Portland’s John Spencer apparently on way out; examining the peril of expansion managers

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Most assistants desire to be a head coach, a chance to be the man, to cook up their own ideas, to stir in their own training concepts and implement their own personnel strategies.

So  they are often willing to take a flier when offered a chance to manage an expansion team, to step aggressively into the breach – even when the odds of long-term survival are historically quite slim.

Increasingly slim in Major League Soccer, it seems.

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has called a news conference for this evening. Practice was closed this morning, with reports in Oregon media that coach John Spencer wasn’t there.

(Update: Yep)

So the chances look quite high that Portland will soon be on to their second manager, which shouldn’t be surprising at all. Not because Spencer deserved it, but because the life span of original managers is typically, perilously short.

So while we all wonder “What do expansion club owners expect?” let’s look at the last eight MLS expansion clubs (all since Chicago in 1998, a different time in MLS) and what became of their original manager:

  • Chivas USA, 2005: After a 1–8–1 start (with the only win against another expansion club, Real Salt Lake), Thomas Rongen was reassigned within the organization in May, nine months after being named manager and just three months into the season.
  • Real Salt Lake, 2005: John Ellinger survived into his third season, although it was a struggle along the way. His first season finished with a 5-22-5 mark. Things improved in Year 2 (10-13-9) although RSL still didn’t make the playoffs (eight of 12 clubs reached the post-season then). Ellinger was replaced a month into his third season with an overall 15-37-16 record with the club.
  • Toronto FC, 2007: Mo Johnston lasted a full year but moved into a front office position before the next season. He was 6-17-7 at BMO Field.
  • San Jose, 2008: One of two success stories, as Frank Yallop remained in charge despite some down years. Looks like the club’s decision to remain loyal is paying off. In his case, Yallop had significant skins on the wall, so he had greater benefit of the doubt.
  • Seattle, 2009: The other real success story for the original manager in this group; Sigi Schmid remains the Sounders one and only coach.
  • Philadelphia, 2010: Peter Nowak came close to “making it,” building around young talent and making the playoffs in his second year at PPL Park. But he lost public faith this spring after a series of increasingly erratic personnel choices. Nowak was dismissed in June, four months into his third season.
  • Portland, 2011: John Spencer, with a two-year mark of 16-22-13, appears to be on his way out at Jeld-Wen Field.
  • Vancouver, 2011: The club retained Teitur Thordarson, who had been in charge during the club’s time in lower tiers. It always looked like a stretch, but the choice seemed somewhere between half-baked and just plain unfair when Thordarson was dismissed three months into his first season. The club won just once in his first twelve matches.
  • Montreal, 2012: Jesse Marsch, a first-time head coach, remains in charge as Montreal builds a highly respectable opening campaign, currently 8th among 10 Eastern Conference clubs.

More on the Spencer dismissal from ProSoccerTalk is here and here

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $68 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

Weekend soccer games called off after Mexico earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled all first-division games this weekend as stadiums are being used as relief centers after the country’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup crown ]

The federation announced Wednesday that there would be no games in the 10th round of the Apertura tournament or any other professional competition, including the women’s league.

“All the clubs are doing their bit,” Mexican league president Enrique Bonilla said in an interview on Fox Sports before the decision to cancel all matches was announced. “We would like to bring people a moment of joy, but it is a more complex decision, and we need to have all the information from authorities.”

The postponed league games will be played in mid-October, including the derby between Chivas and America.