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.

 

La Liga roundup: Griezmann shines in Barcelona’s 5-2 drubbing of Betis

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Wins from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid highlight La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis

Antoine Griezmann’s Camp Nou debut was one for the books.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez sidelined with injuries, the floor was all Griezmann’s. He didn’t disappoint.

Down 1-0, Griezmann, sneaking past his markers inside the box, acrobatically tapped a lofting ball from Sergi Roberto into the back of the net.

The best was yet to come, however.

In the second half, as Barcelona pinned Real Betis back in their defensive third, the Frenchman’s magic came to life.

Soon after, the floodgates opened – Barcelona’s skill effortlessly began to pick apart a weaker Betis side. Just 30 minutes after the 28-year-old’s second goal, Ernesto Valverde’s side posed a 5-1 lead.

Loren Moron’s superb strike gave Betis a second, but the defending champions had already done the damage behind goals from Carles Perez, Jordi Alba, Arturo Vidal and Griezmann.

With Sunday’s performance in mind, how will Barcelona function with Messi, Suarez and Griezmann spearheading the attack?

Osasuna may soon find that out firsthand as they host the Catalonians next. Elsewhere, looking for their first points of the season, Betis host Leganes.

Leganes 0-1 Atletico Madrid 

With a goal in the 70th minute, Vitolo played the unlikely hero for Atletico Madrid in their 1-0 win over Leganes.

Following a smooth lay-off from Joao Felix, the 29-year-old calmly slotted the ball past Juan Soriano, ten minutes after replacing Mario Hermoso.

The goal certainly meant a lot to Vitolo and Atletico Madrid, who along with Sevilla, are one of two teams to start the season with six points after two matchweeks.

Although not entirely dominant throughout the course of the match, the home side was inches from stripping two points from Los Colchoneros with Jonathan Silva’s free-kick hitting the crossbar.

Despite having a pair of clear-cut opportunities on Sunday, Atletico’s $142 million summer signing is yet to celebrate his first La Liga goal. Alvaro Morata, too, is waiting to catch fire.

With Atletico hosting an underperforming Eibar next, the narrative that Simeone’s side is lacking efficiency in the attack can soon fall flat. On the other hand, no points to their name, will look to exploit a confidence-battered Real Betis.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 0-0 Espanyol

RCD Mallorca 0-1 Real Sociedad

Rapids name Robin Fraser as head coach

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Rapids have named former Major League Soccer player and longtime assistant Robin Fraser as their head coach.

Fraser steps in for Conor Casey, who’s been the interim coach since the team fired Anthony Hudson in May. Colorado is 7-14-6 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Fraser’s first match in charge will be Saturday at the New York Red Bulls.

The 52-year-old Fraser has served as an assistant coach at Toronto FC since 2015.

Fraser was the fourth overall pick in the 1996 MLS player draft by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Over his career, Fraser suited up for the Galaxy, the Rapids and the Columbus Crew. He said in a statement Sunday he considers Colorado home because he’s so familiar with the soccer community.

Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said Fraser has a “deep knowledge of what it takes to be successful in MLS.”

Pochettino upset with attacking stars, speaks on Eriksen status

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Mauricio Pochettino might’ve understood Tottenham Hotspur dropping points last week at Man City, but he didn’t plan on not taking anything from Newcastle United on Sunday at home.

“You need the capacity to step up in this type of situation but we didn’t show that quality today,” Pochettino said. “When the ball arrives in the last third you need something from the talent and quality we have there and today we didn’t have that.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle | Bruce reacts ]

So that’s pretty straight forward, but Pochettino was less happy to answer the question of why he didn’t start Christian Eriksen. Some (read: this writer) have questioned the philosophy of putting a man you may sell for $50 million on the bench. Either put him in the Starting XI and risk him, or leave him off the 18.

“When you lose, the players who don’t play are the best. With Christian we win and we lose a lot of games. I accept that situation is like this. If we won 3-0 today no one talks about different names.

“I cannot find excuses about the transfer window being open to justify that performance or the result. We cannot find the way to be solid and to have consistency for different reasons. I am going to be happy in 10 days after we play Arsenal when the transfer window closes in Europe and to have the player involved until the transfer window again in January.”

We’re not gonna read too much into it, but it does sound a bit like Pochettino is daring teams to bid for Eriksen. Would it make sense for him to hold onto Eriksen until January before cashing in?

Newcastle’s Bruce heard criticism, happy to beat Spurs

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Steve Bruce heard a lot of the criticism from fans upon his hiring at Newcastle United, and it rang out louder after the Magpies started 0-2 including a loss at newly-promoted Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle ]

He may well hear plenty more down the road, but the childhood Newcastle supporter was feeling relieved and maybe redeemed after a fortunate and wonderful 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“We came to this fantastic stadium, this fantastic club and we performed. I mean, to say I ‘cannot even do a warm up’ is mad. I have managed 900-odd games and over the years you would think there would be some sort of respect but I go back to the fact that whoever took over from Rafa Benitez was going to get the abuse.”

Newcastle faces struggling Watford at St. James’ Park next week, and another result will ease a lot of nerves (though certainly not all of them.