SANDY, UT - JULY 7: Head coach John Spencer of the Portland Timbers directs his players in the first half of an MLS soccer game July 7, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Real Salt Lake beat the Portland Timbers 3-0. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
When this week is over the Portland Timbers will have interviewed their third head coaching candidate, according to team sources. Give the team another week and the number of interviews concluded should be at five. So just who should the Timbers be looking at? And what should they be looking for?
As it stands, the Timbers are in dire straits and look like they are on course to finish the season with the wooden spoon firmly in hand. The Timbers need somebody to take control over the team. No matter your feelings about Gavin Wilkinson, he says he doesn't want to be the head coach, and as the general manager he just does not have the time to do both jobs effectively in the long run.
In Major League Soccer, the parity that the league strives for makes it possible for a team to go from finishing in last place to contending for the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield in the span of a year, something that Columbus, LA, and Real Salt Lake can all attest to. Having the right coach on board is not the only thing needed for a championship contender in MLS, and it generally won't get you there in just one year, but it is a big step in the right direction.
With that in mind, Ryan and I set out to determine just what we want in a coach.
First and foremost, the Timbers need a coach who can make an honest assessment of his players and determine if they have the skill and mentality needed to compete in MLS. The results under both Gavin Wilkinson and John Spencer suggest a team that is not able to play at this level, regardless of tactics, but people all around the league expected this team to go far this year. Any coach that the Timbers bring in cannot be afraid to cut the dead wood, fan favorite or coach's pet.
Secondly, the Timbers need a tactician. They need somebody who will do more than clog up the middle of the pitch because that is where the other team likes to play. The ability of a team to react to an opponent on the field is not solely the responsibility of the coach, but the Timbers need someone who can see the changes that are going on in a game and help his players adjust, and select players who can adjust.
Some will call for a coach who can work with you players (and Ryan has, below), but to me that is not of the utmost importance. The team has assistant coaches for that. A head coach does not have to be everything for a team, he just has to have someone on board for each thing. Sean McAuley, despite the knocks on him as "Gavin's guy", has ample experience working with young players and in the short time he has been with the team they have already seen changes in how the young players are approached in training.
For me the best available option is the head coach of Orlando City SC of the Timbers' old stomping grounds USL Pro, Adrian Heath. Despite it's label as the third tier of American soccer, USL Pro has shown it can hang with the NASL, sending three teams through to the US Open Cup quarter finals to the NASL's zero. Heath's teams have been consistently at the top of the USL since he joined the Austin Aztex (who later became Orlando City) in 2008. This year Orlando City clinched the USL Pro title with three games left in the season and an absurd +29 goal differential in 21 games. Heath has shown an eye for getting the most out of his players, bringing former-Timber Eddie Johnson to the US to join the Austin Aztex and converting him to an attacking midfield role where he was second in the league in scoring.
Ryan's priorities are a little different:
John Spencer was a player's coach. The Players loved to play for him and he was one of their biggest sources of motivation. However he was not a solid game tactician and his X's and O's needed some work. Portland needs a tactical coach, one who sees what the other team is doing and has the ability to counter it and make in game changes. Now this is where it gets a little tougher to find a coach but I think the other trait Portland needs is someone who can develop young/inexperienced players. Portland has a very young/inexperienced team and has stock piled a lot of potential and this requires someone who can mold young talent and incorporate them into the first team.
The best candidate with these qualifications is Tab Ramos with Caleb Porter a close second. Tab has played in the FMF, La Liga (Real Betis), MLS and in many an international game, 81 caps to be exact. He has also coached the US U-20s for the last 2 years. All of those experiences make him a good candidate to help the young/inexperienced players out as well as tactically adapt during the game. The other benefit would be a more free flowing attack instead of the Old EPL Style football.
In the coming months there will certainly be plenty of speculation about who is being looked at for the Timbers coaching position and what the team will need form a new coach to be successful so let's get the ball rolling with your picks for the Timbers new head coach in the comments.