Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter and the University of Washington’s Jamie Clark have forged similar paths through the American soccer landscape as players and coaches.
Porter captained Indiana to the 1997 NCAA Championship semi-final as a combative defensive midfielder and ended his senior year as the Hermann Trophy runner-up. Clark, a stylish center-back and two-time All-American at Stanford, led the Cardinal to the 1998 championship final before losing 3-1 to the Hoosiers.
Indiana captured the national title again in 2003 and 2004 with Porter as an assistant coach. New Mexico lost the 2005 final with Clark on the coaching staff. Both men later branched out to find success as head coaches. Porter replaced Ken Lolla at Akron in December 2005. Clark joined Harvard in 2008 before moving briefly Creighton before Washington.
Their careers overlapped for a few shorts months in 1999 when Porter and Clark entered Major League Soccer after being drafted by the San Jose Clash. Injuries soon ended the playing careers of both men in their mid-20s. That short spell as colleagues gave Clark an insight into the basic characteristics that have made Porter a leading head coach.
“People sometimes try to point to more far out reasons why people are successful,” Clark told The Soccer Observer. “He’s always been a winner.
“He’s got a great work ethic, his teams are organized, they’re well-disciplined and they play for him.
“He really gets them united behind a cause and with a purpose in how they play, and he sells that purpose.”
Porter’s playing career in MLS lasted all of four games totaling 72 minutes. He made one start for the Clash in a game against the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium and was sent off after 32 minutes for a second booking. The Tampa Bay Mutiny signed Porter midway through his rookie season after San Jose released him. Chronic knee problems forced his premature retirement shortly afterward.
Clark, the son of Notre Dame coaching legend Bobby, showed greater promise in his early performances than Porter. He played 26 games for San Jose in his first year, scoring twice, and was described as the “quintessential soccer player” by then Clash head coach Brian Quinn. Eight further appearances followed in 2000 before a nagging groin injury pushed Clark into the coaching ranks.
The coincidences between the two men do not end there. Porter was born down the road from Clark’s current place of work in Tacoma. Clark’s wife hails from Portland, Oregon. Their friendship and mutual admiration led to the Timbers drafting center-back Dylan Tucker-Gangnes from Clark’s Huskies in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Aberdeen-born Clark, the Scottish city rather than the hometown of Kurt Cobain, leads his team into a do-or-die battle Sunday one hour before Porter does likewise. Washington hosts city rival Seattle in the second round of this year’s NCAA tournament at 5 p.m. Pacific time. The Timbers will then try to overhaul a two-goal deficit against Real Salt Lake to reach the MLS Cup Final in Porter’s first season coaching in the pros.
Porter’s smooth transition is one that Clark, two years younger than his former teammate, hopes to make in the future should he build the No.2-ranked Huskies into a perennial challenger.
“First and foremost I want to create something special here,” Clark said.
“If I’m fortunate enough in eight or 10 years to have put Washington in a position to compete for an NCAA championship year in and year out, then you can say it is time to look for another challenge.
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