The Portland Timbers are a long way from where they were earlier this decade, and no one knows that better than Caleb Porter.
Now in charge of the Columbus Crew, Porter faces his road-weary and winless former side at MAPFRE Stadium for Saturday's interconference clash.
Porter coached Portland (0-5-1) from 2013-17 and won the MLS Cup in 2015. He also won a Cascadia Cup in 2017 as the Timbers finished atop the Western Conference in 2013 and 2017 while compiling a 68-50-52 record. When he left after a semifinal playoff exit following the 2017 season, it was believed he was a frontrunner for the U.S. national team job following their failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
That job, though, went to Gregg Berhalter, whom Porter succeeded at Columbus. He wound up taking a one-year coaching sabbatical before the Crew (4-2-1) came calling in January as part of a front-office overhaul that included new team president Tim Bezbatchenko.
"They've added some new players, but last year, I think it was when they were making their run, it was one new guy not in the starting lineup," Porter noted about his former side after practice Thursday. "This year they have changed. The system has changed, so it's less like the team I had in the system they're playing, the style they're playing and the personnel as well."
Porter's current side is coming off a 1-0 loss at Montreal last weekend in which a defensive breakdown led to the only goal in the 55th minute. The Crew did not lack for scoring chances, finishing with a season-high five shots on target - including a corner kick by Federico Higuain that was deflected off the underneath of the crossbar before being cleared.
The Timbers (0-1-5) are last in the Western Conference, one of three teams in the MLS without a victory, and have the fewest points in the league. Their 12-game season-opening road trip - necessitated as they expand seating capacity at Providence Park - means they will play 17 of their 22 final matches at home, but the failure to pick up points now would make that late-season advantage meaningless.
Portland has lost five straight after last Saturday's 2-1 loss at FC Dallas. Cristhian Paredes gave the Timbers a lifeline for a point with a goal in the 67th minute, but they could not find an equalizer while pouring forward in the final 23-plus minutes and had two appeals for penalties turned down.
"We need to repeat the second half against Dallas, but for 90 minutes," striker Jeff Attinella told Portland's official website. "We need to give the best effort, and (the players) need to sacrifice, because we need more, from each (of us). We need to give more effort, take more risks. We have potential, but we need to believe in us."
Portland recorded a 3-2 win at home in the lone meeting last season as Andy Polo had a goal and an assist before an own goal by Crew defender Lalas Abubakar made It 3-1 just after halftime. Niko Hansen scored both goals for Columbus, which has lost four of the last five between the teams.
Updated April 19, 2019