August 13th, 2010 | Published in Sports
|Rough and ready John Spencer made an instant hit with the hardcore faithful of Timbers Army. Photo: Dustin Eppers/EnzymePDX|
New Timbers coach John Spencer expertly worked over a high-powered group that included owner Merritt Paulson, top Adidas North American brass and the media Wednesday at his introduction on the local Adidas campus. He quipped about his diminutive stature, walked fearlessly through July’s “obscene gesture” incident while still with Houston (there was a bird involved) and told people he felt lucky. “I think there are a few hundred people around the world who would like to be standing in my position,” he said.
But his most ambitious play in his fierce and honest charm offensive was for the hearts of the Timbers’ faithful, represented by a select group of 20 Timbers Army in the crowd Wednesday.
Barely a minute and a half into the acceptance speech yesterday, Spencer said, “And to the Timbers Army, I’ll tell you what, you better be loud and you better be proud, because on that field we’re going to work for you and die for you.”
Delivered in a lilting Scottish brogue suggestive of his strong pedigree in English and Scottish soccer, Spencer’s words were sweet music to the ears of the raucous circus band that is the Timbers Army. It was love at first sight.
“He won me over in about five or six seconds,” said Doug Stanley, a bass drummer in the Army, who was in the Adidas crowd. All around PGE Park on Wednesday they were saying similar things.
Paulson and Gavin Wilkinson, who will move from coach to technical director when Spencer takes over the new MLS team next year, said they wanted the new coach to get the culture of Portland, increasingly soccer-mad, increasingly astute about the finer points of the game.
“It has to be authentic,” Wilkinson said. “It has to be someone who’s extremely knowledgeable and achieved things at the game at the highest level.”
In the 5-foot-7, 39-year-old Spencer, they appear to have the genuine article.
A striker who grew up with the storied Rangers club in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, Spencer appeared 14 times with his national side. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Chelsea in the English Premier League, when the Blues were not the world beaters they are today but still a threatening club that won the FA Cup in 1996 and advanced into European championships. Spencer was one of their more dangerous strikers when he was healthy. His mad dash three-quarters the length of the field and a finish against Vienna, Austria, secured advancement in the 1994 FA Cup. He scored 36 goals in 103 appearances with the Blues.
His injuries through time at Chelsea, and later Queens Park Rangers and Everton, however, forced him to be productive through intermittent play and even bloodshed. One of the more memorable moments of his English career came in a game against West Ham in September 1995 when he took a deliberate cleat to the head from a Hammers defender but still managed to score two goals and draw a penalty while patched up.
“He’s a fighter,” said Len Harjala, a Blues and Timbers fan who remembers watching that game.
In five seasons with Colorado in the MLS, Spencer displayed the same fiery, scoring strut. Twice he finished in the top three in the league for scoring, and he still holds the Rapids record for most goals in a season, at 14. Meawhile a post-red card tirade in 2002 led to a fine and two-game extra suspension from the league.
The hardcore of the Timbers Army, of course, don’t have a problem with the odd outburst. “It’s another facet of passion,” said Glenn Moore, in Section 107 Wednesday.
Spencer, who was a Houston Dynamo assistant until a month ago, made that unsavory gesture toward the crowd in Carson, Calif., June 5 after home Los Angeles Galaxy fans taunted Dynamo player Brian Ching with the chant of “U.S. Reject.” Ching, who played with the national team through World Cup qualifying, also faced the same chants in New York after he didn’t make the final squad for South Africa.
Spencer said Wednesday: “When you have a love and passion and commitment to your players, sometimes you cross the line for the ones that you love. I couldn’t throw any punches. What I could do, I did.” Then he added, “Brian Ching thanked me afterwards. He said it was a great gesture, and I said to him, ‘Is there any chance you can pay that $2,000 fine?’ He said ‘No.’” That sent the room into stitches at Adidas headquarters.
But there were some even in the Timbers Army who weren’t so sanguine about such incidents.
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