PORTLAND -- I am liking this Caleb Porter guy. Yeah, yeah, I know, he hasn't lost in five games, so what's not to like?
But I don't care about the wins, losses or even the draws. I'm looking at the intangibles.
Porter is the guy in charge and there is no question about that. Not a question about it in the clubhouse. And certainly not in the media room. Maybe not even in owner Merritt Paulson's office. Okay, that last one was a reach.
It's taken Porter exactly one training camp and five regular season matches to instill his will and install his system. And you know what? It's working. This team is displaying a toughness we didn't see in its previous two Major League Soccer seasons. The players have a grit about them, which allows them to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat. That's something they did in three straight games after losing the season opener. Now they've won two in a row, while earning at least one point in five straight matches.
One of the things I told the guys, Porter said following his teams most recent win on Sunday night over San Jose, teams that have the winning culture, and the intangibles, and the belief find a way to win games.
The Timbers are finding ways. Sunday's game looked more like a rugby match than a soccer match. Bloodied lips, injured limbs, and tense verbal exchanges highlighted the night. But once the Earthquakes went a man down following a red card to Alan Gordon, Porter's guys went into attack mode. They earned a free kick, which given the wall of defenders doesn't really look all that free. Yet Will Johnson, who plays like Porter coaches, fired a rocket over that wall and bent it around the diving San Jose goalkeeper. It was 1-0 Timbers, and that was all they'd need to secure the home win.
It's a workman's, blue collar group, Johnson said, and I really like to lead a group of guys who make it so easy, when everyone is stepping up.
Johnson's score came with a kicker. Earlier in the day, Porter sent his scrappy goal scorer a text message telling him he felt Johnson would get a goal that night on one of those free kicks he had been working on all week long at practice.
It was amazing when it happened, since I told him that today, Porter said Sunday as he reflected on his ability to predict the future.
I don't even know what I said back to him, but I got him the free kick goal so there you go, Johnson said.
And there go the Timbers, climbing the standings into 3rd place in the Western Conference.
We knew if we won, we'd jump five teams in the conference. Still early, Porter said, doesn't mean much.
He just made his first mistake as head coach. Go tell the Timbers Army it doesn't mean much. Go sell that to your owner who cares about nothing but winning. Porter knows what a good start means; he just doesn't want his team thinking they've accomplished anything yet.
The enemy of progress is past success, Porter said.
Yeah. I like this guy.