KeyBank Match-up of the Match: John Spencer vs. Dominic Kinnear

Spencer and Kinnear go head-to-head

Given all the talk about the relationship between the one-time Houston colleagues in Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear and Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer, it should come as no surprise that despite the 11v11 that will take to the pitch on Sunday (ROOT Sports, Galavision, 750 AM The GameLa Pantera 940 AM), many eyes will be focusing on the two friends on the sidelines to see how they duel each other.

Spencer has spoken genuinely glowingly and respectfully of his friend Kinnear calling him the best man-manager he’s ever witnessed. It was in Houston that Spencer was given the reigns to the Reserve team, leading it to a 2008 title and it was also with Kinnear that the two helped direct back-to-back MLS Cup champions—no small feat.

Come Sunday, however, all that past becomes prologue to what will happen on the field. Placing the friendship and history to the side for 90 minutes to focus on a game that has large implications for both teams in their respective quests to make the playoffs brings us to Timbers’ soccer analyst Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up of the Match.

Robbie Earle's
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
John Spencer vs. Dominic Kinnear

“Spenny,” as he was commonly known in Houston, has spent the 2011 season gradually moving out of Kinnear’s formidable shadow. At the helm of a dual maiden voyage—one as his first year as a head coach and one as a brand new MLS side—Spencer, as he’s more commonly now known in Portland, has quickly put his stamp on a still developing Timbers team. Fast, quick, attacking, and hard working with usually a 4-4-2 formation of box-to-box midfielders, shuttling wings, a two pronged attack up top, and marauding wingbacks; the system has had its up’s and down’s through 2011. When it all clicks, however, it is a sight to see. Witness the 3-0 dismantling of the star-studded LA Galaxy earlier this month.

The young Timbers roster is still adjusting and learning on the fly. Spencer, like any good coach, has made adjustments as well. He tinkered with a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 formation to help settle the defense then returned to a 4-4-2 to get the offense back on track. In friendlies he’s even experimented with a 4-3-3. Honest and direct, he keeps his players loose and it is telling that after scoring a goal, the first place they run to celebrate is to coach Spencer.

That skill of creating a loyal esprit de corps across the squad and expert man-management was clearly something Spencer took notes on while in Houston. The Timbers players play for their coach and their coach supports them to the end.

On the other side, the Dynamo squad is filled with skilled veterans—many of whom Spencer helped coach and develop—in Brian Ching, Brad Davis, and Geoff Cameron to name but a few. Kinnear’s acumen at identifying and cultivating talent is impressive. Though their 2011 MLS season has been similar to Timbers in many ways—they only sit at two points higher than Portland in the respective Eastern Conference—how well Kinnear will be able to prep his team, on his home pitch, in the Texas heat will be telling. Spencer may have some more knowledge of this team than others Portland has faced this season given his history there, but he’ll still have to rely on transferring that understanding and bringing it out of his own squad.

Do that, and the Timbers may be able to pick up some very important points on the road in their ongoing quest to make this season’s playoffs. The joy of the protégé besting the teacher would be icing on the cake.