By John Strong:
On Monday, the Portland Timbers drew to a close a significant part
of their early MLS history, parting ways with their first head coach, John
Spencer. The Scotsman's tenure was greeted with fanfare and enthusiasm:
as the league's next "head coach in waiting" from his four-and-a-half
years as an assistant in Houston, MLS observers thought it a shrew choice to
put Spencer in charge.
His former players spoke enthusiastically about
Spencer as a player's coach to the full, a man with the enthusiasm and
practical knowledge from his own career to get the most out of his charges,
whether experienced veteran or young reserve.
personality, of course, was perfect for a team that, despite it's history, was
seen as new by many in the Portland area. Whether his charm with the
media, his exuberance on the sideline, or his You Tube sensation Alaska
Airlines commercial, Spencer quickly became perhaps the most well-known and
well-liked member of the Timbers organization.
ever, though, building a team from scratch in a highly competitive and
challenging league is easier said than done. Despite owner Merritt
Paulson insisting Spencer's firing wasn't a "team record driven
decision"--and suggesting there were scenarios where the team could have a
worse record than they do now and Spencer would remain in charge--the difficult
results that have come with this second MLS season certainly didn't help
matters. Whether it was a three-game losing streak in March and April, where
the team held the lead in all three matches; a disasterous 1-0 loss to the
amateurs of Cal FC in the US Open Cup at home in May; or the team's bewildering
away form, which saw them alternate rousing home wins over the top teams in MLS
with crushing losses on the road, it's fair to say things have not gone to plan
on the field in 2012.
that Paulson would say--beside it also having nothing to do with ethics or
integrity on Spencer's part--was that the decision came down to "profound
philosophical differences," presumably between the coach, GM, and
Owner/President. While simultaneously praising Spencer, and acknowleding
the place he'll always hold in Timbers history, Paulson has put GM and former USL
Timbers coach Gavin Wilkinson in charge for the rest of 2012 while the search
for a permanent replacement gets underway.
The season is far from lost: with half of their
34 game schedule to play, the Timbers are only four points out of the Western
Conference's fifth and final playoff spot. Kris Boyd remains the team's leading
scorer, Troy Perkins a steady presence at the back, and the team's stable of
young talent remains poised to break out as the season wears along. Whatever is
to come in the team's "second era", it will start with a bang on
Saturday night, as the Timbers host the defending MLS champs, and the glamour
side of the league, the LA Galaxy. Fletcher Johnson, Adin Brown and I will have
all of the play-by-play starting with pregame coverage at 7, and kickoff just
past 8, on your home of Portland Timbers soccer, Sports Radio 750 The Game.