Running short of time in this hectic week, but although writing time is scarce, I don’t want all of these Caleb Porter quotes to go to waste. So here’s a little something I’ll call Collected Caleb Quotes. These are all from media day on Wednesday.
Porter has been to Crew games as a fan and an observer, and he has coached at MAPFRE Stadium as a visiting coach, but Saturday will mark his first time at the stadium as head coach of the Columbus Crew. I asked if it would have any special meaning to him to be on the bench as the Crew’s boss for the first time.
“I stay pretty business-like. I’ve found in 19 years of coaching and 13 now as a head coach that the best way to stay locked in to the task at hand is to take the emotion away and stay focused on what I need to do, which is prepare the team, and in the game, make adjustments with the three subs. But look, I’ve also learned in being at this a long time, you do need to stop and smell the roses. I’ll probably take a few minutes as I walk out to embrace and enjoy that moment, especially after being off a year.”
Here’s what he had to say about that gap year between his Portland stint and signing on with the Crew:
“I think it was strange because I am so used to being in the trenches and being on the field and around my players. I didn’t like not being there, but I used it to my advantage. I think I feel more refreshed and more energized. And I learned while I was off that I missed it a lot. I don’t think you always know what you have until it’s taken away a little bit. So I’m having the time of my life right now.”
Porter is a coach who emphasizes winning. He does not flinch when talking about his desire to win. Even though it’s only preseason, I wondered if winning the Carolina Challenge Cup was still something he loved to see since it was winning. He didn’t directly answer, but it did prompt him to speak about his competitiveness and how he wants to see that in his team.
“It’s a bottom line business. At the end of the day, if you’re not wanting to win as a player or wanting to win as a coach, we know the fans want us to win, especially in Columbus. They’re used to winning teams. So I don’t shy away from that. I want to win and I don’t shy away from saying that I want to win things. I think you have to have that vision at the end of the road. I’m also very process-oriented, so I know there’s always another game around the corner, and the idea that that you have to focus on the cliché one game at a time is true, but what’s at the end of the road? You have to know what’s at the end of the road. If you’re just kind of lost at the end and not knowing what the purpose is, I’ve found that’s where teams fall short.”
Porter has a battle-tested team, both on the field and, thanks to the relocation saga, off the field as well. In his eyes, however, the mental work never stops.
“You have to continue working on that psyche, because even though individually and collectively they’ve performed and got the job done, the winning psychology and that psyche is something that you need to continue to establish and reinforce on a daily basis. Especially in soccer, it’s a fragile psychology. You can be in total control and then one moment changes the game, so I never lose sight of that. I try to work on that psychology ever single day and I don’t think that you can ever lose sight of that.”
After studying the Crew from a distance, Porter has now spent an entire preseason with the squad. Here is what he gleaned from that time together.
“I know them a little bit more as people. I knew about them as players, so you develop an understanding of what they can do on the field, but I know a lot more about them as people and what makes them tick and what their cultures are. I also think that’s important because it helps me lead them. Every player is different and they respond to different things, so I lead them in an individual way.
“That’s probably my favorite part of putting a team together. You have pieces of the puzzle and you have to get the chemistry right. You have to figure out their rhythm and what works for them as individuals and as a collective group. So I don’t cookie-cutter how I manage the culture and psychology of a team. I obviously have a way of putting a team together from a system standpoint and a style of play, but I’ve found that every team is so different and you have to push the right buttons. If you push the wrong buttons, then what you get on Saturday is the wrong thing. I’m learning a lot about them and I’m enjoying it.”
Porter has taken over a team that has consistently made the playoffs and even done some damage along the way. This is counter to the start of most coaching tenures, where the new guy is brought in to fix something that’s broken. In Columbus, Porter hasn’t inherited disarray. Rather, it’s about trying to break through and win some hardware with a good team that hasn’t quite gone all the way yet. I wondered how that aspect feels to him compared to most coaching takeovers.
That’s something I really think about, always. I try to read my players and the team and the situation. I also pick my jobs carefully. I try to pick the right jobs for me. I want jobs where I’m motivated and where I like the group. In evaluating this job, I really liked the group of guys. I liked the way they played and I liked the system they had. It’s very similar to the way I see the game, so it was perfect marriage in that regard. That’s why I’m enjoying it. My biggest challenge, like you said, is wringing out that extra five or ten percent, but I think you do that with a little bit of tactical changes, like can we push our lines a little higher and press a little higher so we keep the ball a little more in the front half? Can we play with more killer instinct and a little bit more ruthlessness to get wins and results, especially in big moments in the tournament? That’s kind of been my bread and butter, so I think that that psychology and mentality will hopefully push them over the edge. That’s my hope at least.
And finally, it’s got to be a luxury for a new coach to take over a team whose captain is a former pupil. That’s the case witj Crew captain Wil Trapp, who played for Porter at the University of Akron.
It’s a blessing. It’s amazing to be able to work with a young man in college and then turn around and work with him again six years later. He’s a lot different and I’m a lot different, to be honest with you. I’ve enjoyed seeing how he’s different and I hope he’s enjoyed seeing how I’m different. We’re re-learning each other, but there’s a trust. I think that’s the biggest thing. There’s a trust that’s already been built, and that helps because I trust him and he trusts me. Your captain is the extension of the coach, so I think he’s able to provide some of those messages in the locker room because he does know me and I know him.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.