Merritt Paulson and John Spencer: How It All Went Down

Steve Dykes

MLSsoccer.com has a fascinating look into the 2012 season that proved to be so contentious on and off the field.

2012 was an interesting season for the Portland Timbers, to say the very least about it. What started off on a very high note and a promise of making the 2012 play offs ended in what can only be described as a disaster for everybody involved, including the fans who were left consistently frustrated by game results.

Through it all, though, there was one story that was never seemingly told: why was John Spencer really fired? The obvious answer was that the results on the field were not meeting the expectations of everybody else and Spencer was an easy, and rightful, person to blame. The other answer is something a little more interesting.

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend checking out Nick Firchau's MLSsoccer.com article on the whole ordeal. While there's always multiple sides to every story, he paints an interesting picture of what happened. There were a few points I wanted to highlight here though:

Much of the problem stemmed from a fundamentally different approach on how to run the team. Paulson and Wilkinson have long believed in an analytical and quantifiable approach to the game dependent on statistical breakdowns of players' performances. Spencer leaned more on the instincts honed as a player himself, and often disregarded the value of Wilkinson's player research.

I think this right here not only brings up a huge sticking point between Gavin Wilkinson, Merritt Paulson and John Spencer, but it also sheds a bit of light on the type of coach Caleb Porter is. Spencer, as most of us know, wasn't huge on tactics. Or if he was, we never saw them fully materialize on the field. Porter, on the other hand, clearly is. While some of his tactics haven't worked out yet, there's a very clear idea of the type of game Porter wants to play and how he wants to get there. In my own interviews with Gavin Wilkinson, it's fairly easy to tell that he's the type of guy who analyzes a player in a very statistical manner and I'm guessing Caleb Porter is too.

One source told MLSsoccer.com that Spencer would threaten Timbers players they wouldn't get paid because they played so poorly on the road, while another said Spencer was verbally abusive to Ghanaian midfielder Kalif Alahassan, and that rebuilding the 22-year-old's confidence has become a top priority for the club since Spencer left.

Another interesting quote from the article. Kalif, by all accounts, has been hailed by Paulson via Twitter and through interviews multiple times as being a huge prospect for the Timbers. And by that, they've probably targeted him for a big money sale if they can develop him correctly... a big money sale that would bring in a nice chunk of cash. If what the article says is true about Spencer, then you can already start to see where perhaps Spencer was directly impacting a future source of considerable revenue for the club and why Porter is now focusing much more on the young midfielder.

Canzano caught him sitting courtside for an NBA game between the Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics in late February, and asked him about the firing.

Said Spencer: "There's always three sides to every story."

Finally, I just want to emphasize this last part of the story. While Spencer certainly erred during his tenure, the full story behind the 2012 season is one that is still very much a mystery, especially considering one of the primary people involved in it has been so quiet with regards to it: John Spencer.

Still, I find it very interesting that he's still around in Portland. It's certainly a great place to live, but with him having seemingly bowed out of the soccer world, I wonder what he's up to for a career nowadays. Perhaps we'll find out one day.

Again, I strongly recommend reading the full article. The points I pulled are relatively small compared to the full thing. If nothing else, it should shine a bit of light on the whole situation.

What do you think about this revealing information? Has it changed your opinions on the Timbers, Paulson, Wilkinson, Spencer or even Porter?

[MLSsoccer.com]

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