyLink Field. But we’re well aware of the challenge. I think this group will relish that challenge. We’re excited at the opportunity to go in there and get a result. We know it’s going to be a battle. I have a lot of respect for their team, for their coach Sigi Schmid, but it’s one of things where when the whistle blows, that respect and those things go out the door and now it’s time for a battle to try and get three points and get off to, again, a good start to the season. It would certainly be meaningful for me to get my first win versus Seattle.”

(You’ve talked about Zakuani and Yedlin, will you take the time either before or after the game to appreciate the influence the Akron program is now having in MLS?) “There are a lot of Akron guys around the league, and there are going to be a lot of games that we play where there are Akron guys on the other side and on the other team. I think it’s one of those things where I’ll be so focused on the game that I really won’t take a step back to maybe appreciate the fact that there are some guys on the other team that used to be my guys. I’m a competitor and, again, I think when the whistle blows, I don’t care who we’re playing against. I want to win. And yes, these are players that I coached, that I care for, and I will be rooting for — except for when we’re playing them. After the game, I’m sure we’ll share a moment and a chat. But prior to the game, I don’t think there will be much discussion.”

(What have been the biggest transitions to MLS from college, especially when it comes to not dominating like you did?) “I’ve had discussions with Sigi over the years. He’s obviously been a guy that I followed, and over his career he’s been very successful. His reputation speaks for itself. He’s one of the winningest coaches in MLS history. He was a college coach and now he’s a pro coach. When I started thinking about making the jump, I think it was a few years ago, I called him to ask his advice and ask what it was like, to see what he thought, to find out what were the adjustments. I’ve known Sigi a long time. In fact, my last game as a senior in college playing in Indiana was losing to UCLA in the national semifinals in 1997. He was the coach of that team and that was my senior year. We were 23-0 and we lost to UCLA. I always had respect for what he was doing at UCLA, and when he made the jump to the pros, I followed him. I always thought to myself, ‘Here’s a guy who was a college coach that’s been successful,’ so I pulled for him. Now that I’m with a team like Portland, where there’s such a bitter rivalry, it makes that relationship interesting — but there will always be mutual respect. It doesn’t mean that there will be so much respect that it’ll play into anything other than wanting to beat him, obviously, and he’s going to want to beat me every time we play each other. But my point is that when I spoke with him, one of the things that he always said is, ‘You have to get used to losing.’ In college if you have a good team, you don’t lose very much. And I haven’t lost very much. In seven years at Akron, there were very few losses. You just have to, I think, keep your highs low and your lows high, and really it’s a long season. You have to put games behind you. I’m never going to like losing, but you’ve just got to throw it away a little bit quicker and not dwell on it. Move on from it and not it unravel you mentally. So that was one of the biggest things that he’s said, and I would have agree now that I’ve faced my first loss. To be honest with you, I’ve moved on from it quickly. And in some ways, I’ve handled it more positively than I would’ve handled it in college, because I do know it’s a long season, and it’s not where you start but where you end, and there are a lot of points on the table. You see teams that get off to slow starts and end up making the playoffs. The L.A. Galaxy is a good example. Last year, they had a slow start and ended up winning it all; there are tons of examples of that. That gives you good peace of mind. The other thing with me is we’re a new team in a lot of ways. We’re a new franchise again, building a new whole philosophy, a new whole culture, so that gives me piece of mind, as well. We have six new starters. That’s over half our team that’s starting the game is completely new. So while I’m trying to get my first win, they’re trying to get their first win, as well. Again, I think patience, understanding the process, understanding where we’re at as a club in building a culture and trying to build our club into a club that will eventually be in the playoffs every year and compete for MLS Cup trophies has really led me to be really even keel in spite of having one point after two games.”

(When you say you’ve studied the rivalry, is there anything new that you’ve learned?) “I always heard about Roger Levesque, to be honest with you. Everybody mentions that, and I never knew why his name was always mentioned in the rivalry. So I actually bought a book. I’m not giving a shout out to Geoffrey Arnold, but he’ll think I am. I actually got his book (“Cascadia Clash”) and skimmed through it last night just because I wanted to have a few tidbits. It’s important to me. This is my club. I’m the head coach and I’m leading this club, and even though it’s a new team, it’s a new season, it’s a whole fresh start, it’s a new philosophy we’re building, I appreciate the past and I want to be aware of it. So I tried to find out why it was that Roger Levesque was so polarizing with Timbers fans. I found that interesting, just kind of researching that and some of the other names over the years, and some of the little stories and sidebars between the two clubs.”

(Have you ever met Levesque?) “No I have not. I’ve not met Roger, but I certainly know who his is.”

(He’s actually very nice…) “(laughs) I have no problem with him, but obviously I know a lot of our fans do. Again, there’s a real balance between the past and the present. The past is the past, it is an important part about the future, but at the same time, I really feel like this is a new era for our club. Seattle has done very well and accomplished a lot, and I have a lot of respect for that, but we’re hoping to be a club that is accomplishing similar things — and more hopefully.”

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