Rewind 11 years ago to the months leading up to the 2001 Major League Soccer season and you’ll find the origin of a strong bond forged between teammates.
Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer, then a 30-year-old striker, arrived in the Colorado Rapids clubhouse in March 2001 from Scotland’s Motherwell ready to test his mettle in the United States.
Joining Spencer a month later was 34-year-old U.S. National Team defender Robin Fraser, the 1999 MLS Defender of the Year and previously a member of the LA Galaxy before the club traded him to the Rapids for three 2nd-round draft picks in order to stay under the salary cap.
WATCH: Spencer talks about facing Fraser & Chivas USA
“We hit it off pretty quickly just as a couple of experienced older players coming into a situation that wasn’t a great situation in Colorado,” said Fraser, Chivas USA’s second-year head coach.
The Rapids welcomed in several new faces in 2001. In addition to Spencer and Fraser, Colorado also had a new head coach, Tim Hankinson, who was taking the reigns following the departure of Glenn Myernick, a member of the NASL Portland Timbers from 1980-1982 and Rapids‘ head coach from 1997-2000.
Despite rocky results on the field — the Rapids won just five games and missed the playoffs in 2001 — Spencer set the club’s single-season goal-scoring record with 14 goals (the record was broken in 2009 by Conor Casey with 16 goals) and developed a bond with Fraser both on-and-off the field.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Spencer said. “I know him and his wife and kids pretty well from our time together. We keep in close contact and I really have a lot of time for Robin Fraser. He’s a gentleman.”
Spencer and Fraser played three seasons together with the Rapids, helping lead the team from five wins in 2001 to an appearance in the Conference Finals in 2002 and another playoff appearance in 2003.
Fittingly, Fraser — who recorded four assists in 260 career regular-season MLS appearances, notched the assist on Spencer’s club-record-tying 13th goal of the 2001 season in a 2-2 draw against Kansas City.
“He’s a tremendous guy,” Spencer said. “As a player he was probably good enough to play overseas in England or in Europe. He had great pace, he read the game extremely well.”
Fraser was traded to Columbus following the 2003 season and went on to win his second MLS Defender of the Year award during the 2004 season. Spencer, meanwhile, finished his career with the Rapids in 2004, ranking No. 3 on the team’s all-time goal-scoring list (37 goals) and, eventually, a member of the Rapids‘ Gallery of Honor.
Following their playing careers, both Spencer and Fraser went on to be assistant coaches with successful clubs — Spencer with Houston and Fraser at Real Salt Lake.
As a member of the Houston Dynamo coaching staff, Spencer was part of back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007, while Fraser was part of a 2009 MLS Cup-champion Real Salt Lake staff.
Even after parting ways as teammates, Fraser and Spencer have maintained a close bond.
“Spenny and I have a great relationship,” Fraser said. “From day one, the thing that I loved about Spenny is he’s full of integrity. For me, that’s the most important thing in any person. John says what he means and means what he says. Because of that we forged a relationship quite quickly and it’s still a very good relationship to this day.”
The two coaches and friends cross paths for the first time in the 2012 MLS regular season on Saturday as the Timbers host Chivas USA at 7:30 p.m. at JELD-WEN Field (KPTV Fox 12, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM).
In two previous meetings between Chivas USA and Portland, the home side has come away with a 1-0 win.
Regardless of Saturday’s result, Spencer and Fraser’s bond is apt to stay strong.
“The word that comes to mind is fiery,” Fraser said when asked to describe Spencer. “He’s passionate. He’s extremely passionate. He loves the game; he loves everything about the game. I would say passion is one of Spenny’s greatest assets in addition to a good soccer mind and great playing ability. He’s extremely passionate and I think in anything you do, to be successful at it, you need to be passionate.”