There are multiple reports this morning that Portland coach John Spencer has been fired by the Timbers. The O is reporting that technical director and former PTFC Division-2 coach Gavin Wilkinson will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season and that a search for a permanent replacement is already on.
Sports Illustrated has also confirmed the firing and the Timbers have scheduled a press conference for 2:30 p.m. today.
The Timbers (5-8-4) have underachieved in their sophomore season as a Major League Soccer side, having not won a match on the road in 2012. Portland sits in eighth place in the nine-team Western Conference and has most recently sandwiched an encouraging win vs. MLS-leading San Jose with a pair of 3-0 away losses. They host the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday.
UPDATE: The Associated Press is now confirming the reports.
UPDATE 2: The official team press release, including full text of Timbers owner Merritt Paulson's statement, is here.
UPDATE 3: Paulson and Wilkinson spoke to the media about the decision to relieve Spencer of his duties.
"Some fundamental philosophical differences exist," Paulson said, reading from his prepared statement. "This is not a team-record driven decision. While it is fair to say the likelihood of us making this announcement while sitting atop of the Western Conference standings would be low, there are scenarios where we could have a worse record than we do and John Spencer would still be the Portland Timbers coach."
Paulson said he'd rather not get into the details, but that the team is assessing 10 coaches with the hopes of announcing a permanent replacement during the offseason. He also noted an additional assistant would be added to the coaching staff, and Wilkinson said the GM's scouting duties would be divided equally among staff, including overseas travel for international scouting.
"I think it's going to be a difficult task, and time will tell how well I do," Wilkinson said. "I've been responsible for bringing all the players here.
"Now it's up to me to get a little more out of them."
Wilkinson, who's been with the club as a player, coach and GM, said he's "never seen such a drastic difference in a team home and away."
He noted he'd like to get "a little more out of senior players," but that he didn't think there would be major changes to the system, but rather "minor adjustments."
Paulson got a bit choked up when talking about the decision—"I like (Spencer) a lot, this is a very painful decision to make," he said—but noted that the two have engaged in a number of "candid" discussions. Paulson said he spoke to Spencer on Sunday night and again at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.
"He took it with class and professionalism," Paulson said, noting the "human factor" behind these types of moves makes them difficult. "I assume he's going to be a head coach somewhere else. His strengths are all 15 of out 10."
Spencer released a statement through the team:
“I want to personally thank Merritt Paulson and the Paulson family for the opportunity to be the first head coach in the history of the MLS Timbers. Also, I want to thank all the coaches, staff, players and fans associated with the team. I very much enjoyed my time with the club and wish everyone the best.”
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