Oregon Public Broadcasting

Portland's professional men's soccer team is winning more games this season than last. And this month marks a year since the Timbers let go of former coach John Spencer.

The Timbers went from being one of the worst teams in the league to a top contender for this year's championship.

Coach Caleb Porter is on the Timbers' training soccer field. The players are executing his practice drills.

Before joining the team, Porter coached men's soccer at the collegiate level. There he won his first college national championship and established a winning record.

Porter has now transitioned into Major League Soccer, where his focus is on teamwork.

The players and coaching staff are delivering different results this season. The team is one of the top three in the league.

Jacob Baker is a fan who lives in Lake Oswego. He's watched soccer for more than a decade, and followed the Timbers even before they joined the MLS. As he watches reruns of games from the Timbers' last season, he remembers just how different it was.

"It's just so irritating, so aggravating to watch, but you have that passion for the game as a fan and just for the team, so it's hard to watch in some ways, but I mean, as a fan, you always feel like you have some part in their success orfailure. I would definitely say last season was a failure," Baker says.

We're sitting in the living room. The television is turned onto soccer and Baker visits the Timbers' website for the latest news from Coach Porter.

"His face is calm. He's collected. He's thinking about the game instead of getting upset about a call or getting upset about a mistake someone has made. It's not that he's robotic. He still has that emotion and cares a lot, but he is just so structured and it doesn't allow that emotion to get transferred onto the field, which calms the players," Baker says.

Last season the Timbers only won eight games out of thirty-four. During the off-season the Timbers made roster changes which included replacing about half the players.

Diego Chara has been playing with the team for three seasons now.

He tells me about the season before Porter arrived.

"We committed a lot of errors, which cost us practically a lot of points, which eliminated us from the playoffs," Chara says.

This season the Timbers are on track to qualify for the playoffs and the team is in championship contention. The new players have played a key role in the team's success. And the Timbers are spending about half a million dollars less overall on player salaries this season, compared to last.

"I think the coach has had influence, the players have assimilated to his style really well, too. We've been a little more concentrated. We haven't committed many mistakes. We're more solid," Chara says.

Michael Orr is a soccer analyst with the North American Soccer Network. He says Porter had a major influence in bringing on new players that have key roles in the team.

"There's no way in my mind to separate the players who are here and doing what they're doing without giving credit to Porter for identifying them or identifying the needs, and then, working with Wilkinson to get it done. So I think, this team has Caleb Porter's handprints all over it, even though he's not the general manager. It's the types of guys he wants," Orr says.

The Timbers anticipate statistically outperforming last season's team. So far, the team has committed fewer fouls, possessed the ball longer, and had more assists.

Still, this year many players suffered injuries that removed them from competition. However, other younger or newer players on the team have been able to fill the vacancy and continue the team's winning trajectory.

"The game plan is what's making the Timbers successful. The individuals have to do the job, but they're doing the job within the system. And when the system works, they don't lose," Orr says.

And Baker, the Timbers' fan, thinks the Pacific Northwest soccer culture is helping, too.

"It's definitely a different passion that North westerners have. It's partly the pub culture, I guess. Just that, you know, go have some beers and sit with your friends and chant for the Timbers. And it's just that great collective group that you can get going," Baker says.

With about half the season left to go, the Timbers could have a real shot at the team's first ever playoff berth.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.


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