The Termination Checklist: Spencer’s dismissal all over the map

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PORTLAND, Ore. –

John Spencer’s job had been on the line for weeks, if you believed reports. That certainly seemed to be the case on June 24, when a home win over Seattle brought word the then-Timbers’ head coach had thanked his players for saving his job.

If true, the thanks seemed more like a joke than a confession. Why acknowledge the rumors? There was no feeling of besiegement around the Timbers – the kind of environment you see as relationships between ownership, staff, players (and sometimes, media) break apart. Take a man from L.A., drop him at training in Beaverton, he wouldn’t have been able to sense anything was wrong.

The home-road results might have had something to do with that. When Portland were in town, they were a happy team. Putting up a 5-2-2 (W-L-T) record at JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers always had reason to give the locals a happy face. Away from home, the Timbers were 0-6-2. Still, most of that frustration seeped out on the plane. Add in an off day after returning hope, and then next face the Timbers showed was one of determination: We’ve got to stop being Edward Hyde on the road.

The duality meant Spencer’s termination was always going surprise, even if the move had been rumored. With players content and the Timbers Army scarves up on Morrison Avenue, there was sense of Portlandia-irony to the circling vultures circling. They seemed out of place. Maybe vultures are a thing in Portland now?

The checklist, however – the mental list you go through when assessing whether a coach might be in trouble – didn’t single out Spencer. Results, ideas, attitude, relationships – Spencer wasn’t failing on all fronts.

Usually, by the time an organization decides to change coaches (often making the hard admission that they were wrong to hie him in the first place), almost all of these boxes need to be checked. Coaches have to leave their teams no outs, but with Spencer, most things seemed business as usual:

Dipping/flat lining results

The home-road schism had become worrisome. When Portland beat Seattle and immediately squandered the momentum by being routed in Colorado, the issue took center stage. After the mid-week win over San Jose, the reoccurring theme to everything post-game: How do we do this on the road? As evidenced in Sandy, Spencer still hadn’t figured it out. If anything, the Timbers were regressing, giving one of their worst performances of the year Saturday in Utah.

The broader picture was more promising. The Timbers had scraped their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture, even if they sat on the periphery. They were generally trending upward, and having played some of their best soccer of the year against San Jose (particularly in the first half), the silver lining on Spencer’s cloud was thickening.

But in that game, Portland again had troubles closing out the match. They looked shaky and desperate as they tried to hold their one goal lead. Most teams have looked the same against San Jose late in matches, but for Portland, it brought back early season memories of late match gaffs that pushed them to the Western Conference basement.

Verdict: Inconclusive

Lack of ideas

It seemed Spencer was trying to find the right combination. Darlington Nagbe has played everywhere in attack. Jack Jewsbury went from central midfielder to right back. Rodney Wallace went from left back to left wing. Everybody in the organization was a potential solution to the team’s width issues.

When the team showed improvement and started climbing the standings, Spencer’s tinkering slowed down. Until then, Spencer never stopped trying.

The roster’s very limited, having very few natural wide players. Kalif Alhassan has been injured for most of the season, and until his strong showing against San Jose, Frank Songo’o had given mixed results. The lack of options meant there was only so much tweaking Spencer could do. No matter how he lined his team up, the weaknesses were going to be the same.

Verdict: No

Lost the players

If a team goes into a slump, that’s a problem. If the players don’t believe they can recover, that’s a crisis. A coach can’t lose the dressing room in the best of times. When the team is struggling, it becomes a clear reason to move on.

Portland didn’t seem to have those problems. The players attitude toward Spencer hadn’t change. The respect was there. Occasionally a player would implicitly question a decision, but it rare, and there were no rebellions.

Troy Perkins’ comments after Saturday’s game were as strong as you’ll read, but there’s no singling out the coach:

“There were times we did what we wanted to do, and there were times when we completely had the blinders on. The first hour was okay. I felt the second half we were just chasing the game. We didn’t hold the ball up enough to get guys out and when we did we were too slow to get up.”

“It’s great when we’re at home, sure. At some point, you have to draw the line and say enough is enough. Everyone’s got to say it, do it, believe it, and whether or not we win at home doesn’t matter.  At this point we’ve got to win on the road.”

Verdict: No

Organizational malaise

Perhaps the Timbers front office wasn’t as openly supportive of Spencer as they’d been in the past, but given how the team’s performed this season, it would have seemed overcompensating if owner Merritt Paulsen trumpeted Spencer’s virtues on Twitter. Given the team’s expectations, the tone was appropriately reserved, and if there was conflict created from above, Spencer hadn’t given any hint.

That’s not to say everything was perfect, but the kind of cracks you normally see when a relationship deteriorates weren’t there. Every struggling team has tensions. Portland’s weren’t profound.

Verdict: Maybe, leaning toward no

Coach behavior showing cracks

Behind the scenes, who knows, but John Spencer’s public face always reflected his team’s struggles more than his own. When they improved, he expressed support. When they struggled, he criticized. Nothing seemed disproportionate. There were no meltdowns, shutdowns – nothing out of the ordinary. He led with the same direct, honest intensity that he’d shown all year. At no point did he tense up, start pointing fingers, or otherwise throw people under the bus. If he was fighting for his job, he didn’t take that fight public.

Verdict: No

Failure to meet expectations

Coming into the 2012 campaign, competing for the playoffs was expected. The subtext of those expectations: We’re going to the playoffs! It was something that was constantly mentioned at the beginning of the season, the optimism surrounding last season’s strong finish carried over into the new campaign. Now in mid-summer, it only occasionally comes up.

Setting aside the fairness of those expectations, they were there, particularly after Kris Boyd was inked to a big money deal. If Portland competed for the postseason with a misfiring Kenny Cooper, surely Boyd will push the Timbers into the playoffs. At least, that was the logic.

Portland’s still in the playoff picture, but they haven’t performed like a playoff team. They probably have not performed like ownership envisioned.  That vision undoubtedly includes a consistent, upward trajectory. Expansion teams don’t want to level off in their second season. The first season is a baseline upon which you have to improve. Unfortunately, the results say the Timbers were still in expansion mode.

Verdict: Yes

That the checklist paints a mixed picture explains why the move’s been met with mild surprise. Were it not for last month’s rumors, Spencer’s dismissal may have caught everybody off guard. You sit down and think about it and say Yeah, I guess Portland is struggling, but there was little in the day-to-day happenings that suggested Spencer would go. No fan discontent. No curious leaks in local media. No tension around the club.

Those my be symptoms of an idyllic existence: A new MLS team with a reverent, gregarious support capable of weathering these storms. That might not be good enough for an ownership group that paid  high price to enter Major League Soccer.

If Spencer’s termination does nothing else, it at least sends a message to the entire organization: 2012 has not been good enough.

Son, Kane team up four times in Spurs’ big win over Southampton

Southampton - Tottenham Hotspur
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Southampton – Tottenham: Heung-min Son and Harry Kane beat Southampton by four on Sunday at St. Mary’s.

Okay, okay — Kane’s goal and four assists to Son joined some early goalkeeping heroics from Hugo Lloris to do the thing for Tottenham Hotspur and give Jose Mourinho a 5-2 win over Saints.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ] 

Danny Ings opened the scoring and completed it with a 90th-minute penalty to account for both of Southampton’s goals.

Tottenham’s first win of the season had plenty of sluggish moments after a Thursday trip to Bulgaria and Ralph Hasenhuttl had Saints firing early before petering out to lose a second match to start the PL season.

Saints go to Burnley next while Tottenham hosts Newcastle after a Tuesday outing at Leyton Orient in the League Cup and a UEL trip to Macedonia to meet Shkendija on Thursday.


Three things we learned from Southampton – Tottenham

1. Spurs carried by Lloris, clinical forwards: Tottenham had just one shot on target in the first half as offside denied both teams several goals and Hugo Lloris made some fantastic saves to deny Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men a halftime advantage. Kane’s assists to Son were just as good as the South Korean’s technical finishes, Spurs inviting fans to daydream of the star duo being joined in attack by Gareth Bale next month.

2. Kane-DB: Harry Kane channeled Man City star Kevin De Bruyne with his four assists, all of them pretty fantastic. There were two “no-look” huge crosses to go with some terrific hold-up play and flicks in the midfield. Kane had 3, 4, and 2 assists in the three PL seasons since collecting seven assists in his 29-goal 2016-17. He’s on four this season and added goal late.

3. Europa League Thursdays ask a lot: With all due respect to Southampton looking very good after two losses in two competitions, Spurs lagged out of the gates in our first reminder of the season that Europa League travel can suck the life out of legs. Tottenham had to work very hard in Bulgaria on Thursday and it’s difficult not to lay much of that at the feet of the UEL.

Man of the Match

Well it has to be Son, doesn’t it? Even with Kane adding a late goal, the South Korean’s clinical finishing was everything and more to Spurs’ win.


Southampton – Tottenham recap

Spurs had a third-minute goal — a delightful one at that — taken off the board when VAR spotted Heung-min Son offside in the build-up. The goal that would’ve been saw Harry Kane deploy supreme technique to turn and volley into the goal.

Ex-Saints man Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was bladed by teammate Oriol Romeu in the fifth minute, a yellow card welcome back to St. Mary’s.

Hugo Lloris made an outstanding reaction save when a set piece fell for Che Adams near the spot and the Englishman smashed an effort on frame.

Son was offside again when he broke through on goal but saw an odd-angled shot saved by Alex McCarthy.

A third goal came off the board but it was not offside, Lloris sliding to head the ball into the air and onto the arm of Danny Ings before the Englishman finished his chance.

Brilliant dribbling from Moussa Djenepo cued up another Adams chance at the back post and the forward calmly touched to hammer a shot that was blocked by a splayed Ben Davies.

A partially-cleared James Ward-Prowse free kick rolled to Djenepo, who zipped a shot through traffic and off the post. Close.

Kane had another ball in the goal off a Lucas Moura cross but the Brazilian was offside before passing into the box.

Ings got his goal in the 32nd off a long ball from former Spurs man Kyle Walker-Peters, taking advantage of a confused Eric Dier and slashing a shot past Lloris from in-tight.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A Lloris save on Stuart Armstrong just after halftime led to Tottenham’s second goal, Son running onto a Kane pass for the second time.

The biggest factor in the game was the offside flag, as both Saints and Spurs saw numerous chances rightly called off by the assistant referees.

Son completed his hat trick and Kane’s hat trick of assists in the 64th minute, Spurs carving up Saints to exhibit a flattering score line.

That frayed Saints’ last nerve, and another amazing pass from Kane cued up Son for 4-1. Kane would get another when he followed up substitute Erik Lamela’s 82nd-minute shot off the near post.

Newcastle – Brighton: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Newcastle v Brighton: A pair of sides that impressed on the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Premier League season — but only one of them with anything to show for it — will meet at St. James’ Park on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET, online via Peacock).

NEWCASTLE – BRIGHTON STREAM LIVE

Newcastle United were far and away the better side in their season-opening victory away to West Ham United last weekend, while Brighton looked the better part of Chelsea’s equals for 54 minutes but ultimately fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Newcastle v Brighton this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Newcastle v Brighton (INJURY REPORT)

Newcastle will be without five players — Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee) — leaving Steve Bruce with an increasingly thin squad, but he’ll be able to trot out the same XI that beat West Ham on Opening Day.

Jose Iquierdo (knee), Florian Andone (knee) and Christian Walton (ankle) have all been ruled out for Sunday, with rising star Ben White passes a late fitness test after picking up a minor injury last week.


What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, on starting with a win: “I’m like everybody else, we all like to get off to a start and we couldn’t have had a better week in terms of results. The players have hit the ground running, which was always part of the reason why we went after who we went after. We’ve got a chance to get off to an outstanding start.”

Brighton manager Graham Potter, on Newcastle: “Newcastle will be strong. They were worthy winners at West Ham and they will be a tough test for us. Impressive, the business they have done. They have added to the squad and they will be really strong. Everyone knows what Andy Carroll brings to the team and physically he is very strong, and aerially he is strong. Him and [Callum] Wilson will be a strong partnership.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

There’s almost nothing to separate Newcastle (+160) from Brighton (+185) as the oddsmakers see Sunday’s clash a near-tossup. Even the draw (+210) isn’t far out of line with either side winning.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

At the risk of placing too much importance upon a game in week no. 2, this one has the feel of an important litmus test for Newcastle. West Ham have been chaotic for quite some time now, but Brighton, despite finishing 15th last season, have appeared far more stable and trending upward under Potter. They’re likely a mid-table side this season, and Newcastle could be, too. In the end, it ends Newcastle 1-1 Brighton.


How to watch Newcastle v Brighton stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Leicester City seals Under loan with no obligation to buy

Cenzig Under Leicester
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Leicester City confirmed the acquisition of Roma winger Cenzig Under on Sunday, giving the Foxes an exciting player one year removed from a breakout season in Serie A.

The 23-year-old Turkish international is reunited with “best friend” Caglar Soyuncu, bringing six goals in 21 caps to the King Power Stadium on a loan with an option to buy.

[ MORE: Jota to Liverpool confirmed ]

Sky Sports says the loan fee is just under $4 million with a $26 million purchase option after the season.

Under scored just thrice for Roma last season after losing his place in the XI during an early-season injury spell, but had seven goals and 10 assists the previous season and joins a Leicester wing corps with Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes amongst others.

From LCFC.com:

“I’ve always wanted to play in England and this is a great opportunity to play in the Premier League. I think I am fast and can create lots of chances for my colleagues. I feel very good because my best friend plays for Leicester City. I am very happy to be able to play with Çağlar and I always watched Leicester’s games because of him.”

Under and Soyuncu were together from 2011-13 in the academy at Bucaspor before both joined Altınordu in 2014 for initial forays into first team football.

If Under’s spell at Leicester is anything like Soyuncu’s, you can bet on that purchase option being snapped up by Brendan Rodgers.

Southampton – Tottenham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Southampton – Tottenham: This will be a tight game on Sunday (Watch live at 7am ET, online via Peacock) at St Mary’s as Ralph Hasenhuttl and Jose Mourinho have locked horns three times already in 2020.

SOUTHAMPTON – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

Saints have won the league game, draw an FA Cup game at home and lost the FA Cup replay away at Tottenham and all three of those games were tightly contested encounters. With Spurs having a quick turnaround given their Europa League qualifying win in Bulgaria on Thursday, plus League Cup and Europa League games next midweek, Mourinho may be forced to shuffle his pack.

After losing their opening game of the Premier League, both clubs will want to get back on track quickly.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Southampton – Tottenham (INJURY REPORT)

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl has Stuart Armstrong back from injury and he starts, replacing the injured Nathan Redmond.

Mourinho has Giovani Lo Celso back fit and he’s on the bench, while this game comes too soon for new signings Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon. Tanguy Ndombele starts in midfield and Dele Alli is not in the squad.


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl on Southampton not being fully fit to start the season: “We are not playing quick enough at the moment. Not aggressive enough without the ball. We are not at the fitness levels we had last season. This is not surprising we had no pre-season where we could work together. But yes we should go quickly to a different level otherwise it’ll be difficult.”

Eric Dier on Tottenham’s congested fixture schedule: “If you look at the schedule, it isn’t showing any care for players’ physical welfare. It’s common sense really, trying to ask someone to play Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. It doesn’t seem like there is any care for players’ welfare in that situation.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Southampton are the underdogs (+210) but have matched up well against Tottenham in recent meetings. Spurs are favored (+130) but the draw (+235) looks likely in this one and Mourinho will probably take that given all of their recent games.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

Danny Ings can cause Tottenham problems and if Saints start quickly, as they like to do, they can catch Spurs out. Tottenham will sit back and then look to hit Saints on the counter and hope the quality of Son, Kane and Co. will see them through. I’m going for a draw. 1-1.


How to watch Southampton – Tottenham stream and start time

Kickoff: 7 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock