BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/After five seasons, Caleb Porter has parted ways with the Portland Timbers

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - After coaching the Portland Timbers for five seasons, Caleb Porter has left the Major League Soccer clubIt's difficult to imagine the Portland Timbers without Caleb Porter.

In five seasons as the Timbers' head coach, Porter won one MLS Cup championship and twice, including in 2017, steered Portland to the top of the Western Conference standings.

Three weeks ago the Timbers seemed poised to make another serious run at the championship. Then injuries and a determined Houston team spoiled those plans in the Western Conference semifinals.

In his postgame press conference following the Nov. 5 loss to Houston, Porter sounded bullish on the club's future.

Now that future — at least until a new coach is hired — is foggy.

Porter's departure from the club was his choice. Friday's official announcement from the club did not indicate why the 42-year-old chose to leave Portland now.

Porter's personality seemed perfect for Portland. His competitive fire seemed to fit perfectly with the Timbers' brand and with the competitive drive of owner Merritt Paulson and of VP of soccer Gavin Wilkinson.

Porter also seems to enjoy the continuous evolution that successful managers must embrace.

Now he will evolve elsewhere.

Porter, Paulson and Wilkinson were not available for interviews on Friday morning.

In the press release confirming Porter's departure, Paulson said he respects Porter's decision to seek a new challenge. Might Porter's decision be the result of the shakeup in U.S. Soccer? Porter's name has been floated in the past as a future candidate to coach the men's national team.

If a role in resetting America's path in international soccer influenced Porter's decision, that will be much easier for Timbers fans to process than if Porter winds up coaching a different MLS club right away.

Indications are that the parting was cordial, and that it was Porter who initiated the separation. He signed a long-term contract extension in January of 2016.

The timing suggests that this was not a spur of the moment decision. By stepping down now, Porter gives the Timbers a window to find their next head coach before the key roster decisions are made.

As surprising as Porter's departure is, coaching tenures are seldom very long in professional soccer, or in MLS. At five seasons, Porter was the third longest tenured coach with the same club in MLS. Only D.C. United's Ben Olson and Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes were in their current jobs when Porter was hired by the Timbers prior to the 2013 season.

Surprised or not, it's a good bet that Paulson and Wilkinson have a shortlist of candidates.

Training camp is two months away, but there are pressing MLS deadlines.

By Nov. 27 the club must inform the league which contract options they will exercise and who among out-of-contract players they will make bona fide offers.

On Dec. 10 there is a half-day trade window. On Dec. 12 is the expansion draft for LAFC, followed by free agency for the limited group of eligible players.

In the meantime, fans and league observers will occupy themselves speculating about who will become the third head coach guide the MLS-era Timbers.

Might the Timbers look to make a splash with a proven international coach like Atlanta did this season with former Argentina and FC Barcelona head coach Tata Martino?

Do they look to a successful coach from the lower divisions, USL or the NASL?

Do they find their next coach from the college ranks, as they did with Porter following his successful run at Akron?

Or do they hire someone with MLS head coaching experience?

Let the speculating begin.

Paul Danzer
Sports Reporter
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