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Making the Case - A Publishing Plea for Porter in Portland

"Come on. Do it!"

Photo Credit: Associated Press

By Eric Betts

For the majority of MLS fans, last weekend’s final whistle marking the end of the regular season didn’t mean it’s time to start thinking about kick-off in 2013. That majority doesn’t include me.

Ohh sure, I’ll watch and enjoy the playoffs, but I’m already thinking about next year. Actually, I’m thinking about December, when the Portland Timbers hand the reins over to soon-to-be former University of Akron head coach/definitely-former U.S. U-23’s coach Caleb Porter and instantly become one of the most fascinating teams in the league. I’m not a Timbers fan; I really, objectively believe that. In fact, I think they’ll be so fascinating that I’m desperately hoping someone will write a book about their 2013 season.

Much of the press on the Porter hire focuses on how he’s going to remake the team in his image, from the comments from Portland that they’ve been making player moves for months according to his wishes to the joking(?) suggestions that he’s going to sign and trade for all Akron guys and rebuild his college juggernaut. Rebuilding years are the most interesting from a storytelling perspective, a season-long wave of advances and setbacks. Championship seasons either have a sense of inevitability or come out of nowhere, with little hint that suddenly a team will gel and make a late run. Contenders' seasons often come down to one or two performances that everyone has been anticipating since the beginning of the season; how they do in those games makes for a good movie but often leaves the feeling in a long project that the rest of the year is less important.

But a team trying to make the leap from being bad to good: that could go either way. The process of retooling a team in MLS is even more fascinating than any other league; there are so many avenues to acquire talent domestically and abroad, but just as many restrictions and work-arounds to take advantage of them.

In Porter, we have a coach whose background and narrative arc sets him apart from his peers. There's a reason "meteoric rise" and "sudden fall from grace" sound like cliches:  they're used so often because they work well in an account like this. Porter is a smart coach with an attacking style and getting a glimpse of how he communicates that style to a new team and compromises it when faced with MLS defenses will be fascinating reading. 

Photo Credit: Nick Hernandez (OregonLive.com)

In Portland, we have an ideal setting for this: a rabid and forthcoming fan base in a sporting locale undiluted with teams in two of the three major sports (sorry hockey, you don't count). Plus, there's the appropriateness of setting something like this in Portland, a city whose Trail Blazers were the subject for the best book of this kind anywhere: David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game". (Seriously, I don’t care if you think that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are actors from 'The Wire', if you have any interest in any game played with a spherical or oblong object of any size, then you should read "The Breaks of the Game", because it is absolutely fantastic.)

That has to be the model here, no matter how high of a bar it sets. The project I’m describing is a work that, like Halberstam's book, will need to zoom in to provide profiles of individual players around the league and pull back to get an overview of the entire MLS organization. (The three-page description of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 'Breaks' is such a perfect summation of his career to that point that it feels like it was fifty pages in hindsight.) This league is filled with characters and interesting personalities, and for a project like this that roster isn't limited to the Kei Kamara's and the Alan Gordon's out there.

At the same time, the league itself is building momentum. Every year they can point to new progress being made – stadiums that are newer and fuller, a level of play that’s constantly improving, the ceaseless march toward team number 20, and the big “Now what?” that will accompany it. Part of what makes “Breaks” great is the timing of it. It covers the 1979-1980 season, the year Magic and Larry entered the league, and so sits perfectly on the precipice between what the NBA was and what it would become. We’re at that time now in MLS. Every year brings developments that would have seemed a pipe dream only the year before.

For this project to be successful, these layers will have to stack as seamlessly as an set of architectural renderings. It's a book that would follow the Portland Timbers, but one that would be about the entire league.

So please, someone with some cachet, some writing ability, and around twelve months to kill, please write this. I’d do it myself, but I only have one of the three, and a year with nothing better to do is hardly a compelling argument.

Instead, you do it, and I’ll be first in line.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). He is a contributing writer for "The Other 87 Minutes", their brilliance featured every Tuesday on the Free Beer Movement in the form of "the Tuesday 10" or the "Tuesday XI".

Tags: Major League Soccer, Making The Case

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