The last time Sounders FC saw the Portland Timbers, they were celebrating their first MLS win over their archrivals.
However, the joy of that June 24 victory was short-lived.
Little more than two weeks later, the Timbers had tumbled to 5-8-4, and coach Jon Spencer was fired.
Since then, the club has gone 2-6-2 under general manager and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson. And as the Sounders prepare for their return trip to Portland on Saturday, the Timbers are in the Western Conference cellar.
“It’s tough for Gavin,” said Sounders assistant Brian Schmetzer, who used to coach against Wilkinson when this Cascadia rivalry was contested in the United Soccer Leagues. “Gavin’s a good guy, and he’s done the job that he was handed. … It’s never easy to be an interim/general manager/technical director – whatever they want to call it. That’s got to be a difficult job. … Their season certainly has been a challenging one for a lot of people in that organization: not just Gavin, but from (owner Merritt Paulson) all the way down to the last guy on their roster.”
The club was serious about Wilkinson’s interim tag and on Aug. 29 introduced the man who will assume the coaching duties next season: Caleb Porter, now in his seventh season at the University of Akron.
Porter led the Zips to a national title in 2010 and to four consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament round of 16. Along the way, he has turned out a steady supply of professional players, including Seattle midfielder Steve Zakuani, who was the top overall pick in the 2009 SuperDraft.
“He preached ‘Play football; pass the ball; move the ball,’” Zakuani said. “You watch Akron, they’re fantastic the way they play football. I don’t think you can change that philosophy of his, and I’m sure he would have communicated to the Timbers that that’s the way I like the game played. It will take time, but once he gets his players in and they buy into his philosophy, they’re going to be a team that plays very good football. I think he can do it at this level.”
While the college coaches in basketball and gridiron football have had spotty records when jumping to the pros, Major League Soccer has proved more hospitable.
Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena started at the University of Puget Sound before winning five national championships at Virginia. Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman won 466 games at Southern Methodist before moving to the pros. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid won three NCAA titles at UCLA before joining MLS.
“I’ve always said that people who know how to be successful are going to be successful, even if you put them in a different line of work,” Schmid said. “They just know the management skills, the ingredients, or the work ethic that is required to have success. That’s the reason for some coaches being able to come out of the college game and have success, the ones who have gotten opportunities: Bruce, myself, Schellas, and now Caleb.”
Zakuani sees qualities in Porter that will allow him to succeed at the professional level.
“Caleb’s the kind of guy who gives things a lot of thought,” Zakuani said. “And I’m sure he’s thought things over and over and only made the decision when he knew he was capable and knew it was the right time. So, I’m sure even now he’s preparing himself for next season with the Timbers.”
Seattle midfielders Christian Tiffert (ankle) and Mauro Rosales (quadriceps) are expected to return to full training Thursday and be available Saturday. … The Sounders will clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat Portland and San Jose beats Chivas USA. … According to a list published on MLSsoccer.com, Fredy Montero’s jersey is the fourth-best seller in MLS, behind those of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan. Other Sounders in the top 25 were Rosales (ninth) and Osvaldo Alonso (13th).firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8808 blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt