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.

 

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

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The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET