I came face to face with Caleb Porter three times over the last year. I came away each time confused, fascinated and slightly scared.
The first was his introductory press conference. In a room full of people who didn’t yet know what to make of him, he took the reins of a club that had spiraled downward the season before and, in doing so, set the tone for what was to come.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. What would the dynamic be between Porter and Gavin Wilkinson? Would Porter be as soundbite worthy as Spenny had been? How would he handle the mess he’d gotten himself into?
He handled it with brutal honestly. He said things I wasn’t prepared to hear. He all but turned my beloved (and somewhat moody) Scottish striker loose, much to the noticeable discomfort of GW, and grounded expectations by saying, flat out, he didn’t expect this to be a walk in the park. He put everyone on notice. By the time he stopped talking, I could scarcely breathe.
I didn’t find myself that close to him again until October in Vancouver.
We’d survived the summer, the Timbers had advanced through several rounds of USOC, and were on the verge of earning a playoff spot. But a last ditch effort to stay in the Cascadia Cup race had fallen short with the Timbers loss to the Caps just moments before.
I’d tagged along with one of the Vancouver-based ProstAmerika writers to hear what Martin Rennie had to say before joining a small group who had gathered around Porter outside the Portland locker room.
He looked up when I joined the group and for a moment, we locked eyes. He has a spark, an intensity, a ferocity that I know that I’ve never seen in anyone else anywhere ever. Experiencing it up close is something akin to walking into a sliding glass door: it stuns you for a minute until you figure out what just happened.
Standing on the sidewalk outside BC Place an hour later, I tried to recall anything he’d said and I couldn’t. None of it. I remembered every word Rennie had said, and most of what Will Johnson and Donovan Ricketts had told us in the locker room after, but not a single word Porter had said stayed with me. He’d scared them all away.
The third time was just before the holidays, in a bar in NW Portland. He and members of the team’s coaching staff were there for a going away party and some friends and I were there for, well, beer. We kept our distance, for the most part, until he stopped us on the way out.
“Which one of you is the one who’s scared of me?” he asked my group as we were leaving. I raised my hand.
“You don’t have to be scared of me. I’m a nice guy.”
I explained to him how I came to be scared of him – his intensity in Vancouver at the top of the list – and he shook his head. “No. I’m not scary. I just hate to lose.”