Myles McGinley ’15 met Cameron Porter ’16 for the first time in September of 2010, when the two soccer recruits were on campus for their official visits. Porter sported a Justin Bieber-style bowl cut; he was as lanky as he was reserved.
“Damn,” thought McGinley. “I can’t wait to beat this kid.”
If only he knew what the future would hold. Porter ditched the bowl cut, put on a few pounds, and became one of Princeton’s all-time greats.
He graduated as a four-year starter, twice named both academic All-Ivy and first team All-Ivy. He was 2014’s Soccer News Net College player of the year; the Ivy League offensive player of the year; the ECAC offensive player of the year. He led the NCAA Division I in scoring and his team to an Ivy League title.
And to Porter, it was all a surprise.
He’d played on a state championship team and earned two all-conference nods in high school. After a tournament, a Division III coach had approached him to talk recruiting. Porter was floored; he’d never known that sports and college admissions could go hand in hand. Shocked though he was, the offers kept coming.
In the fall of 2011, Porter arrived on Princeton’s campus. He felt out of place, underequipped. He was sure he’d spend his first season riding the bench.
Then, before the competition season started, a star player was injured. The team found itself down a forward. Porter was the man for the job. He started the first game of his first year at the University and never looked back.
“If you had asked me about Cam when he came in as a freshman,” said head men’s soccer coach Jim Barlow, “I would have told you that he was strong, he was fast, he was unorthodox. The guys thought he was a genius. But he wasn’t the player with the best vision. He wasn’t the player who was the best at connecting with his teammates.”
To be fair, Porter didn’t need to be. When he was younger, he’d come home from practice every day and head straight to the garage. His family was re-bricking its chimney; he’d arrange the loose bricks into patterns and dribble around them for hours.
His ball control and his dribbling abilities excelled. His passing and communication? Not so much.
So when Porter first emerged as an offensive force, there existed a caveat: he operated solo. To Barlow and associate coach Steve Totten, he seemed to defy every rule in the book. He was better at one v. two than two v. one. Put him on the field with another forward, and he’d play well. Put him out there alone, and he’d blow the crowd away. By Porter’s senior year, Princeton’s offense revolved around him — and only him.
It paid off. Barlow gestured to the middle of his office, where sat a glass table overflowing with plaques. “Those? They’re Cam’s.”
By the end of his senior season, Porter was the NCAA’s leading scorer and fourth on the University’s all-time scoring list. He’d made his mark on Princeton’s program, forged lifelong friendships. He was ready to move on to the next, non-athletic phase of his life.
Then arrived a last-minute invitation to Fort Lauderdale’s annual Major League Soccer combine. After that came a third-round, 45th-overall draft to the Montreal Impact.
For Porter to take the Impact up on their offer would mean his dropping out of Princeton, abandoning not only his degree but his plans to start a consulting firm — to which he’d already devoted three months of his life — with two of his friends.
He flew to Montreal.
He first stepped onto the field on Feb. 24, 2015, in the 81st minute of his team’s season opener. For the next two weeks, he warmed the bench, just as he’d expected to four years earlier.
Then came March 4, 2015. In Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Impact faced Mexico’s Club de Fútbol Pachuca for the club’s first chance to earn a CONCACAF Champions League semi-final berth.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Pachuca led 1–0. Impact coach Frank Klopas sent Porter onto the field. Midway from the center circle, midfielder Callum Mallace kicked a Hail Mary. Porter nudged the ball into the goal to send his team to the semifinals.
40,000 people jumped to their feet. Porter’s teammates tackled him. At a Princeton soccer banquet in New York City, Barlow and Totten felt their phones blow up.
Impact called it the club’s “most memorable goal.” It made Porter an overnight sensation. People recognized him everywhere he went.
“It was the ultimate ego stroke,” he said. “I had been a part of the biggest moment in the club’s history. People wanted me to sign their shirts in the streets. It was unbelievable. It was an addiction: there’s nothing quite like it.”
But the high wouldn’t last. Seventeen days after his moment of glory, Porter tore his ACL — and his LCL, MCL, IT band, and hamstring.
For months, he spent six hours a day in rehab. He took on a job as a software engineer for Major League Soccer, building a data layer API. He finished his degree, a year late and remotely.
“I signed up only for classes that didn’t take attendance,” he said. “I didn’t go to a single lecture, but I flew from Montreal for quizzes and tests. My friends turned in my homework for me. I’d come home every day from practice and rehab. My friends were playing FIFA and watching Netflix, and I was teaching myself computational geometry without a textbook.”
In the wake of his July 2016 recovery, Impact traded him to Sporting Kansas City. Just as he’d grown acclimated to his new team, Porter broke his tibia and tore every ligament in his ankle.
“He had to choose between playing professional soccer and playing soccer with his kids in twenty years,” said McGinley. The choice was obvious for Porter. On Jan. 29, 2018, at the age of 24, he retired.
To McGinley — who freely admitted to living vicariously through Porter’s professional years — the timing was serendipitous. He had just finished a consulting agreement; Porter had nothing on his agenda. The two friends created a startup called Tangle. A knowledge management tool, it was essentially an outshoot of Porter’s initial post-graduation plan.
The startup never panned out. As with his athletic one, Porter’s professional dream fell flat. He didn’t break stride. He moved to Alleycorp, a four-person New York City venture capital firm responsible for such magnates as Business Insider, GiltGroup, and MongoDB.
He recognizes that to an outsider, his careers — which have spanned countries and disciplines — may seem disparate. To him, however, community is the common thread.
“Being part of a team, in any sense, is my favorite thing,“ he said.
Has Princeton’s only forward become the ultimate team player? Not quite.
“I can always do more when I have freedom to operate on my own,“ he laughs. “But I guess I might do better if I were more open to asking questions.”