Local reporters got a chance to talk to Portland coach Caleb Porter on a conference call Friday. The Timbers are coming to town as one of the top teams in MLS with a 9-3-12 record, 39 points and a Western Conference-best 1.63 points per game following a midweek tie against Real Salt Lake.
These two teams played a 1-1 tie at CenturyLink Field back in March, so this will be Porter’s second taste of the rivalry first-hand. Here is a transcript of the interview (on a side note, I’m not sure I’ve been a part of a 13-minute interview involving just four questions):
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(For those that have seen your results but maybe not watched all of your games, what do you feel your team has been doing well this season? What have you been impressed with?) “Well, I think I’ve been pleased with our consistency overall. Obviously we’ve had a few results that haven’t gone our way, Salt Lake case in point. That was one where we felt we left points on the table, but in the end, even that game we came back from being down 2-1 and got a point against a team that’s at the top of the table. The fact that we’re disappointed in these types of games I think says everything about our evolution and transformation of our club. The fact that we’ve created a standard and expectation, and we’re disappointed when we don’t get three points. I think, again, overall the consistency, going into games home and away, controlling games, outshooting, out-possessing some of the better teams in the league and getting draws and three points in numerous situations — only three losses in 24 games. It’s a few more draws than I would’ve liked, but again, last year those were losses. The next step, I think, in this club’s evolution is to find ways to make those draws wins, or a few more of those draws wins. But in the end, at the end of the year if you had told me we’d be 10 games out and sitting on 39 points, in second place, I would’ve taken it. We’re not there yet. We need to finish strong. We need to continue to improve in areas where we’ve fallen short. We need to continue to get points. Now it’s crunch time. This Seattle game, as much as it’s been hyped up, obviously we’re aware of the magnitude of it, it’s certainly important to our fans and supporters, and it’s important to us for a lot of reason — the Cascadia Cup — but it’s just another game to get points, as well. We can’t so caught up in the magnitude of the game that we lose sight of the fact that it’s another game along this journey of hopefully making the playoffs.”
(Would you say the team has exceeded expectations in terms of being this good this early into your tenure with the team?) “That’s a hard question to answer. I think the only way that you achieve the results that we’ve achieved is if you create an expectation and a vision in the club of what you want to accomplish. That vision was set from Day 1 when I addressed the team. That vision was to build this club in a way where we could go into games, home and away against anybody, and not hope to win but expect to win. That doesn’t mean we would automatically win, obviously what happens inside the lines over the course of 90 minutes, the performance, the ability to make plays and manage the game tactically, physically, psychologically, that’s what determined whether you win the game. But you want to build your team and your club … in a way where you’re going to have a chance, a realistic chance and opportunity, to go into games, home and away, and get results. I think that was the vision from Day 1. That was the expectation I set from Day 1. There are a lot of ingredients that go into putting that blueprint into place. It starts with getting the right pieces talent-wise. I think we’ve hit the mark in most of the players that we’ve kept and added. I think that’s been a big part of our success this year. If we would’ve missed on two or three of the pieces, we wouldn’t be probably in the position that we’re in. That’s the starting point, but I think from there, our ability to create a style of play and identity in the club has been a big part of it, as well. We have a great group of guys. We’re not going to be as talented as some of the teams in the league. We have a bit of a different blueprint in how we’re going to get to the end result than some of the other clubs. The strength of our team is in the team and the collective effort in the way we play, and the organization, and yet we still have talented players. But we don’t have a Clint Dempsey. But we don’t have a Robbie Keane. And that doesn’t mean we won’t perhaps someday have one of those types of players, but right now we don’t, so we have to do it with the way that we play as a team. I think that’s been a big part of why we’ve been in a position every game to get points. In a lot of games we have gotten points. I don’t know if it’s happened faster than I thought. I think I always thought and hoped it would happen this quickly. I think that’s probably why we’re in a position for it to happen this quickly. I never wanted to have a transition year. We didn’t publicly made all these bold statements about what we’re going to do, but internally we were always talking about in this first year, trying to be one of the best teams in the league and trying to make the playoffs. We’re just scratching the surface, we’re nowhere near where we want to be, but I think it’s been a good evolution. We’re in a position to make the playoffs, and that’s where we want to be because if you’re in the playoffs, everybody has a chance when you’re in the playoffs to win it all.”
(Were you disappointed in the manner of which Diego Chara picked up a yellow card that resulted in his suspension Sunday?) “Well, we’ve had a few guys that have been on four cards and we’re not a team that gets a ton of cards. We play tough and we have guys that fight and roll up our sleeves, but we try not to be an emotional or reckless team. We haven’t had a ton of cards, a ton of reds or a ton of reckless play, but we’re certainly never going to back down from a physical battle. I think it was something that was probably inevitably going to happen, so no. I’m disappointed that Chara’s not playing in this game. He’s one of the best ball-winners in this league, and when you’re a ball-winner, you’re going to commit fouls and you’re going to eventually commit cards. So 24 games in, for him to only be on five cards is a testament to how controlled players, even thought he’s extremely aggressive and tenacious. We will miss his presence, no question about it, but we’ve managed a lot of injuries this year. I haven’t talked a lot about that because that’s just not my style and I don’t like to make excuses. The reality is people don’t care if you have guys out; they want you to get results. To get results you have to have a deep team because you’re going to take injuries. I think we’ve not only built a strong core group of starting players but I think a strong core group of depth pieces. We’ve suffered a lot of injuries this year and it’s not been something that’s been talked about a lot. We’ve not missed too much of a beat. We’ve lost a Silvestre. We’ve lost a Horst. We’ve lost recently a bunch of guys. We could perhaps have four holding mids out, four central players out, in this game, but we’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to put the next guy, and so far to this point, we’ve been able to deal with injuries. When the next guy is put in, they’ve performed pretty well, because we’re always trying to do a good job of preparing not only our starting players but keeping our reserves ready to be plugged in. As the weeks go on and the months go on in a long season that’s very important that you manage that, because physically guys aren’t getting minutes in those games, you need to make sure they stay fit. And then just also psychologically make sure they stay on board. I think my staff has done a good job of that.”
(How would you compare the buildup and hype to what you’ve experienced and how do you prepare the guys for an atmosphere that will be different than usual?) “I’m never been a big believer in the big game, because it takes away from the other games. The reality is every game — as cliché as it sounds — is a big game. In this league, points are points. But I’ve tried to build as a culture where the players approach every game like it’s the biggest game. So clearly there’s some external factors that play into this game, perhaps being a bit more buzz to it, but I really try to avoid that psychology with my team. When I talk about every single game, I try to approach each one in a very business-like manner. So like I’ve said all year, there are not a lot of highs and lows. It’s very even keel from game to game, you’re certainly going to have emotion and passion, and you’re going to be up for certain games probably a bit more than others, but like I said, each game is an opportunity to move forward and move up the table and get points. And as big of this game is hyped up, and as much as it means to us and everybody, it’s just another hopefully stepping stone on our way of achieving our goal, which is to be the first Timbers in the MLS era to make the playoffs.”