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MLS- Portland Timbers

Slumping Timbers fire Spencer (updated)

John Spencer (Getty Images)

MLS has claimed its third head-coaching casualty of the year, and it is the Portland Timbers' John Spencer.

Spencer has been shown the exit door in Portland after a disappointing first half of the 2012 season that has the 5-8-4 Timbers in second-to-last place in the Western Conferece. A press conference is scheduled for Monday afternoon and Timbers owner/president Merritt Paulson is expected to make an official announcement.

(UPDATE- Paulson named general manager Gavin Wilkinson interim head coach while the Timbers conduct a search for a long-term replacement. The 38-year-old Wilkinson has been with the organization since its inaugural United Soccer Leagues season in 2001. Wilkinson has served as a head coach for the Timbers previously, compiling a 50-29-39 record from 2007-2010.)

The Timbers were 16-22-13 under Spencer, their first coach since joining MLS in 2011, but they have been one of the most dismal teams in the league this year with 16 goals scored and 24 surrendered in 17 matches. Portland is coming off a 3-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake in which all three goals were netted in the second half.

Spencer joins former Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter and Philadelphia Union boss Peter Nowak as the first three managers to be fired this season.

What do you make of this development? Who would you like to see permanently replace Spencer? How do you look back on his time with the club? Think Wilkinson will have some success while the club searches for a long-term replacement?

Share your thoughts below.

99 comments
  • Dimidri

    The comment was in reference to the general attitude of new owners like Saputo, Paulson, etc and the expectation that ‘success should be immediate, we deserve it, look at our Tifo’s!’ Your team is bad. That happens. Your team lost to a lower-tier side in a cup match, that happens. And before you decry Spencer’s style, look how successful his antithesis in Toronto was…

    Actually read what I said and you’ll see I am not critiquing being upset about your team performing poorly but rather the way people like you carry yourselves.

    Like

  • NaranjaFanatic

    I just have to say that your second paragraph was just about as entertaining to read as watching Spencer on the sideline. I see your point. He’s a poor man’s Kinnear. Perhaps a very poor man’s Kinnear.

    Like

  • go usa

    I would say that part of problem is too much pressure from ownership and fans for immediate success. It causes teams to scramble around for “instant just add water” solutions rather than patient and reasoned franchise development.

    TFC is the poster child for roster turnover, firing coaches, and fairy-dust foreign imports.

    Suffer the down times, so when victory comes, you’ll know it means something.

    Cal FC had a good team. I suggest you hire Wynalda.

    Like

  • Paddy Megroyn

    It’s not surprising that Portland has such an awful away record. The field at Jeld-Wen is so narrow that it helped hide some deficiencies in their style of play which would ultimately be exposed in road matches.

    As a neutral, Portland is a terrible team to watch and if their supporters didn’t provide such a great atmosphere, I would never want to see them play.

    I don’t think that Spencer’s tactics were any good, but from top to bottom, it’s not a talented roster by any stretch of the imagination.

    One question though…does this mean the end to those great Alaska Airlines commericals?

    Like

  • fischy

    Why not? Because it will be really embarrassing when word gets out that Porter said “No thanks.” If he really preferred to be in the pros right now, he would be coaching with DCU. Heck, maybe he likes Ohio. Check back when the Crew have an opening.

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  • fischy

    Nonsense. He was masterful when the team made the Cup Final. Now, he’s a bad coach? Can’t manage a team to success?

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  • Kojo

    Top 3 coaching candidates
    1. Marcelo Bielsa (dream on, but one can dream)
    2. Richie Williams (coaching MLS is a bigger career move than coaching U-17’s who don’t always pan out)
    3. Steve Nicol (is third since his style of soccer is not that entertaining but still a good coach)

    Like

  • kobao

    good riddance to this looney tune. he made himself a joke almost from the very beginning with his manufactured controversy and ridiculous comments.

    Like

  • The Imperative Voice

    I don’t think it matters if you are Kinnear’s protege or seemed of promise if you lose to Cal FC (amateur) in the USOC and haven’t won a road game since October 2011, while your team which once was a borderline playoff entrant starts circling the drain. Just missing the playoffs probably doesn’t buy you much more time than squeaking your post-expansion Union into the postseason, and then similarly cratering.

    I also don’t think it helps to seem obsessed with trading away Cooper like he’s leprous (trying Houston before Paulson overrode, then completing the NY trade) and then Cooper is second in the league in goals with 11 halfway into the next season. But then his mentor Kinnear traded away DeRo, Kamara, Oduro, Wondo. I think you get away with that more when you have cups than not even playoffs, and even Kinnear’s style grates here the longer he goes from 2007.

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  • Brian

    This is a great first move, Spencer was lacking in his tactics and refused to make appropriate adjustments to the lineup. The next move needs to be removing GM Gavin Wilkinson. Once those two are gone I want to see Eric Wynalda given a chance to manage the team. I believe Wynalda can build the program into a contender and do good things for the youth development in Portland.

    This move has been brewing since the loss to Cal FC. That result was unacceptable and showed exactly why Wynalda should be in and Spencer was rightfully fired. Wynalda knew what Spencer was going to do and never allowed him his game plan. Wynalda wanted to play possession but once he realized he couldn’t (about 15 minutes in) he solidified his defense and played for the counter. Wynalda changed formation 6 times during the game while Portland played exactly the same throughout. I would love to see what Wynalda can do with true professionals instead of a team of scraps.

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  • mephime

    In a league where more than 50% of the teams make the playoffs, it isn’t unrealistic to expect it.

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  • bigprof

    i wonder who had to fight him? you cant fire a scot without having to go mano a mano. i get the feeling timber joey had to scare him off at some point

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  • truthiness

    Look at San Jose – Fans were calling for Yallop and Doyle to go for a long time. Last year was especially dark. Now they lead the league – go figure, something might be said for stability and a patient build up.

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  • Adi from Oregon

    I was an original Timbers fan and agree that Wynalda could be a good coach because he always played with great ball skills and good strategy. This is the type of soccer that Portland needs. Use Spain as an example – no real striker, a Swiss-clock midfield and defenders who are fast and put out 150% effort. So, get rid of the tall & stiff striker, get the talented midfielders to play together better, and greatly improve the talent and effort of the defenders. Good luck in getting a GREAT coach!!!

    Like

  • curmudgeon

    Clueless? What happened the last time Curt Onalfo was given a head coaching job?

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  • The Imperative Voice

    I think it’s a good idea to fire the coach now because the results stink and this gives you a few months to sort out whether it’s the coach, players, or both. If they suddenly turn around like TFC or Philly then you pulled the right switch, you might benefit from a good coach but not need too much turnover. If the team just collapses then you need to seriously work over the roster.

    You don’t want to wait until the season’s over because they’re already several games adrift of the playoffs, if they have any aspirations the turnaround needs to come now, and there was no reason to believe it was coming through Spencer, when the team only got worse this year. Also, if you’re not going to make the playoffs, you’re better off making this year the proving ground rather than beating your head against the wall through October and then having to essentially experiment next April and May. I’d rather waste games in a lost season than make next year’s coach have to burn real games assessing the roster.

    There are really just a few good coaches I’d bother with, otherwise it’s a diceroll. Nicol and Colin Clarke, maybe Bob Bradley if Egypt tosses him overboard.

    Everyone else, it’s like you’re a coaching proving ground right along with a player experiment, like say TFC was: Porter’s U23 experience should be a deterrent, Wynalda is just now getting his first pro games, Ralston is just a Kinnear assistant with no CV, Williams had a mediocre NY interim record and hasn’t done anything special at US U17. I mean, you just gave Spencer his first shot, that worked great, didn’t it? I’d think they go the other way.

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  • stewart klensman

    I see what you are saying but look at Olsen and Heaps, they are getting it done. I would not put Spencer and Ralston in the same pool even though they both were Kinnear’s asst. Ralston had a unbelievable vision as a player that I think could carry over as a coach. I think Nicol could be a choice although I think that I would be a little afraid of his record towards the end at NE.

    Like

  • Hincha Tim

    I am starting a one fan lobbying campaign: MARCELO BIELSA. He could revolutionize the MLS and youth development in the U.S. Visionary, incredibly hard working, could quickly understand, adapt to American indiocyncracities. He not only would get Portland competitive he would totally revamp their youth development system.
    He made 3 million/year at Athletic Bilbao. Fire that worthless striker they are paying 1.5 mil/year for and that’s half his salary. His worth long term to the Timbers and American soccer would far outweigh his salary, if Portland’s owners had the vision and balls to go after him. And I think he might seriously consider it. He’s always enjoyed new adventures/challenges and learned to work within financial/operational constraints (Velez and Newell’s were not among the big Argentine clubs when he led them to success, same with Athletic Bilbao and Atlas in Mexico and even Chile).

    Like

  • HDfan

    Kinnear is one of the winningest coaches in MLS. This notion that he prefers the long ball is a myth. You mad we got the best set piece taker in the league? Yeah you mad

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  • chris

    It looks like he’s staying with Bilbao this year but that would be amazing if he came to MLS or even the national team someday. I know he had talks with Sunil in the past so he at least was open to it at some point.

    Like

  • chris

    If they’re looking to move away from Spencer’s ugly retro british tactics then Steve Nicol is absolutely not the guy you want to go after

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  • i was saying boo-urns.

    Remember the Cal FC match? I blame this on the Jon Spencer Boos Explosion.

    Like

  • Mobile Phone App Development

    If all those candidates are indeed real options, it would seem Portland is spoiled for choice. I’d be pretty excited for any one of those guys, if the Sounders didn’t already have Big Sig.

    Personally, I’m rooting for Nicol. His time at New England didn’t end well, but I’ve always liked him, and I’d like to see what he could do with a team whose ownership at least seems to care. Also, I’d like him to get another shot at an MLS title, after coming so close so many times with the Revs. It would kind of kill me if that happened in Portland, but given the state of the team right now, if he did manage it it would be thoroughly deserved.

    Like

  • b

    I go to “HDfan” formy unbiased analysis of the Houston Dynamo coach.

    Hopefully one day all these 1970s kick and rush coaches will be gone, regardless of their past successes (yes even Arena).

    Like

  • b

    “even though they both were Kinnear’s asst.”??

    That they are/were Kinnear coaches should be seen as a huge strike against them!

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  • b

    Dear Merritt,
    Congrats on completing step 1 of 6.

    1. Fire Spencer – done
    2. Fire Wilkinson
    3. Get rid of all these talentless Scottish Premiere League style players
    4. Replace the turf with grass
    5. Make the pitch as wide as that Jeld Wen band box will allow
    6. Hire a young American coach along the lines of Kreis and Olsen

    Like

  • Knuckles

    It’s “insulting”? Where 10 teams out of 19 make the playoffs? It’s not insulting at all. What it really proves is that poor management guarantees poor results, tenure in the league notwithstanding. By poor management, I don’t just mean John Spencer, I also mean the roster that Wilkinson gave him was a discordant, disorganized mess.

    Like

  • Rico

    You make no sense. So Spencer doesn’t work out in Portland and you want to write off all assistant coaches of Dominic Kinnear? He has been to three out of the last six MLS Cups and won two. His Houston team is the winningest MLS side since going to Houston in 06. One thing his assistant coaches know how to do is win. While Ralston may not be ready yet, I would think he is on most people’s radar. And given the early returns of Jay Heaps, perhaps experience is not as critical as we thought.

    Like

  • NaranjaFanatic

    He and the Dynamo have given the green light to the transfer but in the crazy MLS system, the other owners have to vote in favor of the deal. Hopefully that is just a formality.

    Like

  • Rowsdower

    At least Kinnear is mixing it up. Honestly how surprised where you when the 433 was rolled out a few weeks ago. I was. Please don’t add say Oduro or even Kamara in the same sentance with DeRo and Wondo.

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  • NaranjaFanatic

    I love these fans who say that Nicol, Kinnear, and even Arena don’t play a style that is entertaining. You guys can have your entertainment. For me, winning is always entertaining. Portland would be lucky to have Nicol. You are talking about three of the most successful coaches this league has ever had.

    Like

  • tim

    Masterful? More like the stars aligned. Since then the team has been torn asunder by expansion drafts and some very questionable moves.

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  • BSU SC

    +1

    That’s a name I had not considered. I’m hopeful that he will take the reigns of the USMNT after Klinsmann. Although it’s hard to imagine him coming to coach in MLS, it would be good to see him come in and get to know the lay of the land in American soccer before stepping into the national team picture.

    Like

  • b

    Of course it is, what possible reason would they have to vote against it? Maybe if they thought the offer was insultingly low I guess…

    Like

  • RAMONE

    Interesting how many “objective observers” above can also somehow objectively say this was a bad move. Yes, I get it that you want us to “pay dues” and you’d rather not see another team you see as a newcomer crash the party.

    This decision is only being celebrated in small pockets. Most of us have been watching professional soccer long enough to know that Spencer’s tactics were not going to work, but still love the man so it is a gut wrenching decision. He doesn’t have the players to run a throwback 1980s Brittish style, not sure any MLS team could afford what it takes to successfully do that. But John Spencer wasn’t going to change his strategy to fit the players he has and when you are 1.5 years after expansion and your GM seemingly can’t get the players he needs (partially because most retired 20 years ago and the rest start in the EPL and you can’t afford them) sticking with that is just going to be banging your head into the wall indefinitely.

    Like

  • RAMONE

    Also want to say our interim coach is going to be worse. We all saw his handiwork for 3 seasons before MLS. Our best hope is that we find a Martin Renne like fit for 2013.

    Like

  • RAMONE

    #4 not until Portland State football has a new stadium (i.e. never) and the city, who owns jeld wen, puts 10s of millions into new drainage and grow-lites (also never). Back in the day this stadium was a mud bog with natural grass (the roof means few hours of daylight, it is dug in 50 feet below ground level / below water table … And it rains quite a bit in Portland). All problems money can fix, but it would take a whole lot of it in a community who screamed bloody murder and still does that the city borrowed $30 million from the spectator facilities fund to do the 2011 upgrades.

    #5 already done.

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  • Chodilicus

    Alright, let’s check the theory. Kreis went 27 points and then 40 as you say. Yet, management stuck by him, even with some terrible soccer at times as he build the team that could play his style.

    Portland went 42 points in Spencer’s inaugural season and are on pace for about 40 this year. I am not going to argue if he is a good coach or if his tactics are right. My point is, no coach could implement a system and win at a high level in MLS without the time required to establish a brand. The quick trigger will just ensure continued rebuilding.

    So my point is, those unrealistic expectations are not a slap in the face to anyone, they are just a hindrance to your team getting where it needs to be. Even the teams that just try and go buy all the talent they can, do not work in MLS.

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  • Chodilicus

    Yes, they struggle to play well. Yes, they lose on the road. Yes, they have players that are just not good enough to make the playoffs. THEY ARE AN EXPANSION SIDE!

    We all get that his record doesn’t look good. But almost no expansion team will have a great record now that the league is more established.

    The point is, you are now 18 months down the road with Spencer’s style and finally getting his type of players in the system. Now if you start over, it will get worse again. You can’t try and play an RSL type of “beautiful” game with the players that Portland has brought in. So now all your acquisitions, like Boyd, are useless if you decide to change styles. That guy could not play in an RSL type of system.

    You have to get the players for your system, whatever it is. The problem with teams like TFC is that they have no idea what their system is because it changes every year when they fire their coach and GM.

    Again, Spencer may be the a poor coach. But if he was the right coach 18 months ago and took that talent to the brink of the playoffs in year 1, did he really forget how to coach?

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  • Chodilicus

    Don’t get confused. At least this objective observer, is not saying that it was a bad move because I didn’t want “to see you crash the party”. I just think it is too quick of a trigger and poor timing. Spencer got the Timbers 42 points in their first season!

    You may not like his style, but not all great teams play the “beautiful game” style. Man U plays ugly soccer but gets it done. Arsenal plays beautiful soccer and hasn’t gotten in done. Of course everyone wants to play like Spain, but it is not as simple as saying “let’s play like Spain”. That style only works when you have some of the best and most creative midfielders in the world.

    It takes more talent to play the beautiful game and a passing style of soccer like Spain, Arsenal or (admittedly the poor version) RSL. The direct/british style does not take nearly as much on-ball skill or talent, just speed and athletes.

    But regardless of style or tactics, it takes time to develop a team and define a direction. TFC has never had the patience to define a style. Houston, in my opinion, plays the worst style of all time but it is very defined and it works for them. They win even with inferior talent. The hook was just too quick and poor timing for Spencer. Maybe they do want a style change and new direction in Portland. But, whatever that direction is, they need to give it at least 3 years to develop and get the right players.

    Like

  • Hincha Tim

    Actually, it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of him to take such a job. Bielsa has always taken jobs that pose a challenge and aren’t with the big name clubs. He coached at Velez and Newell’s two clubs that at the time were not the “big 5” of Argentine soccer. He then went to Mexico and coached at Atlas, not one of the top 2-3 clubs there, he took the Chile NT job, when Chile wasn’t one of the traditional powers, and he took Athletic Bilbao, not one of the super clubs in Spain. He likes working for the underdog and tilling new ground. He made $3 million/year at Bilboa which is not an unreachable amount (considering the Timbers are paying an unproductive striker 1.5 mil). I think the U.S. would really intrigue Marcelo, especially going to a situation that is relatively a clean slate without a lot of historical baggage that he has to overcome before he can stamp his influence (in comparison to the other club jobs he has had).

    Like

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