BEAVERTON, Ore. — The veteran goalkeeper, the team captain and the well-paid striker on Tuesday expressed sadness, surprise, disappointment.
They spoke fondly of their former boss, and of difficult phone conversations with John Spencer after he was fired midway through his second season as the head coach for the Portland Timbers.
“When I first found out it was a bit of a blow,” goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “I have tremendous respect (for Spencer). John is an incredible guy. I think every guy in that locker room will put their life on the line for the guy.”
Spencer’s Scottish accent and wit endeared him to fans. But for the players, the coach was a career changer. He brought Perkins and Jack Jewsbury to Portland to be leaders, plucking them from places where their role was uncertain.
“He’s the one who brought me here, so it was tough to see it go down,” Jewsbury said. “As players we hold ourselves responsible just as much as anyone else. I love the guy and always will; and (will) always be thankful that he brought me to Portland.”
Scottish striker Kris Boyd said Spencer is a big reason he chose to give the Timbers and Major League Soccer a shot.
Boyd said he was surprised that the coach was fired, noting that for all their struggles the Timbers are not that far off the playoff pace with half of their schedule in front of them.
“I probably should have scored more,” Boyd said. “I’m not a robot. You miss chances as (do) the best strikers in the world. For me, the best thing is to keep going and getting into positions for your teammates to find you and hopefully get on the end of them and start scoring goals more regular.”
Boyd said he had spoken with Spencer numerous times since the coach learned his fate, and that Spencer would want the team to play well and win on Saturday, when the Los Angeles Galaxy visits Portland for the only time in 2012.
“He’s moved on. And we need to move on as well,” Boyd said. “We’ve got a big game to prepare for on Saturday, and that’s what we look forward to.”
The challenge this week will be adjusting to Gavin Wilkinson’s coaching style and systems. The Timbers general manager and interim coach indicated on Tuesday that every aspect of the team is open for change — including who is the team’s captain going forward.
Perkins, a possible team captain, said leadership isn’t about listening to one guy with the captain’s arm band.
“We’ve never had just one captain on this club. It’s always been the older guys that have (led) together. … And that’s the way it’s always going to be,” Perkins said. “Now, instead of it just being Jack (Jewsbury) in the forefront, the rest of us have to step up and take care of each other.”
• Midfielder Diego Chara did not practice with the team on Tuesday. Wilkinson said he gave the midfielder an extra day of rest, noting that Chara is suspended for Saturday’s match following his handball red card at Real Salt Lake. Midfielder Franck Songo’o, who is expected to miss several weeks with a knee sprain. and forward Brent Richards (sore ankle) also did not practice Tuesday.
• Forward Bright Dike returned to the Timbers from the L.A. Blues of the USL Pro league, where he had six goals and two assists. USL Pro is two divisions below MLS in the American soccer structure. The Timbers loaned rookie defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste to the Blues in place of Dike, keeping their MLS roster at the 30-player limit.