Congrats to Akron and Caleb Porter

So this weekend, I watched most of Akron’s two matches en route to the school’s first ever National Championship in any sport. I must admit, I was gob-smacked by what I saw.

With the proviso that I was too young to remember Arena’s teams at UVA, Akron was the single best college team I have ever seen – seriously. One or two of Cirovski’s Maryland teams come sort of close, but none played with the kind of unbelievably good possession-oriented soccer that Akron did this weekend.

Akron’s coach, Caleb Porter is, without question, the most promising young American soccer coach I’ve seen since I began covering soccer.

I’ve taken my shots at the Akron program and Porter before. Quite simply, I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about any subject at any time. Porter is the real thing, and so is Akron’s program.

Porter should, in theory, have his choice of any MLS gig that comes open in the next couple of years. If he can get a team to play like that in college soccer, where the rules practically beg coaches to have their teams run around like headless chicken, I do not doubt for one minute that he could get pros to do it even better in MLS.

Bruce Arena’s almost 60 years old and not getting any younger. Why do I think we might have just found his future successor in Los Angeles?

For more on Akron’s triumph, read Bill’s summary of Akron and where it’s come as a program.

Caleb Porter is not fit to wear DC United’s tracksuit

So I keep reading stuff that has me thinking that United is about to veer off the traditional get-a-former-DC-guy path and hire a college or even an international coach. That would mean eschewing the conventional wisdom kind of picks like Richie Williams or Curt Onalfo.

Steven Goff, who has been the only guy able to get any bits of info out of this process keeps bringing up Akron Coach Caleb Porter as being high on DC’s list.

I’ll admit, I’d be very worried about United if they went out and got Porter. While I think they’d sell it as “We’re looking for new blood!” and “Schellas Hyndman wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone thought he would be!” I still think it would be an indication that rather than relinquishing some degree of control to a powerful “big name coach,” Technical Director Dave Kasper and GM Kevin Payne would be consolidating their control over matters. And considering how dreadful DC’s talent evaluation has been for the last couple years, United fans should be doubly worried about that.

But maybe I am being too cynical, maybe a Porter signing indicates DC moving towards a slightly more athletic, more up-tempo, more physical style. Recently, United has resembled the world’s least effective and slowest Arsenal impersonators. They collapse with the same aplomb as Arsenal, just at a slower speed. Maybe Porter is sign of better things.

But, looking over Porter’s resume, it does worry me that he has so little pro experience, playing only two years in MLS before a knee injury forced him to retire.

This season, it’s hard to argue too much at first with Porter’s record, leading Akron to an undefeated record and a spot in the NCAA Quarterfinals. That said, he has done that without playing a single power team from the ACC, Big-East or Pac-10 all season and receving an utter joke of a draw from the NCAA. Since arriving in 2006, Porter’s teams have only played ACC or Pac 10 Opposition five times*, going 2-3. All season, I have been saying that Akron is completely counterfeit and that they’ve been that way for a few years now. I think they schedule soft and I think their results in the tournament have shown that.

But I am going to admit something else that worries me about him – something that reveals a more ingrained bias. I am worried about hiring the guy becomes he’s from the Midwest.

It’s not that being Midwestern makes coaches dumber or players worse, it’s just that competition isn’t nearly as high. Look at the USMNT player pool, only nine guys (Beasley, DeMerit, Guzan, Jewsbury, Perkins, Pickens, Rolfe, Simek, and Spector) are from what we might define as the Midwest (no, Texas does not count). Of those nine, only three stand any chance of going to South Africa. More relevantly, look at MLS coaches, only one (Hyndman) is from the midwest. Other than Kreis, an outlier from Louisiana, the rest either grew up on the East Coast, the West Coast, or abroad.

Even more worrying, look at the other Midwestern coaches in MLS:

  • Dave Dir – A four-year stretch with Dallas whose longivity can be attributed more to ownership’s lazyness rather than to any real success on his part.
  • Bob Gansler – Seven years at KC, one title and much, much boredom
  • Perry Van Der Beck – Stepped in after Mondelo was canned in Tampa’s final season. Now in Super-Y Program.

BTW: I was expecting to find out that Greg Andrulis was from the Midwest. Turns out, he’s from Connecticut. Nutmeg state, he’s your fault.

The same thing applies at the college level, for all the success we attribute to programs like SLU, Indiana, and Akron – IU was the last Midwestern team to win a title and that was five years ago. Looking beyond Bloomington, you have to go all the way back to Wisconsin in 1995 to find a Midwestern title-winner.

So yes, part of the reason I am worried is that he is a Midwestern guy and one who even more worryingly has only ever coached in the Midwest and who has barely ventured out to the East or West to test his teams against the best. On top of all of that, Porter’s record is padded by playing in the piss-poor MAC Conference.

Now maybe Akron runs the table and mows through its final three NCAA Tournament opponents to win a national title. In that case, I am completely wrong about Porter and about my theory on Midwestern coaches and will gladly admit so. But if Akron falls in the semifinals against likely opponents North Carolina, then it will only go to prove that Porter’s teams can’t really compete with the best, no matter how many games undefeated they go. That is what I expect will happen and that would worry me to no end if I was a DC fan. Also, maybe the club, still without a stadium and continuing to bleed Will Chang’s cash, wants to spend a bit less. Hiring Porter, who surely isn’t holding Akron ransom with his salary, is one way to do that.

Here is the big question. Is this the kind of coach United wants to hire? The more I look at Porter and the opponents his teams have played, the more I see smoke and mirrors. I am not in favor of MLS teams hiring college coaches in general, but even I can think of at least three other guys who have demonstrably better resumes than Porter. Here are three off the top of my head.

  • Sasho Cirovski, Maryland – Turned Terps into college soccer juggernaut, but unlikely to give up one of the best gigs in American soccer.
  • Bobby Clark, Notre Dame – 70 percent win percentage with Irish plus lots of pro experience with Aberdeen and Scotland.
  • Jorge Salcedo, UCLA – Has never missed out on NCAAs in six years in Westwood, plus lots of MLS experience.

Each of them brings more college success and/or more pro experience than Porter.

There was a time when I figured DC was too smart to be fooled by a resume this thin. Of course, there was a time when I thought DC United would have its own stadium and would have more than two central defenders to be proud of since Ryan Nelsen left. If Caleb Porter is what DC United thinks is good enough than this isn’t the DC United we all thought it was. Until he wins something, anything, on the national level, Porter has no business coaching a club that purports to have the ambitions of winning MLS and CONCACAF titles.

If United management decides otherwise and hires Porter, we should start asking questions about just how serious United is about winning.

* To put that in perspective, in the same time period, IU played nine games against Pac 10 or ACC opponents. My point? Akron’s schedules are soft.