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EGGERS: Porter ready to do it all over again, only better

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Portland defender Pa Modou Kah talks to Timbers coach Caleb Porter as the game fails to go the home team's way.As the final seconds of stoppage time ticked off of the final game of the Timbers' never-ending 2013 season Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field, the denizens were on their feet, the support as relentless as it had been from the opening kickoff of the season opener back on March 3.

"PT! (clap clap) FC! (clap clap)," they chanted, saluting their beloved team, the Portland Timbers Football Club, even in defeat.

For a full five minutes after a 1-0 loss that sent Real Salt Lake into the MLS Cup, flags were waving in the Timbers Army section, and fans were standing and cheering throughout the stadium.

You don't see that kind of thing very often in defeat.

Caleb Porter gets it.

"I feel like I'm the luckiest coach alive, to have the fans I have here," Portland's first-year coach told the media gathering after his side's 5-2 aggregate defeat in the Western Conference championship series. "That's a big reason why we have the best record in the league at home. That will continue to be a huge advantage for us.

"I'm just sorry we weren't able to pull it off for them. But we're not going away. We'll be back."

After he had finished with reporters and began to head to the locker room for a final time this season, I pulled Porter aside and asked if there is this kind of crowd anywhere else in the MLS.

"I'm biased, but I don't think so," Porter said. "It's not the biggest, but it's the most passionate. Ask a neutral person who went to every stadium, he'd say the same thing. It's a big reason why I came here. If you're going to be a pro coach, you want to do it in a stadium like this. I get chills and goosebumps every game.

"I'm just happy the fans were able to experience some joy this year. They've been through a lot. I'm glad we were able to ignite even more their passion. That's a source of purpose and inspiration for us every game."

The fans were paying tribute to an extraordinary season. A year ago, the Timbers finished 8-10-16 and had the 17th-best record among the 19 MLS clubs.

In his first year as a professional coach, Porter engineered a turnaround of epic proportions. The Timbers finished 14-6-15, with the West's best regular-season record, the league's best home mark and the best goal differential (plus-21), and they made it to the final four.

"This team has set a standard in a short amount of time," Porter said. "This is only the beginning. We're going to be back, no doubt about it. We're not getting worse, we're going to get better.

"Hopefully next year we'll be the ones dancing on that field, going to the MLS Cup. It was a great year, but we didn't raise a trophy. We're going to keep pushing for that."

Real Salt Lake had plenty of playoff experience, including some players who had been with the 2009 MLS Cup champions. The Timbers were stocked with players experiencing the MLS playoffs for the first time.

"But we did not look out of place," Porter said. "That's remarkable for our team in 10 months, to be in this position. It was our first time knocking on the door. Unfortunately, we didn't open the door.

"I can't fault my guys' effort. I'm proud of every last one of them. You could see how much it meant to them. They fought literally every single second for 94 minutes tonight. They left it all on the field."

Their wunderkind coach is 38 and a year removed from coaching at the University of Akron. Owner Merritt Paulson saw something in the makeup of Porter and took a bit of a gamble that paid off in spades.

Porter is confident -- borderline cocky -- but the swagger is something the Timbers needed. His players seem to feed off of it. The results were palpable. The loyalists in the stands were rewarded for their faith, and the players were given hope of even bigger things to come in the future.

I asked Porter if he thought the turnaround could happen with such immediate results.

"I didn't know how quickly we could do it," he said. "Normally, it takes a couple of years. It's a real credit to the players, how talented they are, how hard they work, how bad they wanted it.

"I've enjoyed this year. It's been one of the best years of my life. We have many more happy years ahead. We're going to keep a lot of the guys together. This is only the beginning."

So now it's vacation time, until the Timbers meet for training camp next February. Right?

"I'm going to be on the road the next couple of weeks right away scouting," he said. "Then I'll take some time at Christmas. Then it's time to do it all over again."

Porter and wife Andrea have three young children, boys 5 and 3, a girl 1. They haven't had a lot of family time through a season that began in March. Won't he have some time to spend with them over the Thanksgiving holiday?

"I guess I will now," he said a bit sheepishly. "I wasn't prepared to do that. Like I told the (players) a few minutes ago, I'm not usually good after games like this, because I don't prepare for a loss or an offseason. I don't prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas at home. I like to be playing during those times.

"But, yeah, it's a nice thing that I'll be home for the holidays."

Soon there will more time for reflection. Sure to come is the MLS coach of the year award, a nice trophy for the Porter den. He wants more, of course. The MLS Cup is in his sights.

In a few short months, it will be time to do it all over again. Perhaps there will even more to celebrate in 2014.

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Twitter: @kerryeggersby: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Timbers coach Caleb Porter gets a hug from owner Merritt Paulson after the season-ending loss to Real Salt Lake.