FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution sporting director Curt Onalfo believes new head coach Caleb Porter is the ideal fit to lead the Revs to trophy contention.
Installed in the role in late November, Onalfo’s first course of action was to source a new first-team manager for the 2024 campaign, as the club set sights on mounting a serious and sustained challenge for a first MLS Cup.
Masterminding previous silverware successes with the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew, Porter was hailed the ‘stand-out’ applicant for the highly-coveted Revs position – a perfect match, bearing the qualities and qualifications of the club’s desired candidate: a tactically-astute leader with a proven track record.
Addressing the media for the first time since the appointment, both Onalfo and Porter expressed their excitement for the year ahead, discussing their hopes and plans, and shared their assessments of the current Revolution roster with the pair working closely to craft a title-winning team.
“It’s a really exciting day for us,” Onalfo stated. “From the beginning, in the interview process, Caleb just stood out. There’s alignment, and with Caleb, from the beginning, you could see it was a great fit – a great fit for me as a sporting director, and what we want to do soccer-wise, a great fit for our president Brian Bilello, and our owners [Robert and Jonathan Kraft], who are here today.
“Caleb is a proven winner. He’s got incredible experience, he’s won everywhere he’s been – at college level, in Portland, in Columbus – and he’s going to do it here. He’s somebody that I have enormous respect for.
“We wanted a strong leader, we wanted a proven winner, and we wanted somebody that wanted to coach our players, and it just came out so evidently in the interview process from the first time we had a conversation – where most of those conversations would have lasted just an hour, we spoke for two hours, and it just flew by.
“You could just tell right from the beginning that we were aligned, and that’s exciting because we have an obligation to our owners, we have an obligation to our president, we have an obligation to our fans, to build a product that we can all be proud of, and we want to win – but that doesn’t just happen.
“You have to earn the right to, and you do that by signing good players, by working extremely hard every day, trying to find an edge – Robert always tells me, every time I talk to him: ‘How can we gain an edge on our opponents? How do we do that?’ That’s through intelligence, and working hard each day, but being smarter than the other people we’re competing against.
“That was just evident throughout the process, and since we hired Caleb, the work that we put in – we’ll be announcing next week the [backroom] staff we’ve put in place that is outstanding – we already have a great working relationship, and I love the way his teams play. It’s very similar to what we’ve implemented in our youth development system, so it’s the perfect fit.
“Caleb got himself in town on January 2, and we’ve been working well in advance of that. We’ll work tirelessly to make sure Caleb has a staff that he’s comfortable with, so he can hit the ground running.
“Our job is to make sure we have the best roster possible. Right now, things are fluid, and we'll continue to make sure we're enhancing our team. I’m really excited to help Caleb to be successful at the first-team level because that’s my job: to help Caleb.”
Equally complimentary of his new sporting director, Porter agreed he and Onalfo struck up an immediate rapport, built on a mutual respect, understanding and a bright vision for the future.
The two-time MLS Cup winner highlighted the club’s togetherness as a crucial factor in his decision to make the move to New England, and hopes to supply the key ingredients needed to craft a winning combination.
“I pick jobs carefully, but I’ve learned the most important thing is alignment,” he declared. “I immediately felt connected with Curt. In our initial conversations, we saw the game in a similar way, and that makes it easy – the way we see the game, the way we see the players, the areas that we need to address.
“I really liked that Curt had been a coach. He’s been in this chair, he knows what it feels like when you win, when you lose, the pressure, all of it. He understands the dynamics of being a coach. That’s hugely important, and I love that.
“It’s going to be a great working relationship with Curt and Brian, the Kraft Family. It was easy. In terms of the vision, we see the game similarly – we want to play in aggressive way. We would prefer to have the ball, we would prefer to press high. That’s the way the best teams play, but we have to look at each game and go: ‘Okay, there’s another team, and what’s the best way to win?’ It’s about winning.
“I have some ideas on some ways to make the club better. There’s a strong foundation but my goal is to make the club better, and I think the club needs to be better in certain ways to achieve the goals they want. They played a lot out of a 4-4-2 diamond, which worked really well when they won the Supporters’ Shield but didn’t work quite as well in the years after. I have my ideas on the structure and the philosophy that I’ll implement – I won’t go into those details, but the players by and large fit the vision I have.
“There’ll be a couple of staff members that were with me in Columbus that will join, and I always think it’s important to maintain continuity, so we’re going to be keeping Clint Peay on my staff. I’ve had several conversations with him, and I really liked those conversations. He’s worked with the team, he knows the players; he’s obviously been with Revs II, he knows the young guys. It’s good to have some intel with someone here on the ground, so he’ll be on my staff along with two other assistant coaches. I’m only as good as my staff, so that’s really important. I’ve learned – being a head coach now for quite a long time – what I need.”
Porter had spoken previously of his intention to bolster the squad, insisting only ‘a few pieces’ were required to mold the Revolution into true title challengers.
The head coach has already recruited new blood with the signing of his former Columbus captain Jonathan Mensah, who has followed in the footsteps of Nick Lima, Tomás Chancalay and Ema Boateng in putting pen to paper with the club during the off-season. Acquainting himself with his new squad over the past few weeks, Porter has been encouraged by the open, honest and enlightening discussions he has had with the Revs players.
“The New England Revolution are very well respected – it was a club I admired from afar,” he continued. “I feel fortunate to have the group of players I have. Of course, we’ll put our tweaks on things – we’ll continue to always look at the roster, and how we can make it better, but I absolutely wouldn’t have taken this job unless I felt we could win an MLS Cup here.
“That’s the vision, but there’s a long process to get there. I have experience with doing it, but I also know how hard it is to do it, and it’s going to take every single day. I believe that the daily details determine the difference – that’s the edge I plan to have – and the work has already begun. When preseason starts, hopefully we can create that edge – those margins of the 5-10 percent, which is the difference in winning an MLS Cup.
“[The conversations I had with the players] were all enjoyable. It took me about a week to get through all the players, but I wanted to take the time to do that, and I loved it, getting to know the guys. They’re all good guys – there are no knuckleheads here! It’s a really good group of guys. Curt and the Krafts, and the previous people at the club, have done a good job of building a good locker room, which is important because you don’t win without a good locker room.
“We’re going to be adding a goalkeeper soon. It’s really important: the players in and the players out – our filter on that is massively important. You don’t want to make mistakes with guys out or in, and we have to be comprehensive and thorough – not just soccer-wise but character-wise.
“With Jonah [Jonathan Mensah], I felt it was a great piece to add. When you look at [Brandon] Bye being out, [Andrew] Farrell’s going to have to cover at times, along with Nick Lima at right back, which means we don’t have a ton of cover behind [Dave] Romney and [Henry] Kessler. Jonah gives us a very experienced player. I know his character, his leadership, his integrity. Jonah was my captain, so I know his character, I know what he can do.
“He’s at a stage in his career where he’s not going to play every game, but the games he will play, he’s going to be fresh. He’s a quality player – a couple of years ago, he was one of the best defenders in the league. He’s 33, but he’ll be a great cover piece, and we start the year with a crazy compacted schedule.
“Having done this before with the Concacaf Champions Cup, you can’t overcook your guys early in the year, and get injuries, because then the rest of the year, you’re behind it. It’s really important we rotate, and early in the year, it’s important for the players to get a chance to feel part of it, to take ownership.”
Both Porter and Onalfo also provided updates on long-term absentees Bye and Dylan Borrero.
Bye has not featured since the Leagues Cup in early August, having undergone ACL surgery, while Borrero has been sidelined since April with a knee issue. Onalfo revealed both are progressing well but will be unavailable until April at the earliest.
“It’s almost like they’re summer signings,” he stated. “In the case of Borrero, hopefully it’s earlier, but in the case of Brandon, it’s adding really great players to your roster mid-season, so that’s how we’ve planned it out.
“In the case of Dylan, he’s doing great with his recovery. We’re expecting him to be on the field April or May of this year. Hopefully, it could happen earlier, but he’s well on track, and doing very well on his rehabilitation.
“Bye is the same – he’s working extremely hard to get back. His timeline is a little bit later. We’re looking at late summer for him returning.”
Porter also highlighted the importance of the duo’s return, as well as the depth of the Revolution squad, as crucial components in the club’s hunt for trophy glory.
“The medical staff, the sports science staff will have a plan to reintegrate these guys where they can hit the ground running,” he added.
“They are two key players, but we have a very deep team. I feel like we’re pretty close to having a very good 1-2 in every position in our depth chart, which is really important in this league, when you’re trying to manage multiple competitions, and you have midweek fixtures with two days in between.
“That will be an important piece: how we can minimize injury through our sports science, our awareness of that, and our planning. You can’t avoid some injuries, but with soft tissue injuries, you can avoid some mistakes, so we need to make sure our planning is good and top in terms of how we periodize the players physically.
“You have to rotate – it’s a long season. The teams that are able to rotate without missing a beat, and still get results, are the teams that over the long haul, find success.”