John Spencer will line up across the pitch from former boss Dominic Kinnear on Saturday when the Portland Timbers play the Houston Dynamo in Casa Grande, Ariz. And the two friends will likely exchange a friendly nod before trying to beat each other.
“It’s a little bit different from what I’m used to,” Spencer said. “I’m used to being on the same sideline. But I know Dom and I know they’ll be coming out to kick our a--.”
Spencer, the first-year coach of the Timbers, spent four-plus years as an assistant with the Dynamo and was part of back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. After Spencer retired from playing in 2004, he moved to London and spent a year doing TV commentary for Chelsea.
Former teammate Mark Chung knew Kinnear was looking for an assistant when San Jose Earthquakes franchise moved to Houston at the end of 2005.
“[Chung] asked me, ‘Do you mind if I put your name in?’” Spencer said.
After a couple of conversations, and two other candidates turned the job down, Spencer took it.
“I wanted to see how I enjoyed that side of the game,” Spencer said. “The more I did it, the more I felt comfortable in the role [of coach]. I decided I wouldn’t mind an opportunity to be a head coach if the right opportunity came along. In Houston, I was working under someone I admired and respected.”
What Spencer admires most in Kinnear is his ability to relate to players and treat them fairly.
“[Kinnear] treats people with a lot of respect,” Spencer said. “I think that’s why we got on so well, because we have a similar mentality. We probably had more than the typical coach-assistant relationship. I spent a lot of time with him and his family and we’ve become close friends over the last four years.”
The Timbers have a busy day Saturday, with a game against the U-18 national team early in the morning and another against the Dynamo.
“We’ll split the squad into two teams,” Spencer said. “Everyone will get 60 to 70 minutes [of playing time].”