PORTLAND, Ore. – In his first year as a head coach, John Spencer nearly guided the Portland Timbers to the MLS Cup Playoffs in the club’s inaugural season in the league.
The Timbers finished the season with 42 points, four shy of the 10th and final postseason spot. So how would the 39-year-old Scotsman, known for his pithy quotes and outspoken mannerisms, assess Portland’s first year in MLS? He sat down with MLSsoccer.com during a recent offseason training session to answer that question.
MLSsoccer.com: In the time since the season ended, have you been able to gain more perspective on what the Timbers accomplished this season?
Spencer: It was a good first year. I think that if you said at the start of 2011 you’d have got 42 points, I think we would have probably been very surprised and would have taken that being a new team. But as I say, I think it would have been a great season had we have got to the playoffs.
MLSsoccer.com: Was there anything that surprised you in your first year as a head coach?
Spencer: No, I wouldn’t say there was any surprise. There were times when we showed that we could compete with the best teams in the league, especially here at home. I think we showed we could compete with them and beat them and push teams a long, long way. It was just that middle part [of the season] where we lost a little bit of a rhythm and lost consistency and the confidence went a little bit. And we managed to regroup and get ourselves out of it, which showed a lot of character. No, I was pretty pleased with how the season went.
MLSsoccer.com: Was that stretch from late May to early August when the team went winless in nine of 10 games your biggest disappointment?
Spencer: No, I wouldn’t say it was the biggest disappointment. I think it was to be expected when you’ve got a lot of guys on the team who aren’t used to playing Major League Soccer. I think the travel, time zones, just the whole workings of MLS ... acclimating to the league, it does take its toll on you. You would hope that we’ve learned from that, and next year it won’t be a problem.
MLSsoccer.com: What areas do you hope to improve upon in 2012?
Spencer: I think, as I’ve said before, I know what areas we need to strengthen, but I’m not going to say it publicly in the press where we need to strengthen because obviously then, you’re putting guys’ futures in doubt. And it makes them feel uneasy. And if I’m going to do that, I’ll speak to the person one-on-one.
MLSsoccer.com: Overall, did you enjoy your first year in Portland both coaching the team and living here with your family?
Spencer: We’ve had a great time here. Family is settled in here now. Kids are in school. So once the kids are happy and the wife is happy, obviously home is a happy place to be. Obviously, moving at a difficult age is always unsettling for teenage kids. But no, it’s been a good year so far.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.