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Porter eyeing smooth on-the-field transition for the Crew

The new head coach indicated he will pick up where Gregg Berhalter left off and slowly implement his style.

MLS: Combine Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

When Columbus Crew SC’s squad begins preseason practice on Wednesday, the Caleb Porter era will officially start for the Black & Gold. This will be just one of the many facets of the transition the club is set to go through in 2019 with new ownership, a new president and a new head coach all starting their tenures in Central Ohio. But if all goes as planned, it should be the smoothest of all of them.

That is, at least, what you can take from Porter’s first comments about the playing style he wants to implement with the Crew for 2019 and beyond. The former Portland Timbers manager has indicated he doesn’t plan on making any significant changes in how the team operates, both on and off the field and that any adjustments will be made at the right time.

“When you have a stable team and a team that has been good, the worst thing I can do is come in and throw the baby out of the bath water and just start changing stuff that’s not broken and reinvent the wheel,” he said. “So we’ll build off that foundation and we’ll slowly start to put our wrinkles in, but they are in rhythm right now, so I can work off that versus try to work against it.”

Porter’s approach has a lot to do with the great success the Crew has had under Gregg Berhalter between 2014 and 2018. During the recently-appointed head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s tenure, the Black & Gold appeared in the 2015 MLS Cup and in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, all of that with one of the lowest transfer and salary budgets in the entire league.

More than the results, however, the most valuable asset Porter will inherit from his predecessor is the locker room culture that was established in Columbus over the last five years. And he plans to take full advantage of it.

“Any coach would say that they’d rather go in to a stable situation than an unstable situation,” Porter added. “So I look at it as a positive. Gregg has done a tremendous job during his five years in building that culture, and a style of play and a philosophy and I think it’s very important to honor that. It’s great to have a strong foundation to build on and that allows me to hit the ground running and build some more layers on the team and take it even further.”

On the field, changes will happen, but they will be punctual ones. Any team that sees a coach depart after five years is expected to go through a revamp, but the similarities between the playing style used by Berhalter and the way Porter likes to field his teams will hopefully ease the process.

“My view of soccer is very similar,” the head coach acknowledged. “Obviously there will be some differences in how we create goals, but I very much want to play in a dominant way, I always have, that’s my preferred way. To play what I call dominant football, which means you’re in the front half, you have control of the ball, you counter press and lock teams in and get on top of teams. That’s what we’ll do and the team is built to do that. System wise, I play 4-2-3-1 as well.”

A quick look at the stats indeed indicates several similarities between how the Crew and the Timbers played in recent years. Taking the 2017 season, the last Porter coached, as a reference, it’s easy to see the two teams operated in a similar way, heavily relying on possession to dominate their opponents, even though they had their own ways to accomplish their goals.

One area Porter knows he needs to address right away, though, are the wing positions. With Pedro Santos and Justin Meram, the 2018 starters, combining for just two goals and eight assists, it’s evident that there will need to be more production coming for these spots.

“When you look at the wingers, they didn’t score goals and there needs to be more production,” Porter said in an interview to Extratime Radio. “I’m not saying those guys aren’t the guys, because I do like Pedro and Meram, they’ve shown they can score goals in their careers. Somehow, it’s about figuring out a way to unlock those goals on those spots and maybe look at adding a player that can bring a little more game-changing, verticality and penetration. I do like a little bit more pace and power on the wings.”

The Crew’s 2019 MLS preseason will begin on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at SuperKick in Columbus. The team will then travel to Chula Vista, California for preseason camp. The Black & Gold will remain in California until Feb. 6 before returning to Columbus until Feb. 12 when the team departs for Charleston, South Carolina to participate in the 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup.