Spencer fostering healthy competition in Portland

Players must earn starting spot week in, week out

John Spencer Coaching

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Timbers coach John Spencer has demonstrated that he’s not shy about switching up his lineup or substituting in order to give players opportunities to show what they can do.

Last Saturday at New England, Spencer started former D-2 players Kalif Alhassan in midfield and James Marcelin at defense – their reward for playing well in a US Open Cup play-in win against Chivas USA four days earlier.

“If you play, well you’re going to stay on the team,” Spencer said. “If you don’t play, well then we’re going to have to put someone else on the team and give them a chance. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

That line of thinking has allowed David Horst to come on and seize an opportunity at center back after a rough start for Kevin Goldthwaite.

Craig Mitchelldyer

Team captain Jack Jewsbury has locked down a place in the central midfield with his play, but other spots still appear to be up for grabs.

It’s giving Spencer something to think about as he contemplates his starting lineup for the long-awaited April 14 home opener against Chicago.

“You need competition for spots,” Spencer said. “Now it’s up to [the players] to cement their place on the team.

“You can’t play well one or two games and expect to be on the team the whole season. I tell them, ‘Don’t just look forward to the home opener. You’ve got to perform at Colorado, perform at D.C. …’”

One player who has earned some leeway is Colombian forward Jorge Perlaza, who has missed a few chances to score along the way but has been an effective runner for the team. Spencer remains committed to Perlaza and said that the striker is in an adjustment period.

“It’s culture shock,” Spencer said. “We’re trying to get him integrated. He’s a great guy in the locker room. We just need to try and get his family here and then try to ship 2,000-3,000 more Colombian people in to get him more comfortable.”

The last part of that comment was clearly a joke, but Spencer likened Perlaza’s move to other prominent players moving from one nation to another and experiencing similar problems.

Besides, injuries to Bright Dike and Eddie Johnson have limited Spencer’s options at forward.

Asked if Spencer was communicating with Perlaza in Spanish, the coach replied in his Scottish accent: “Un poquito.” (A little bit.)