Head Coach Caleb Porter
On what was going through his mind while raising the MLS Cup trophy knowing he had a goal to bring trophies to the team
Number one, the players. My feelings for them, being in the locker room with them every day, being in the trenches (if you will) with them every single day and all the times that we've talked, trained, played games, won, lost, been on Zoom calls. You know, for me, that's the first thing I think of is the players and, wow, [we have an] unbelievable group of guys. I love them all, honestly. [they’re] like a family to me. Some people say that, but it's true for me. I love every single one of them. I can't tell you how proud I am of all of them and how much they gave this year. They will remember this forever.
You know, I believe in leaving legacies and making history. That's what sports is about. We've left a legacy. Everybody is going to remember 2020. Everybody used to talk about 2008. That's still going to be a year that everybody talks about and all those players that were on that team, they will celebrate.
Well, 2020 is going to be a year in this Club's legacy that everybody is going to talk about and these players are going to talk about. These fans are going to remember it and these players are going to remember it. Life is short. Sports and bringing a group together, to ignite a community, to make memories with that group of guys in the locker room, that's what it is about. It's about that. It's not about the money. It's not about, as much as you think [it is about] ego, fame. It's about the simple stuff: Winning together and bringing a community together and igniting the fans.
When you think about how fans are going to feel today, that's the second thing I thought about when I ran down the sideline. Because I took one [a championship] from them in 2015. I came here to bring one back to them and give them a trophy, and I was so happy for them. It makes me feel really good that they get a trophy tonight. Because I promised them a trophy, and I was happy that I could bring it to them.
On his response to winning a second title after the first one in 2015 in Columbus:
I think so. The older you get, I think you realize how hard it is to win a trophy. I used to think it was easy, because when I was at Indiana [University], we won. We were in the Final Four every year and we won two as an assistant and then I went to [University of] Akron, I was in two finals and won one there. When you're young, similar to Aidan Morris, you don't think about the magnitude sometimes and what you're doing. You just expect it, and I do. I expect to win every game. I expect to win a trophy every year. Sometimes, maybe, people think that's naïve or bold or brash. I learned to win at IU. I carried that to Akron, I carried that to Portland [Timbers] and I carried that here.
I hate losing. I mean, there's nothing I hate more in life. I'm scared of actual failure. I'm scared of losing. I hate it. So it drives me every day. And so when you win a trophy and you realize, you know, after doing this a long time… Which is why I can't believe a guy like Bruce Arena, how many times he has won, because it's unbelievable. [Also, Brian] Schmetzer, what he has done in a short time. People don't realize how hard it is to win a trophy.
And I think, again, the fans - I just felt so good for them, so good for them because they deserved that. They have been through a lot. To some extent, I think they were probably never going to like me until I took a trophy to them. I knew that a little bit when I took the job that there would be kind of a catch-22; they would be happy I came, but only if I won a trophy for them.
On how Columbus Crew SC won MLS Cup:
[It was] A lot of work. What a long journey to this point. [It] Started last year. Last year, [the] first half of the year was rough. It was a rough start. Obviously it was a transition. But you saw midseason that we started to get our playing style going, we started to get players in that could execute, and the mentality - which is so important to winning - started to grow. And then this year, it carried right into this year from day one.
We didn't lose a preseason game. I think we won the first five games. I really think there was a period where we won one-in-seven [matches], [and] as much as everybody was panicking, we weren't as a staff and we weren't as a team. And in some ways that probably made us tougher, [that] made us stronger - like the entire year - all the adversity that we had.
This is a pretty special date, 12/12, and it's a very special stadium. 17 years ago, 2003, as an assistant coach at IU [Indiana University], I won on this pitch on December 12th, - ironically - in my mentor Jerry Yeagley's last year. People don't talk about Jerry Yeagley because he's never been a pro coach but he's one of the best coaches, soccer coaches, ever, and won six national championships.
I started learning from him, I cut my teeth with him and won a championship on this field on 12/12, ironically. Ten years ago, in 2010 on 12/12, I won a National Championship at [University of] Akron - a city that no one talks about a lot [that is] up the street - a city that I was proud of, Akron. We won a National Championship. And then obviously five years ago, we won a championship, not on 12/12, on 12/6, but on this field.
So, I don't know, you tell me: is it meant to be? I believe so, I really do. I look for a story when I take jobs. I want to be passionate about those jobs and my overwhelming feeling after the match [tonight] was for the fans, what they have been through to save the team. I was very motivated to bring a trophy back to them because I took one from them, obviously, in 2015 on this pitch.
On his relationship with his players:
All those guys, every single one of them I love. Love every single one of them. You know, I don't know if you're supposed to love your players. I do. Maybe that's a fault of mine. Maybe in some ways - I think I said it at Portland - I knew it was either going to be me or them [leaving]. I chose to leave. I think a cycle is there, you know, whether it's three, four, five years, and a coach leaves, players leave or both. And I'm a loyal, loyal guy.
When I have guys that perform and give what I need them to give to win trophies, it's special to me. Really, really special to me. Seeing Jonah [Jonathan] Mensah become the player that he has become this year - for me, the best defender in the League - a warrior, a captain, an unbelievable leader. I'll tell you what, he was crying after the game, crying. He's a grown man, and he was crying because of Darlington Nagbe not being able to be there and he wanted to win for him. That was a big motivation. Those two guys are like best friends. They have a special bond, those two guys. And so I think he wanted to win for Darlington today.
On the team coming back from not having Pedro Santos and Darlington Nagbe available:
I believe a championship is won in the day-to-day process: How you play; the mentality that you have... Our guys became winners this year. I said that after the last game. [There are] A lot of good players, a lot of good teams, but not all those players are winners, champions, and not all those teams are championship-caliber teams. You need to have a special fiber, and you need to fight and work and have a strong mentality - a winning mentality - every single day.
I believe that's the difference. Every team in this League now, they play pretty good, they have good players. But, the psychology of winning - [having] that mentality every day and that vision to do something special - that's what sports is about.
So when we have adversity, and I say this all the time, you can have PTSD or you can have PTG, and PTG is post-traumatic growth. I actually believe that you grow more than ever in adversity. I’ve grown more than ever this year. My team and my players have grown more than ever, and so when we have adversity like this week, we use it the right way. We handle it the right way because [in] life, there's a lot of adversity. There are a lot of ups and downs. You get bloodied. I'm an underdog. I've been bloodied a lot and I’ve won a lot. I've had to fight for everything I've gotten. You know, being a college coach, not being a pro player very long - one year - I've had to prove myself. I’ve had to come to this league and prove myself.
I do this for the players. I do this for the moments like today. I do it for the guys in that locker room. I love every one of them. That's what life's about. That's why I coach.
On 19-year-old Aidan Morris starting MLS Cup, the youngest to start in a final:
I mean, I believe in young players, if they’re good enough. I think there's a lot of talk about playing young players. I like to play young players. I’ve played a ton of young players. Some of those are foreign. Remember Marco Farfan? He was a homegrown kid, 17 when I gave him his debut. Alvas Powell was 18 when I gave him his debut. Obviously I played Sebastian Berhalter, I played Aidan Morris…
If a guy is good enough, I'm going to give him the chance, but if he's not, I'm not. I'm lot a lover of playing young guys just to do it, but Aidan Morris is a winner, he's a fighter, [and] I knew it. I knew it in the games I played him and I've seen him in training. For me, when I knew that Darlington [Nagbe] was out, he was the guy that was going to go in. He's an IU [Indiana University] boy. You know, IU breeds champions. They breed winners. He's a Homegrown kid and I thought he was unbelievable today. [He] got around, and [he] tackled. Tackling, defending and winning duels, for some reason, have become curse words, but in any good team - any good team in the world - they have a guy that's going to win balls, and he won a ton of balls today. So did Artur. Those two guys were key today against [Nicolas] Lodeiro and that [Seattle Sounders FC] exceptional midfield.
You saw we came out, we pressed, we didn't sit back. But when we had to be in a low block, we organized. This team has been prepared for every phase, and you saw that today. We went a little more direct. That's what the game called for. I thought that gave them a lot of problems and we played in transition a little bit more.
So that was the main tweak. We knew we weren't going to have as much of the ball without Darlington [Nagbe] and Pedro [Santos], so we decided to play a little more direct and decided to play in transition. I tell my guys all the time, ideally if you tell me how I want to play, we're going to be up the field with the ball for the whole game and press, possess... [If] We don't have control, [we will] counter, pressure... But if we have to, we can play in transition. If we have to, we can play in a low block. And there's nothing wrong with that and that's good, tactical football.
Teams that aren’t [in] the top-four in every league in the world have to do that, and for some reason in our country sometimes when you do those things, you know, you're not playing the right way. But for me, I don't believe in that. I think it's about being adaptable.
On whether this was the most complete performance of the season:
[It was] Unbelievable. We were not going to let history and the past, as much as I have the utmost respect for Seattle Sounders and Brian Schmetzer, [Nicolas] Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Raúl [Ruidiaz] - I mean, are you kidding me, these are [all] unbelievable players - [Cristian] Roldan and Stefan Frei, we were not going to let history and the past determine today.
This was our year. It was going to be our year, it was going to be our day, it was going to be our trophy and that was the message before the game. I don't care what they have done in the past. It's going to be decided [based] on today.
I think we showed that. We came out. We fought. We had intensity in the match, from the opening whistle. We had two corners in, I think, the first three minutes. Pressed. Countered. You know, we did what we needed to. We fought. And we're talking about guys like Luis Diaz who, when I got him, I don't even think he knew how to defend at all. And he was tracking back and digging in and grinding. Gyasi [Zardes] is battling for balls in the air and Jonah [Jonathan] Mensah - what a beast, he is - heading the ball out.
I think there was a little bit of extra motivation to do this for Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos. Those two guys, they were key to us getting here, and without them, it was a tall order. But, I think we used that to galvanize the group even more and give us a little bit more hunger than we had already, which was a lot.
On MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan:
Unbelievable. I've coached good players, [but] this guy is unbelievable. If you rewatch the game, I don't think he had a wrong step for 90 minutes. He just got the ball every time. He carved space for himself all the time. We shared a great moment after the game. He said something that I'll never forget. He told me I changed his life. And I told him he changed my life. I brought him here to win championships. I brought him here. He seemed to be looking for something new to stimulate him, reinvigorate him. These guys are people. Yeah, they make money. Yeah, they have to perform. But they’re people and a lot of time - I've seen this with guys - they are cutthroat, they sell their souls a little bit and they lose their way. He came here and I think he looks like a new man. But he's an unbelievably special player. I mean, unbelievable.
Defender Jonathan Mensah
On how emotional he was following the win:
Yeah, I was. It's been an incredible journey for the club, for the city and for the people of Columbus. We are so grateful for their sacrifices off the field, and what we could do to kind of like pay them back was to win this trophy for them. Thankful that we have this amazing fan base behind us and we did this for them.
On the emotions he shared with coach Caleb Porter after the match:
It was just, you know, me thinking about what the fans and the community, and everyone behind the Save the Crew movement, for this to be possible today. It is by their efforts and their fight off the field, their determination, their resiliency kind of like got us to where we are now to be able to accomplish this mission.
So it was so emotional for me, because I was a part of the group about the move, but thankful for the fans for the massive job they did. Yeah, I needed to pour it all out for them.
On what it was like as captain to raise the MLS Cup Trophy:
For me, I don't think it means anything. I know it means everything for our fans. This team has rallied behind me, you know, when the coach gave me the armband. I told the whole team, you know, I have the armband, but we are all captains on the field, and these guys has been incredible. Alongside with me, you know, we've kind of like driven this team to where it belongs, but I'm so grateful for the team.
On what Porter did to rally the team after not having Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos available, and also on Aidan Morris:
I think the talk of how coach prepared us and also how we prepared ourselves individually and collectively, it shows a great deal of our mentality, because this team, we've been through so much. We're so thankful for the next guy that steps in. We are going to do the same job. We are going to stick to the same game plan, and I give all the credit to the coaching staff, the head coach, Caleb Porter, and my teammates. When a couple of our teammates went down with COVID, other guys stepped in and did the job.
And talk of Aidan Morris, such an incredible young man. We all know what he brings to this team, and the whole U.S. saw it today. It's going to keep getting better from here.
On the performance of MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan:
Oh, you know, he's an incredible player. We've all seen it. We've all witnessed it throughout the season and even today. You know, two of our guys went down and we needed to do extra for them because we know what they mean to this team, and we had to do this for them and for our fans.
I cannot stop thanking our fans because we are here because of them. So we are so grateful, that whoever steps on the field knows what to do, and we got the job done.
On what worked in defending the Sounders FC midfield:
We know they are very good players, and we needed to be on our legs for 90-plus minutes. We had a lot of talk about how to deal with those guys and I think we did a fantastic job. Because you know, we knew that if we can minimize the services to die as and Jordan Morris and the other guys up front, I think we're going to be fine.
I think Aidan and Artur minimized the services from Lodeiro, and I think it's been a collective effort since day one. You know, we actually spoke about winning this thing in preseason, and for us to be able to accomplish it, it speaks volume about this team.
On what he remember about the entire 2020 season:
Oh, I think even we were -- even if we were in a normal world, it was going to be remembered and for 2020, for whatever circumstances that is happening in 2020, we overcame all those obstacles and to be able to win this trophy is such an incredible achievement for us.
And you know, we are so grateful to our fans because it got to a point where, you know, we couldn't have them in the stadium, and it was tough for us playing in an empty stadium. We had them tonight and we did this for them. So grateful for that.
On the postgame celebrations:
It means everything. You know, these guys, they are teammates, but I believe they have become family now because we do almost everything together. We knew as the playoff was going on, as the job isn't done, we kind of celebrate a playoff game against Red Bull, and we can't. We won against Red Bull; we kept it calm, and then we rolled our sleeves. We kept going, New England. We had no celebrations because we knew what our vision was and what the mission was.
For us to be able to accomplish it, I think we have all the right to be able to celebrate it right now, especially with our fans.
On his wife, who he has not seen in nearly a year:
She is actually texting me right now (reaching for phone).
I have an incredible wife, and we spoke about this before I left for preseason, and she was like, "Hey go do your thing, I'll be here praying, supporting you." We did it now.
It's been a long journey and lots of sacrifices, so now that we've won the ultimate trophy, I will prepare and then leave and go see my wife and then get some rest. Because man, it's been crazy for me. I never missed a minute this season, you know, because I knew I had to sacrifice for this team.
And so grateful for the medical staff, as well, the performance staff. They really helped me. When regular season was ongoing, we were playing games every three days, every four days, and they helped me throughout the season. Very grateful.
And I just want to say, I love you so much, Ms. Kafui Mensah, and I'll see you soon.