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Portland fortunes go from bad to worse
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When a struggling team makes a coaching change, you can usually tell pretty quickly if the decision was the right one.
Major League Soccer has shown us two great examples of a change being the perfect thing to turn a team’s fortunes around. The Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC have both enjoyed considerably better results since parting ways with Peter Nowak and Aron Winter, and perhaps those successful changes led the Portland Timbers to believe that getting rid of John Spencer might help the Timbers snap out of their first half funk.
Instead of getting better, the Portland Timbers’ fortunes have considerably grown worse.
The team’s 5-0 loss to lowly FC Dallas was rock bottom, an embarrassing display that left the Timbers looking like a complete disaster, and raised serious questions whether the Timbers fired the wrong man.
General manager and current interim head coach, Gavin Wilkinson, stood on the sidelines looking completely lost for the second straight match, as he watched his defense give up five goals yet again.
The team’s ugly efforts since Spencer’s departure suggest that the former Timbers coach wasn’t the problem. Yes, Spencer can be blamed for the team not having better results at the time of his firing, but a tough stretch of opponents led to the slide just before his firing, even with Portland still fighting for a playoff spot.
It still wasn’t good enough for owner Merritt Paulson, who made the tough decision to cut Spencer just a year and a half into his tenure. The move was seen in some circles as premature, with Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis among those who believed the change came too soon.
Now, the Timbers are left with a team in disarray, and a general manager who is looking more and more like a sitting duck.
If you are Paulson, do you continue to have Wilkinson lead the search for the permanent replacement for Spencer, or do you try and find someone capable of handle head coaching and general manager duties? Paulson may have no choice but to consider that possibility. What quality coaching candidate would want to tie himself to a general manager who has already had one failed attempt at building a team?
The Portland situation will be one to monitor because if the squad keeps playing like the worst team in MLS, then eventually the impressive support the team receives from its fervent fans could start to wane. What started out as such an impressive arrival into MLS, could eventually begin to fade.
That, as much as anything else, should scare the Timbers brass to death, and it may ultimately lead the club to go for a complete overhaul before finding the right man to lead Portland to success.
ADU, SHEA GO MISSING IN ACTION
When the roster for the Philadelphia Union’s match against the New York Red Bulls was released, Freddy Adu’s absence was a glaring one. He had absolutely toyed with the Red Bulls the last time these teams met before a red card cut his day shorts. When pressed on where his playmaker was, Union head coach John Hackworth simply said it was an internal matter.
Meanwhile in Texas, Brek Shea was also missing from his team’s bench, serving out what had to be punishment for his very public tantrum during the team’s mid-week loss to San Jose. Shea didn’t make the game day roster, and Dallas responded with their best game of the season, a 5-0 demolition of the Portland Timbers.
Their absences led to plenty of question marks, and even some creative but purely fictitious internet trade rumors sending Shea and Adu packing in exchange for each other.
Should we expect either to be shipped off for what seem like issues with their teams? Don’t hold your breath. Shea is certainly struggling, but the 22-year-old prospect has far too much value to unload for pennies on the dollar simply for a public fit. Hyndman spent decades coaching college players, and he surely knows that Shea has faced a difficult year what with increased expectations, attention and aspirations.
As for Adu, that situation doesn’t seem to be nearly as volatile as Shea’s. Adu has actually played better under Hackworth than he was playing under former Union head coach Peter Nowak, enjoying some very good games in the past two months. If Adu continues on the bench after the All-Star break, speculation will circulate whether Adu has a future in Philadelphia.
Much like Shea in Dallas, Adu looks like a very good bet stay in Philadelphia through the remainder of the 2012 season. If he can get back to his playmaking best, any questions about his future in Philly will quickly fade way.
Unlike Adu, Shea put himself in the doghouse, both with FC Dallas and the US national team. Shea must learn from his mistakes and get back to doing the things that helped catapult him to stardom at such a young age. If he doesn’t, then yes, his days with FC Dallas will be numbered. For now, don’t expect moving trucks near Shea’s house just yet.
THIS WEEK’S BEST IN MLS
Player of the Week- David Beckham. The LA Galaxy star caught plenty of flack for his ball-kicking incident a few weeks back, but since his suspension for that mistake, Beckham has been outstanding. He delivered a goal and assist in the Galaxy’s two-goal comeback in a 2-2 draw vs. Vancouver, then he set up two goals in the Galaxy’s 3-1 victory against Chivas USA.
Team of the Week- Houston Dynamo. A pair of home victories, including an important 2-1 win at mid-week against East rival Sporting KC earned the Dynamo the nod this week ahead of the New York Red Bulls, who also posted a two-win week. They allowed just one goal in two matches, and more importantly, they showed some good attacking qualities, as Dom Kinnear continues to work with the 4-3-3 formation.
Rookie of the Week- Connor Lade. The New York Red Bulls spark plug provided some invaluable energy for the Red Bulls, wearing out the Philadelphia Union on the left flank and assisting on both goals in his team’s 2-0 victory. Lade gave the team some good minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.
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