“I like my teams to be able to do it all” | Porter outlines vision for new Revolution era

1_2_24 Caleb Porter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution head coach Caleb Porter says he is itching to kick off preseason with his new club, eager to fully integrate with the team, and implement his philosophy as quickly as possible.

As a new year dawns, a new era is also set to unfold in Foxborough, and the 48-year-old is readying himself to take the Revolution reins, savoring the prospect of elevating the club to ‘new heights.’

Having already established connections with his new players and staff, the two-time MLS Cup winner will be introduced to the squad in person when they assemble for duty later this month, before the Revs jet off to Florida for a warm-weather training camp, ahead of their season opener at Club Atlético Independiente on Wednesday, February 21 (8:00 p.m. ET) in the Concacaf Champions Cup.

Keen to make an immediate impact, Porter will instill his vision, style and strategies from the outset, ensuring every member of the team is fully aligned, motivated and equipped to start the 2024 campaign on a winning note.

“I have a way of working – a clear game model, a clear blueprint of how I go about things,” he said. “This will be my 10th season in Major League Soccer. I have a way of working through preseason in how I build up the team tactically, in terms of our methodology that relates to the concepts of how I teach my game model, regarding the system in my attacking and defending philosophy; then also the physical side is massively important.

“Those two things have to be aligned. When you put the tactical and the physical together, there’s a lot to teach, there’s a lot of building, but I’ve learned to kind of slow-drip it in as we go. We’ll work for a period in New England in market for approximately a week, and then we’ll head to Florida, and we’ll be there for three or four weeks, which is great because we’ll be concentrated with each other, which is where the bonding can happen.

“It’s really important to set the tone, and in a great facility, and warm weather – it’s always good to get away. We’ll actually leave right from there to our first game in Panama [facing Club Atlético Independiente]. We want to get off to a good start in the [Concacaf] tournament, but it’s very delicate because you don’t want to get injured either.

“We’re really going to have to utilize the roster – we’ve already seen the fixtures, and we’re going into the first couple of weeks having a Thursday-(Sunday) week twice, which is crazy. You’re going to see a lot of players that are going to be playing in those games because otherwise, we’re risking injury early in the year, and that would not be smart.

“These are the things you have to manage, and that’s why you have a roster. We have the Concacaf Champions Cup, and obviously, we’re going to throw everything into the league and into an MLS Cup. Turn the page and get off to a strong start.”

Porter stands as one of the most successful coaches in league history, after steering both the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew to playoff triumphs.

Having conjured a tried and tested formula for postseason glory both on and off the pitch, the 2013 MLS Coach of the Year is determined to add to his medal collection, but is equally thrilled by the opportunity to work with and develop the array of talent within the Revolution squad, helping the players to unlock new levels within their own game, and reach their full potential, enhanced in an exciting and effective style of play.

“I view myself as a ‘servant leader,” he noted. “I like to serve the people I’m around, and develop and empower them – let them do their jobs to the best of their ability, but also create a culture where we’re all connected and on the same page, working together and not isolated.

“I want as much talent around me as possible – strong, smart people, good people with character, and people that are ambitious; leaders, fighters, winners. I want serial winners where it’s never enough – we can’t get enough of winning. Those are the type of people that I want. I want to hire a staff, which I will do, to complement the already-strong staff in place.

“As far as style of play, I’ve learned what works in this league, I’ve learned what doesn’t. I have my preferred way of playing – it’s connected to winning. If you look at the team that won a trophy in Portland, you look at the team that won a trophy in Columbus, there are similarities – but I also think in MLS, you have to be pragmatic, and adaptable. You have to look at your group, and you don’t want to ‘square peg, round hole’ it – you want to make sure it fits, that you’re complementing the group that you have, and not overlooking the opponent as well.

“In a nutshell, I want to play in an aggressive way, a dominant way where we decide the game, ideally, with the ball in the front half, controlling games, counter-pressing immediately. Without the ball, we want to decide it by pressing high, and being aggressive – but also what I would say is: I like my teams to be able to do it all, and if those things aren’t the right way to play versus certain opponents, or in certain conditions, or because there’s a fixture two days earlier, or we have injuries, then I will adapt formation, gameplans to win the game, without losing sight of our identity, who we are.

“I think that’s a real key: just being clear of who we are – as a starting point: ‘This is our identity, this is how we will play’ from a philosophy standpoint – but we will also have a multi-faceted approach from time to time. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of momentum. It’s a good group … Coaches and players come and go, and it’s my job now to take over, and hopefully take the club to heights they’ve never reached.

“I’m excited about the whole group. My first call was to Carles [Gil]. He’s the captain, and that won’t change. He’s the top player – I think everybody knows that – but what does that mean? We have a lot of top players. He happens to be the top attacking player, and in my system, in my philosophy, he’s a key. I had Diego Valeri at Portland, Lucas Zelarayán [at Columbus] – two of the best number 10s in league history – and Carles is definitely one of the best 10s in league history as well. I can’t wait to work with him, and the rest of the group – the young guys, the senior guys. I’m not doing my job unless I bring out the best in them. Can I bring out another 10 to 15 percent in the group to get to that MLS Cup? That’s what I’m really looking to do.”

Deeply passionate and driven, Porter lives and breathes the beautiful game – his love of the sport ignited by his own former coach: a former Major Indoor Soccer League player, whose infectious enthusiasm for the sport shone through.

Off the pitch, the Revs’ new head coach describes himself as a proud family man – a trait he looks to mirror within the soccer environment to forge a strong team ethic, and a positive and productive workspace, encouraging the very best level of performance from his staff and players.

“As an American, I started playing every sport, and I quickly learned that I loved soccer the most,” he reflected. “It started with my coach, who was a Nigerian. He played in the old MISL, and at that time, it was the top league. He was very passionate about the game, and he was a good player. His team actually folded in the hometown I was in: the Kalamazoo Kangaroos, and all the players ended up coaching the youth teams in my community, so I was lucky because he formed the foundation of how I coach – I want to ignite my players’ passion as well.

“I believe that inside every player – it doesn’t matter what age you are: even if you’re 31, and you’re established as a pro like Carles Gil – inside every player is a little boy that started playing the game when he was four or five years old. Along the way, it can become about money and other things, and it can be cut-throat, but I purely believe that if you strip it all away, inside all these players, they still want to be a little boy in the park, kicking the ball around and loving it. That’s what I was when my coach taught me the game.

“I started doing soccer full-time. I had a good playing career, but I think it was meant to be for me to be a coach. I stopped playing early – I had five knee surgeries, so I was done after my second year in Major League Soccer. I had a small window, a very small day in the sun, and I started coaching at 25 years old. Then, as I learned the real craft of coaching, though I didn’t have a long playing career, I think it’s a strength that I had the opportunity to really learn how to coach and take my licenses, and start coaching and developing a philosophy over time.

“I actually went over to Europe every single spring, and just started watching first-team managers of the top clubs in the world. I’d watch them for a week at a time so I could see how they put the pieces together over a week – how they developed a training cycle, a little bit of their methodology. Some of it I’d steal, and some of it I would not use because I didn’t like it – but ultimately, that helped me.

“For over a period of 10 years, I was doing that, figuring out how I wanted my teams to play – the theory of it – but then the most important thing is always the practical application of it: how you execute it, what drills you use. I can watch the Premier League and love everything about it, but you’ve got to know how to teach it, and so I had the opportunity to learn how to teach it over time, and it’s been fun.

“I’m pretty intense and passionate around the game, so usually, I need a break when I’m with my family. I’m pretty quiet, and as I tell my wife, I’m definitely the assistant coach at home! She helps me there. I’m a big family guy, and I think that helps me with my other ‘family’, which is the locker room and the club – I probably see them more than my real family actually. I try to create a family environment within the club, and with the guys in the locker room as well.

“When I’m off the pitch, I’m usually still working, but I try to escape with my kids – I’ve got three kids and a wife (we’ve been married for 16 years) and for me, those are the things (my career, my family, and my faith) that I focus on. I don’t have time for much else!”

Despite his previous success, Porter’s thirst for excellence was never quenched, burning as intensely as before.

As the soccer landscape continues to evolve with new advancements and ideas, the head coach strives for constant improvement, always looking to better his and his team’s level in search of greatness, desperate to taste trophy triumph once more.

“Even at this stage – my 10th year as I said – I’m still dropping stuff and adding stuff, watching the new trends in the game,” he explained. “That’s really important because 'the ball is round to go around', and it’s changing all the time – what worked last year isn’t always going to work next year. I think I’m a good balance – I have a way of doing things, so that’s established, but I’m ‘new-school’ and open-minded to new innovation, analytics, sports science, and modern tactical trends.

“When I take on a project, I’m a loyal guy, I think things through, I try to pick the right job at the right time; then, I throw myself into it, I’m loyal to it, and I give everything – I bleed, live, eat, breathe, sleep it, you know? I always feel good when I’ve been able to put a trophy in the case – no-one can take it away when you put a star on the badge above the crest, it’s there forever.

“I want to do that in New England. I was able to do that in Portland and Columbus. It’s hard for me always when I get asked to isolate my proudest moment – it’s with each club, right? The 2015 MLS Cup in Portland, and the parade downtown that they had was unbelievable; then the 2020 MLS Cup was unfortunately during COVID-19 (so we didn’t really get a proper opportunity to celebrate) – but I’ll remember those moments after those Finals, which were in the same stadium, weirdly.

“Those were two really cool moments. It wasn’t anything about raising the trophy – it was about helping the players to leave a legacy, and I just want to look back when I’m old and gray, and in my rocking chair, and remember the players on the pitch, and those memories: in the locker room after, the relationships we built. I stay in touch with a lot of guys who I was with on those teams. That’s why I do it – that’s what makes me tick.”