After the break-up: Why the Porter-Timbers split changes the coaching landscape

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

After five years, Portland and its head coach have parted ways. Where do the two sides go from here?

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Caleb Porter’s departure as head coach of the Portland Timbers was a bona fide shock.

Just 11 days after the Timbers were eliminated from the playoffs, and only a few weeks removed from finishing atop the regular season standings in the Western Conference, Porter has walked away from his post.

Porter won MLS Coach of the Year in 2013 and an MLS Cup in 2015. He had a talented roster with the potential MLS MVP coming off his best season. Portland is considered one of the best coaching jobs in MLS. There was no clear and obvious reason for Porter to step away.

The question bouncing around MLS circles after news broke was a simple one: What went wrong?

There hasn’t been a perfectly clear answer; at least, not when it comes to the tipping point that led Porter to this decision. That’s probably because there wasn’t just one single thing that led to Porter’s ultimate departure. Rather, the balancing act in Portland’s ego-heavy triumvirate of power and leadership simply reached its end. It wasn’t as much a power struggle as it was a power structure that had worn out its practicality. Porter decided his next challenge, wherever that may be, would be better than the status quo.

Most coaching moves have a ripple effect within a league. Here’s a look at what Porter’s departure from Portland may mean around MLS.

Portland’s way forward

The most intriguing part of Portland’s coaching search will be how it weighs ambition with delegation of responsibility.

Current Columbus Crew boss Gregg Berhalter may be at the top of most MLS wish lists, but would the Timbers be willing to let Berhalter bring his own staff – most of Porter’s staff was in place before he arrived – and assume final say over player identification and the technical staff? Berhalter currently holds both the coach and sporting director roles with the Crew, and he sets the on-field direction for Columbus. Unless something changes in Portland, it might be difficult for Berhalter to walk away – even amidst the potential relocation in Columbus.

"Thoughts on Portland, Pedro?" (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

"Thoughts on Portland, Pedro?" (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

An international coaching search would make sense if Portland is looking for someone who wants only the coaching responsibility. So, too, would be looking to hire a coach trying to break into MLS for the first time, like Giovanni Savarese, Marc Dos Santos, Tab Ramos or a similar option.

Regardless of who Portland hires, the organization has to take a step back and evaluate how it functioned under Porter. Certainly, the Timbers had plenty of success. No one can take away that MLS Cup, but there was always a tension that existed within Portland’s front office, according to sources around the league, and unless Portland can find the one coach in the universe without an ego, that isn’t going to change with a new man in charge.

The Merritt Paulson-Gavin Wilkinson partnership is a strong one, but now it needs to find the right personality to fit into that triangle. Portland’s leaders might have give a bit more in order to get the right fit.

Porter’s next step

Speculation began immediately about Porter’s next destination. It couldn’t make sense that Porter would walk away from one of the top jobs in MLS without something lined up, right?

Only that’s exactly what happened.

Porter doesn’t have a new job lined up. He isn’t going to Cincinnati or another potential expansion team; at least, not in the immediate future. He simply decided he was done working in Portland. That doesn’t mean he won’t have plenty of suitors.

Porter now sits atop the list for any MLS team that looks to make a coaching change next season. The most intriguing among them: the LA Galaxy. Sigi Schmid recently was given power over personnel, but he has just one year left on his contract and there are no guarantees things will work out. LA was interested in hiring Porter in the past, and no doubt he’d be atop the organization’s list if it decides Schmid isn’t the long-term answer – which some people already doubt, considering Schmid’s recent results.

The U.S. men’s national team job is open, but Porter isn’t the frontrunner for it. No one is, yet. The U.S. will wait until after the U.S. Soccer presidential election before it moves forward in that process, and how, exactly, a new coach will be picked isn’t yet determined. In the meantime, Porter will have to sit and wait until the next opportunity comes.

His presence on the market likely makes a few leashes a whole lot shorter next season.

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