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Caleb Porter on whirlwind week after testing positive for COVID-19, ‘I’ve felt like probably the worst flu I’ve ever had’

The Crew head coach has gone through a rough last several days.

2021 Campeones Cup - Deportivo Cruz Azul v Columbus Crew Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

It was a whirlwind week for Caleb Porter. The Columbus Crew head coach came into the week expecting to prepare his team for two important games as the Black & Gold continued their push for the MLS Cup playoffs. But that took a turn on Tuesday.

Early that afternoon, Porter got a call from his wife that his son came home from school after having symptoms and testing positive for COVID-19. He quickly drove home and tested positive on a rapid test as well, then drove back to the facility — as the Crew was set to travel that evening for the team’s game against Nashville SC — and tested positive on a PCR test.

“Obviously I didn’t travel with the team and the last several days, actually, I’ve had symptoms,” Porter said on Friday when speaking to the media virtually from his home for the first time since his positive test. “I didn’t have symptoms Monday or Tuesday, but Wednesday, Thursday, today I’ve had symptoms.”

Wednesday was not a fun day for Porter. The head coach made it clear that he did receive the COVID-19 vaccination — as did every member of his family who was able to get it — but that doesn’t prevent people from contracting the virus entirely. It does help lessen the symptoms, something Porter is thankful for even though he has not felt well.

“I believe in vaccinations,” Porter said. “I’ve felt pretty bad actually the last three days and the reason I bring that up is even though I’m vaccinated, I got the virus and I have no idea what I would feel like if I didn’t have the vaccination. That’s pretty scary because I’ve felt like probably the worst flu I’ve ever had the last three days.”

In addition to being sick, Porter was not able to travel with the team to Nashville and was not on the sideline for the game on Wednesday evening. While Porter helped with the game plan prior to the Crew departing, this was a new experience for him, missing his first game in his nine seasons as an MLS head coach.

Like many fans, Porter watched the television broadcast of the game from home on Wednesday, something he called “really weird.” He was able to communicate with video analyst Blair Gavin during the first half so Gavin could present the team with highlights at halftime. In the second half, however, Porter wasn’t able to make tactical adjustments from the sidelines or make personnel changes.

Making those decisions for Porter was assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson.

“I was a part of the halftime adjustments,” Porter said. “What’s a little tricky is the actual live subs. We do plan the subs a little bit before the game scenarios, but you have to still read the game and make decisions. Ultimately the live in-game subs have to come through the person in charge. And so I have a lot of confidence in Ezra to do that. But that’s probably the trickiest part in just the actual second half subs, pulling the trigger on those.”

The Black & Gold went up 1-0 in the 75th minute on a Lucas Zelaryan goal but allowed Nashville to respond immediately through Hany Mukhtar just two minutes later. The team settled for a 1-1 draw.

While a point on the road is generally considered a positive for Columbus, especially against a team that hasn’t lost a game at home all year, the Crew needs as many points as possible in these final five contests and missing out on a chance for a win on Wednesday did not make Porter feel any better.

“Just disappointing to concede immediately following the goal,” the head coach said. “Usually when we get our nose ahead in that scenario, 75th minute, you would expect us to close out the game and get the result. But it was kind of a bang, bang, we score, they score. So that part was disappointing and yeah, we wanted to win. Not wanting a draw, we wanted a win. So in the end, we do feel like it was two points dropped.”

Going forward, Porter hopes to be back with his team as soon as possible. He will miss Saturday’s game against the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field under MLS’s health and safety protocols. The head coach needs two consecutive negative tests to return but is likely to be out the maximum of 10 days after testing positive and having symptoms.

The hope is that Porter could be back for the home game against Orlando City SC on Wednesday, but it’s more likely we won’t return to the sideline until next weekend’s game against D.C. United at Audi Field.

While Porter wasn’t at practice Thursday or Friday and likely won’t be to begin next week, he can still be involved in the preparation.

“Not a lot should change, the way that we work, the way that we meet, the way that we plan,” Porter said. “The only difference is I’m not doing those meetings in person. I’m doing them on Zoom calls. So for instance, on the match day, we always meet as a staff for two, three hours to put together kind of our prematch presentation. And I was a part of that.”

While Porter wants to get back with his team as soon as possible, he is aware that he needs to get healthy first. Not only will he need to be at 100 percent to help his team make the final push to make the MLS Cup playoffs, but he does not want to infect anyone else, which could mean they too are out at a crucial time.

He also knows he has a capable staff that can handle the job for the Crew in his absence.

“I was very proud, under the circumstances, the staff, the players, the group,” Porter said. “And we do stay in touching distance. We’re still in the race.”