Caleb Porter's decision to leave the Portland Timbers -- and that's the way it's being painted at the moment -- mystifies on a host of levels. Porter is leaving one of the best jobs in MLS, a team with an owner willing to spend, a talented roster and fantastic crowd support.
So why would he do it? Usually these types of things come down to money and control. The fact remains that half of the coaching staff are holdovers from the John Spencer era. GM Gavin Wilkinson retains significant sway over personnel matters. Owner Merritt Paulson is also sinking $50 million into an expansion of Providence Park, so it's conceivable that there's less money to put into the team.
None of that seems sufficient to walk away. After all, this is a relationship that everyone involved has made work for five years through ups (winning MLS Cup in 2015) and some downs (missing the postseason twice). Porter and the Timbers did well to finish atop the Western Conference this season amid a fair number of injuries. Yes, losing in the conference semifinal round of the playoffs to Houston is disappointing, but on the surface at least that doesn't appear to create the kind of situation that would lead Portland to ax Porter, or make him want to leave.
Perhaps the most illuminating comment came from Paulson, who said in a prepared statement, "I respect Caleb's decision to seek his next challenge. He leaves Portland with a lasting legacy valued by everyone associated with the club, and I wish him nothing but success in the future."
So maybe it's as straightforward as a coach wanting a new experience after five years. There is some logic behind this, though it carries with it some risk. Following the 2002 campaign, Bob Bradley left a stable gig in Chicago to head to what was then known as the MetroStars. He was let go in 2005. Jason Kreis could have been a Real Salt Lake lifer only to head to New York City FC, where he was dismissed after just one season.
That said, coaching careers are finite, and if Porter was getting restless, now is probably as good a time as any to leave.
That has led to speculation that Porter has something already lined up, but none of the suggestions really stand up to scrutiny at the moment. Rumors began circulating that he would head back to Ohio and join up with expansion hopeful FC Cincinnati. But sources on the ground there insist there is nothing to it, and the club is happy with the coach it has, Alan Koch. Given the upheaval on the stadium front for FCC, there's also no guarantee the team will even be chosen as one of the next two teams come December.
There's no movement on the U.S. national team front either, especially when you consider that there is an election for USSF president set to take place in February. It would be irresponsible for the Federation to make a decision before that election takes place.
What about one of the other expansion hopefuls, Nashville or Sacramento? Nashville already has an MLS Cup-winning manager on board in Gary Smith, and while Porter is viewed as being more progressive, it doesn't seem like a fit there either.
Sacramento might make the most sense, especially if Porter is given the kind of control over personnel decisions that he lacked in Portland.