So, the Thorns are back where they were two years ago, only without the hardware.
It was announced today that the out-of-contract Paul Riley will not be invited back for a third year at the helm of the Portland NWSL team. Is it a good choice? Was it the necessary choice? What happens now?
No idea. I’m not even entirely sure what happened.
Even recently, Riley espoused his love of Portland and her soccer culture, but tempered his enthusiasm with a good measure of what might best be called homesickness. His home is on Long Island, where his wife presumably has stayed over the last two seasons.
The post-season presser with GM Gavin Wilkinson a few weeks back told us the possibility of bringing Riley back was being evaluated. Oddly, it felt to me that it would be more Riley’s decision than the team’s, but the team dropped the news today in a short-but-sweet news release. Here is a very fuzzy screen cap as I am completely devoid of any technical prowess:
Okay. The team has stepped up and made the decision. And I’ve been through a range of emotions and opinions since the drop.
Well, okay then. The team faltered for two years under his guidance, failing to make the playoffs this year after struggling through the World Cup absences of eight players. The team was disorganized and never quite came together the way you’d hope a team full of international-level players might. There was little spark, little motivation among the players, even knowing (and, as I’ve said before, I’m 96% sure they did know) that the championship game would be played at their home ground.
I dunno. Maybe the Keep Riley folks are right. Maybe he just needed that third year of his three-year plan to get things settled and to play the game he wanted to play. What’s the saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
This is serious. This is a team with infrastructure and atmosphere envied by women’s clubs worldwide. Proper facilities, complete staff, full stadium. Fans that chant and sing and travel to follow the team. A front office that is organized and professional. Running water.
And, with this major change, this is them stepping up and saying, okay, we’re going to get the on-field part right starting now.
It’s this third part that has me a bit shaken. Third coach in four seasons. The Timbers are on their second in five years of MLS and, if some folks are to believed, this one’s on shaky ground. With five games left in the season, three of which are on the road, the Timbers are one point above the red line, tenuously holding onto sixth place in the west. This is a far cry from where we were in Caleb Porter’s first season here.
He got here and seemingly turned things inside out. He had a bit of a smolder, a fire deep within him that pushed him to create a winning side. Everyone was on notice from that introductory press conference. The sentiment? Earn your keep. Work for your place in the XI, in the eighteen.
Both the sentiment and the smolder have been replaced with excuses and defiance. The company line, despite the denial of Merritt, seems to be that sliding into the playoffs in sixth place is good enough and Porter has gone from Sunday night’s disappointment in his team’s performance to taking the blame for their lack of execution.
I’m usually right on the edge of about seven different conspiracy theories when it comes to Portland soccer, and this has me wondering what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve said it a couple times on social media: Porter’s lost this team. I just wonder what triggered it.
It certainly isn’t the first time a Portland soccer team has walked away from its coach. There’s a bigger issue at hand.