Emotions mixed as Timbers' Spencer returns to Houston

Close friends Kinnear, Spencer set to square off for first time

HOUSTON – Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear will see a very familiar face when he looks down the sideline on Sunday (6 pm PT; ROOT Sports, Galavision, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM).

His counterpart this weekend will be Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer, who served as an assistant in Houston under Kinnear from 2006-10. Unsurprisingly, the pair developed a bond that transcends the soccer field.

“I think [our relationship] went past professional in about a week,” Spencer told MLSsoccer.com by phone Monday. “He’s probably the closest thing I’ve got to a brother.”

When asked about his relationship with Spencer, Kinnear echoed his former protégé’s sentiments.

“I think we have a great relationship on and off the field," Kinnear said. "We enjoy each other’s company on the bench and anywhere else for that matter.”

Kinnear and Spencer worked together to build the Dynamo’s early success, highlighted by back-to-back MLS Cup titles in '06 and '07. In addition to the success with the first team, Spencer led the Dynamo reserves to the championship in '08 and, in the process, refined his skills as a game-day decision-maker.

Spencer left the Dynamo in the middle of '10 to take the Portland head coaching position and now has the young expansion club exceeding expectations for its first MLS season. It didn't take Spencer long to credit his time in Houston for the success.

“Dominic definitely helped me with the inner-workings of Major League Soccer off the field, with things like learning how to work with the salary cap,” Spencer said. “But the most important thing is the thing the fans don’t see, which is the way Dominic works on the field on a day-to-day basis. His management is second to none.”

On Sunday, Spencer will lead the Timbers into Robertson Stadium, marking his first return to Houston since he took over in Portland. With his feelings towards his former club, it is understandable that Spencer expects the trip to bring up a lot of emotions.

“To be honest, I still feel very strange watching the team play on the field and on television and not being a part of it,” Spencer said. “They’re the first result I look for every weekend—it’s going to be a hard thing for me coming [back].”

Still, despite their relationship, both will be out to lead their club to victory when they meet for the first time as coaching adversaries.

“I was happy for him when he left, but missed him all the same,” Kinnear said. “His team’s putting together some good results as of late. While we get along great, come Sunday, we’ll both want the same thing.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.