A revealing look at the toxic Timbers relationship between Merritt Paulson and John Spencer

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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.


Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.