Portland’s first-year coach Caleb Porter was the unanimous winner of the 2013 MLS Coach of the Year award, announced last Monday. New York Red Bulls’ Mike Petke was second in the voting, Jason Kreis of Real Salt Lake was third and Colorado Rapids coach Oscar Pareja fourth. In winning the award, Porter quieted critics who doubted his ability to excel in the professional game.
Porter was a successful college coach at the University of Akron, Ohio (2006-1012), but it was his failure to qualify a talented USA men’s Olympic team for the 2012 games in London that casts doubts. The U. S. hadn’t missed the Olympics soccer tournament since 1972, so the rumors swirled about Porter’s inability at a higher level. Porter later revealed to writer Grant Wahl in an interview for Sports Illustrated that he did a 150-page post mortem on his failure with the U.S. Under-23 team, learned from the experience and used it as motivation to succeed.
Portland lost 16 games in 2012 and fired its coach, John Spencer. Early in 2013, Porter went on a rebuilding binge and brought in Jamaican goal keeper Donovan Ricketts, scorer Diego Valeri and skillful Jamaican speedster Darling Nagbe; hard-nosed midfielder Will Johnson was already with the club and with other additions, Porter led the Timbers to the Western Conference regular season title with a record of 14-5-15. The Timbers, though, lost to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference playoff finals, 5-2 on aggregate.
As the Timbers season emerged, the 38-year-old Porter became the most successful rookie coach in MLS history. The Timbers set single-season records for most points (57), most wins (14) and most goals (54); there was an impressive turnaround in goal differential as the Timbers went for negative-22 in 2012 to a plus-21 in 2013. The Timbers also recorded 15 shutouts, the fewest losses (5) and the least goals allowed (33), all MLS season bests. Portland’s 15-game unbeaten streak is a record for a first-year MLS coach.
Porter seemed to pride himself on the style of play that he introduced to the Timbers; he referred to his team’s play as the three Ps – passing, pressure and passion. The Timbers really were one of the most entertaining teams to watch this past season; they moved the ball creatively and quickly around the pitch and created mistakes with their pressure game, while the fans fed off this exciting brand of soccer and frenzied the always-sold-out JELD-WEN Field. The excitement and passion in Portland was evident throughout the season. The Timbers even created a lumberjack character that would cut a slab of timber at the stadium for each player who scored at home games. According, to Porter, this is just the beginning.
Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake will play in the 2013 MLS Cup, the championship game, on Saturday, Dec. 7, 4:00 p.m. (ESPN) at Sporting Park, in Kansas City, Kansas. Sporting, which will host the game because of its superior regular season record, reached the final by defeating the Houston Dynamo, 2-1, on aggregate in the Eastern Conference finals, while Real Salt Lake knocked off Portland in the West.
Both teams are seeking their second MLS championship. Sporting Kansas City beat the Chicago Fire, 1-0, to win the Cup in 2000; Real Salt Lake beat the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2009 MLS Cup on penalties. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando is among nine players on this year’s team who won the final in 2009.
The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) will stage the first annual CONCACAF Awards to recognize its best performers in 2013. “We are delighted to introduce the first edition of the annual CONCACAF Awards, which will provide rightful and much-deserved recognition to our region’s best players, coaches and referees in the women’s and men’s games,” said CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. “This event promises to become a prominent date on the football calendar for players and fans alike.”
This year’s award categories include Male and Female Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year, Referee of the Year, and Goal of the Year. Ten nominees in each category have been determined by CONCACAF Technical Directors and the CONCACAF Technical Study Group.