Timbers fire coach Spencer

Head coach out midway through second MLS season

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter



PORTLAND — Citing philosophical differences, Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson on Monday fired head coach John Spencer.

Gavin Wilkinson, the team’s general manager, will coach the team for the remainder of the 2012 Major League Soccer season.

At the midpoint of their second season in MLS, the Timbers sit eighth out of nine teams in the Western Conference with a 5-8-4 mark. The Timbers finished 11-14-9 last season.

In a prepared statement, Paulson said the decision was not driven by the team’s losing record, nor was the decision a reflection of Spencer’s integrity.

“In general terms, I will only say that some fundamental philosophical differences exist,” Paulson said.

The announcement came 23 months after Spencer was hired as the coach to guide the franchise into MLS. This was the first head coaching job for Spencer, 41.

Paulson said he plans to hire a new head coach after this season, ideally before 2012 ends. He has identified 10 potential candidates. He said previous head coaching experience was not required, but that an understanding of MLS is critical.

In a statement released through the team, Spencer thanked Paulson and his family for the opportunity to be the Timbers’ first head coach.

“I want to thank all the coaches, staff, players and fans associated with the team,” Spencer said. “I very much enjoyed my time with the club and wish everyone the best.”

Portland next plays on Saturday, when the Los Angeles Galaxy visit for a match to be nationally televised.

For the remainder of this season, Wilkinson will wear two hats, serving as both the man responsible for building the roster and the man directing the on-field product.

Wilkinson said the team will hire an additional assistant coach and spread the domestic and the international scouting duties among the assistant coaches.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult task. Time will tell how I do,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve been responsible for signing all the players. I’ve been responsible for bringing the staff on board and they’re quality people. I think we all have another level we can go to. It’s a matter of finding that level.”

Wilkinson’s ties to the Timbers date to the franchise’s rebirth in 2001 as a member of the United Soccer Leagues. A central defender, he played for the Timbers’ second-division side from 2001-2006. He also was an assistant coach during his final two seasons as a player. In 2007, he became the coach and general manager, a role he held until the team moved to MLS and hired Spencer.

Wilkinson said he doesn’t plan significant changes to the style of soccer the Timbers have been playing.

“I don’t think there’s going to be big changes,” Wilkinson said. “There might be minor tweaks to the system, but that will be after we discuss it with the assistant coaches and we’re all on the same page.”

The challenge is to help the team play better away from home. The Timbers are winless in eight road matches this season (six losses and two draws) and have scored only two goals.