Caleb Porter walked into his postgame press conference on Sunday drenched and with eyes watering from a champagne shower that took place moments before in the locker room. Or maybe his eyes were watering for another reason.
The Portland Timbers won MLS Cup on Sunday.
Playing in the biggest game since the club’s debut season in 1975, the Timbers marched into Columbus, stole two early goals, and then salted the Cup away by being exactly who they’ve been all year: Disciplined, organized, and balanced.
The Timbers managed their way to a title on Sunday.
After conceding 53 goals in a deflating 2014 campaign, Caleb Porter set out to redefine the club’s identity last offseason. Words like "dominant" and "aggressive" became "balanced" and "smart." The Timbers stopped trying to run every opponent off the field and started trying to manage every game.
That isn’t to suggest the Timbers weren’t aggressive and didn’t dominate this season. When the game was there to be dominated, they dominated. When the opportunity was there to be aggressive, they were aggressive.
At the opening whistle on Sunday the opportunity was there to be aggressive against a nervous Crew side. And so the Timbers dominated.
At that point the game was there to be managed. And, aside from one error in the box, the Timbers managed. After that one error, in a game in which they desperately needed an equalizer, the Crew had zero shots on goal.
The Timbers contested every cross. They marked every runner. And they broke out when the opportunity presented itself.
There was nothing heroic about the Timbers win on Sunday. They just managed.
Which is to say this: The Timbers won MLS Cup because they played like themselves.
Or at least they played like who they’ve become.
The road to turning this team into expert game-managers hasn’t been smooth. Through 34 games this team had scored 34 goals. For extended periods of the spring, summer, and fall, it looked far from clear that the Timbers would make the playoffs, let alone be the last team standing at the end of them.
But even during those difficult periods the Timbers played some good soccer. They were becoming balanced. They were becoming smart. They were becoming managers.
And then the goals came. After scoring 32 in their first 32, the Timbers scored 20 in their last 9. And never once did they stop being smart or balanced. Never once did they stop being managers.
So make no mistake, this wasn’t luck or a flash in a pan. This wasn’t a simple matter of an otherwise so-so team catching fire at the right time.
This was a team that came together exactly as their coach envisioned. This was a plan working out to perfection.
The Portland Timbers won MLS Cup on Sunday by being the Portland Timbers.
And in doing so they became something they’ve never been before.