A revealing look at the toxic Timbers relationship between Merritt Paulson and John Spencer
The bottom line in last year’s management collapse around Jeld-Wen Field hasn’t changed; owner Merritt Paulson just didn’t identify good match when he hired John Spencer as the Major League Soccer team’s initial head coach.
The mismatch, parlayed with a team that never found itself and continued to struggle, prompted a change, even though it was so painfully early in the organizational process. Paulson made the change and took the PR blows like a man.
The details are still slowly emerging – and certainly worth a gander. “The Word” series from MLSSoccer.com, longer pieces with far more substance than the usual appetizer portions served up on today’s information trays, has all juicy Timbers details in the latest installment.
Nick Firchau’s careful examination of the strained relationship between Paulson and Spencer has a lot of lessons for MLS executives. Spencer may be a fine coach. And Paulson may be a fine owner. (He is most certainly an engaged one!) But this was clearly oil-and-water stuff from the jump; they defined “bad match.”
Paulson lives in an information-driven world, where things tend to be quantifiable. Spencer is old school, making choices based on hunch and feel. Combined with Paulson’s desire to be a hands-on guy, a remarkably poor match for Spencer’s desire to do as he darned well pleased – well, this one never seemed to have a chance.
Further complicating matters was Spencer’s time as an assistant with Dominic Kinnear at the Houston Dynamo, a remarkably different place. With ownership split between AEG and Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, Kinnear and his coaches were left alone to operate with complete independence, in a way pretty much no other MLS club is allowed to. (It works for the Dynamo … so good on AEG and the other ownership interests for not being all self-important and meddling about it, for recognizing that what isn’t broke certainly doesn’t require fixing.)
Starting in such a flawed place, the relationship deteriorated steadily, it seems.
Again, all of this should be the lesson. Find a good match for the organization or suffer the consequences.
It’s not like the Timbers cannot recover from this. It’s a new day, and the Caleb Porter era will stand or fall on its own merit – no pun intended. But the Timbers organization lost a valuable year and a half in the interim.
Firchau’s piece is rich with detail, and worth a few minutes of any MLS fans’ time.