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Porter the right fit in Portland?

Caleb Porter
Caleb Porter will finish the college season with Akron before taking over at Portland.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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The Portland Timbers seemed like a dream job for a coach. With an owner willing to spend money, a roster ready to be overhauled, and a fan base that is one of the most impressive in the league, the Timbers is a club where a coach can make a big impression.

Caleb Porter is a guy who seemed destined to make that kind of splash since he transformed Akron into a national powerhouse. If the Timbers had hired Porter a year ago, the hire would have been lauded as a masterstroke.

But not now. Porter was at the helm when the USA men failed to qualify for the Olympic Games. It was a big hit, and it transformed him from can’t-miss coaching prospect to overmatched college mastermind.

Porter deserves his share of blame for the Olympic qualifying disappointment. He built a roster with some glaring holes, made some lineup selections that were head-scratchers, and made some in-game moves that certainly left him open for criticism.

But the Timbers don’t seem too worried. They see a coach with vision, a man who could grow with the team and implement an entertaining style of soccer that could also deliver the wins that their arch-rivals, the Seattle Sounders, have enjoyed.

Porter believes completely that he can get teams to play high-pressure attacking soccer that emphasizes passing and technical skill. Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson will be under serious pressure to help his new coach build a winner. Wilkinson is already carrying some of the blame for Portland’s disappointing 2011 season--even as sources in Portland insist John Spencer deserves a majority of it -- and if the 2013 Timbers struggle it will be Wilkinson who pays the price.

Porter will be given time and the resources. Timbers owner Merrit Paulson has bought in, with Portland currently preparing to widen the playing surface at Jeld-Wen Field to accommodate Porter’s possession-style of soccer. The field won’t be the only thing bigger in Portland next season. So will the expectations.

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Here are the top MLS matches to watch this weekend:

Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact

The two hottest teams in MLS square off in a chase for the final playoff spot in the East. The Crew are unbeaten in five straight and have seen their offense go from stagnant to stellar thanks to the arrival of Argentine playmaker Federico Higuain and the emergence of Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta. Higuain has helped generate goals in each of the four games he has played and will be the key target for Montreal to stop.

The Impact will look to shut the Crew down with a defense that has improved considerably since the additions of Alessandro Nesta and Dennis Iapichino. As impressive as Montreal has been in five-match winning streak, only one of those wins was on the road. The Impact will count on Marco DiVaio, Felipe Martins and Sanna Nyassi to disrupt a Columbus defense that will be without standout Josh Williams, and could be without starting goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.

Real Salt Lake vs. D.C. United

RSL will need to be at their defensive best to keep D.C. United from pulling the upset at Rio Tinto Stadium. Young D.C. midfielder Perry Kitchen will have the tough task of trying to contain RSL playmaker Javier Morales, who could have a field day if this becomes a wide-open match.

The D.C. offense has been underperforming for weeks now, but the attack showed some signs of life in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw vs. the New York Red Bulls. Dwayne DeRosario is starting to look like the player who won the league MVP award last season. Kyle Beckerman should make things difficult for him in one of the better one-on-one match-ups in the league this weekend.

Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo

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The Dynamo takes on a Fire side that needs a home win. Without one, Chicago would be in serious jeopardy of losing out on a playoff place. The Houston offense will need to find a way to generate chances without Brad Davis, which means more playmaking responsibilities for Oscar Boniek Garcia.

The Fire sold Marco Pappa to Heerenveen, but as much as he meant to the Chicago attack, the recent arrival of Alvaro Fernandez will offset the loss. Chicago needs Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald to keep showing the form they displayed in recent matches. That could be difficult against a tough Dynamo defense.

FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders

Dallas saw their playoff charge halted last week by the Los Angeles Galaxy, and things don’t get any easier with a home date against a Seattle side playing some of the best soccer in the league.

David Ferreira and Osvaldo Alonso will wage an entertaining battle, but the key is how the Sounders deal with Brek Shea. Fredy Montero has been in outstanding form in recent weeks, but he will face a good challenge from a George John-led Dallas defense. The wild card will be Mauro Rosales, who could seriously test the Dallas midfield.

LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

A three-match losing streak has turned the Whitecaps from contenders for a top-three spot in the West to a team that is flirting with disaster. They still have some room for error heading into Saturday’s match vs. the LA Galaxy, but a fourth straight loss could allow FC Dallas and Chivas USA to creep even closer in the standings.

The Galaxy are now capable of breaking into the top three in the West. Landon Donovan’s absence forced other players to step up, and the play of Jose Villarreal and impending return of Edson Buddle may give the Galaxy the depth they need to make a real push. Watch for how the Galaxy deal with Kenny Miller, who should provide a good test for Omar Gonzalez.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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