Around 11 p.m. last Monday, Caleb Porter was wearing a pained, tight expression, like a man who’d elaborately prepared an orange for eating – peeled it, scraped its white resins off the delicate inner skin, sectioned it; perhaps opened a beverage suitable for the side; sat himself somewhere comfortable, with entertainment, orange and beverage at hand – only to find that the orange was not an orange all along, but was instead an artistic evocation of one’s career hopes vanishing forever, and so every choice thereby proved wrong in that moment. No orange, but an orange-suitable entertainment. And orange-suitable beverage! But no orange. His expression pained and tight. In short, a man in crisis.
Hard not to be pained. He had just seen his second highly-touted keeper of the game (Sean Johnson; the first was Bill Hamid of DC United, who sprained his ankle, insisted he was fine, and gave up two goals in the following three minutes before discovering his injury belatedly) fumble the third goal-against of the final game of the rest of his freaking life (when compared with, for example, coaching the Akron Zips in Spring Soccer!!) into the net, sending El Salvador on to play Honduras, and sending Caleb Porter on to coach the Akron Zips in Spring Soccer!! instead of leading the USA onto Wembley in the London Olympic Games.
For what was this but a coming out party for Caleb Porter? After a scorching start as a college coach at Akron – where his teams have played with outsized swagger, like a Muppet Babies version of the Miami Heat – Porter has been lauded for his refusal to accede to the idea that American teams needed to play a certain way to win games. The weird reached its zenith, fittingly, on Leap Day, when the USA Olympic hopefuls hosted their compatriots from Mexico. The score that day was familiar to fans of the rivalry (dos a cero to los Yanquis), but its manner was not – on this day, it was the northerners whose fans could shout ‘¡Olé!’ during strings of possession, had they not the ironic dispassion of imperials.
Then, Saturday against Canada. Beaten by Canada? Is this an orange?
And finally, last evening, the revelation: Drawn 3-3 by El Salvador. Drawn 3-3 by a country whose government we undermined with the spare change of the defense budgets – the 80s defense budget! This is no orange. The vast red-white-blue future does not beckon. Caleb Porter could feel it closing around him. The tight jaw. The wrong beverage. No coherence. Painful.
— Sean Spence
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