yesterday, what appears to be a two-part expose on timbers owner and superfan, merritt paulson, was published on the league's official site. it was an excellent article, but not very illuminating for those who had watched the introduction of the boss to the world of soccer as it happened. or so i thought. as articles of this nature tend to do, comparisons were made between portland and seattle and their relevant success. paulson was quick to point out two things of which we are all aware: first, seattle received the benefits of a solo entry into the mls and those benefits extended to the expansion draft. and, second, the timbers were not as fortunate--they entered the leauge with the vancouver whitecaps. and then merritt made the admission:
And they got the coach right, which I didn’t.
that admission was a brutally honest appraisal of not only john spencer, but also of himself. spencer is a charismatic guy, who came with an impressive resume. he played for glasgow rangers, queens park rangers, chelsea, motherwell, colorado, the scotish national side, he scored alot of goals, and then he spent time with the houston dynamo as an assistant under dominc kinnear, winning back to back mls championships. on paper he presented that prototypical footballing brainiac, who could motivate players, and had the credentials to back it up if challenged. but if you recall, following the end of his playing days in colorado, he went back to england and took up a career in punditry for chelsea. coaching was not his calling, it was an afterthought. seven years later, that afterthought made for some entertaining commercials and post game banter, but it did little else.
there is an old saying that my wife and magadh find detestable: those who can, do, those who cannot, teach. well, spencer did. and like too many ex-footballers who find themselves outside the training grounds, looking in, reliving their glory days, he needed something to do during retirement. my apologies now: he should have remained either retired, sipping a pimm's cup and playing the ponies at stamford bridge, or under someone who could actually teach, because he could not. and, so, it seems in the world of coaching, those who can coach, and those who cannot are shown the door. and that is what led the timbers to hire caleb porter--a coach.
porter has a system. spencer had a system, too, it just was not a good system--it was an old system, and little else. spencer's system pumped the ball into the 18 yard box from the wings with a relentless zeal. it was predictable and easily defended. porter's system relies on ball retention in order to create goal scoring opportunities. it is fluid, malleable, and unpredictable. the players are still getting used to the dynamic vision of the play, but it has given the team an identity and style of play that one expects from a professional footballing side. and it is still developing.
We get a notch, a level better each week. There will be a ceiling at some point, but we’re certainly not there. Our ceiling is a bit higher than most teams because we have so many new guys, so our potential to grow in training week after week is greater than other teams. I’m seeing that in training. The team we are, going into this game, is a notch higher than we were last week.
two weeks ago, the timbers went into the clink and came home with a shared point. they did so because porter got the tactics right. the team played surrounding and stifling defense that prevented seattle from exploiting any openings in the midfield. he then made the right substitutions at the right times. first, taking off jack jewsbury at the 70 minute mark, who was the pivot in back line that limited seattle to 7 shots, and he brought on frederick piquionne. this changed the positioning of the play, pressing the attack further forward, but also gave the midfield an additional body to assist in link-up play. then in the 80 minute, porter brought on the rod wall, which further increased impetus to get forward and the pressure on seattle's back four. here is the point: had spencer been in the same situation, he would have substituted lovell palmer for jack jewsbury and kalif for nagbe. like for like for like for failure.
somewhere in his vision, developed over years of coaching and as a student of coaching, porter has grown an ability to understand the flow of play. he makes adjustments within the game to harness that flow in order to increase the pressure on the opposition and increase the opportunities for goal. that is why those who can, coach, those who can't, should sip on pimm's cups. that is why when merritt said he did not pick the right guy to lead this team he makes an admission regarding his relative novice approach to ownership and to a game he was not as well equipped to understand as he is now. it appears the only person who learned a lesson from spencer was the man who hired him.
speaking of now, the timbers are playing at 3 pm. the denver post has run a piece suggesting that horst may make his debut. i highly doubt that, especially since this piece had likely taken on the life of an article by dan itel. a somewhat disingenuous title, leads to a good article that highlights the strong character of a player i really like--david horst. but the fact is the timbers issues at the back are not so much personnel issues as they are issues of a developing understanding between the back four and the crippled keeper. once they have been ironed out, i believe we will see a team able to shut out sides like did to seattle with more regularity.
all right, 3 points it is.