MIAMI - With a large and knowledgeable fan
base already in place, former Scotland and Chelsea striker John
Spencer is expecting to enjoy his new challenge as head coach of
Major League Soccer (MLS) debutants the Portland Timbers.
Certainly there will be pressure, he admits, with fans of
the 36-year-old club expecting instant success, but Spencer is
"There are certain markets in the U.S. that are soccer-mad
towns just like back in Europe or at home and it's fantastic,"
Spencer told Reuters in an interview.
"I have conversations with coaches who say: 'Jeez you are
going to be under pressure next year'. Well, with the
environment that I have come through, from being a young player
at Rangers, I have always been under pressure to produce and
have never had it easy - it's human nature for us, it's common
practice that you are under pressure to win. It's great."
Unlike most teams who have entered MLS since the league
began in 1996, the Timbers have a pedigree.
The first Timbers team began life in 1975 in the old North
American Soccer League (NASL) and, even after the collapse of
that venture, survived through the sport's lean years in various
Portland played last season in the second tier as part of
the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and drew some impressive crowds
as fans prepared for their step up to a league that contains
international names such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry.
The 40-year-old Spencer had the chance to watch the Timbers
at that level and was impressed by the genuine passion for the
"It's incredible. At the moment we have 10,000 season
tickets sold. I watched five games in USL last year and the
crowd was absolutely unbelievable - I think we will have by far
the best atmosphere in Major League Soccer," said Spencer who,
besides Chelsea and Glasgow Rangers, played for Everton and the
"Obviously Seattle have a great crowd with the numbers they
have. Our fans have been supporting their team for a long, long
time, getting attendances of 14-15,000 in USL, and there are not
many teams can say that," he said.
The club's background means that Spencer does not have to
start from scratch - training and support staff are already in
place - but it also mean that the fans, organised in the form
of the 'Timbers Army', expect the team to hit the ground running
when the season opens in March.
"Our fans will never allow us to take our foot off the gas,
no matter what the competition or where we are playing. We are
under pressure. I told the players we signed: 'If you can't
handle the pressure then none of us are going to be there too
long', but it's the kind of environment you want to be involved
in," said Spencer.
Spencer has already brought in new faces at Portland,
including U.S. international forward Kenny Cooper, returning
from Germany, and the most exciting talent in college soccer -
Darlington Nagbe, whom the Timbers took with the number two pick
in the draft.
Added to the air of anticipation is the fact that the other
team joining the expanded MLS this season, the Vancouver
Whitecaps, have a long-standing rivalry with Portland dating
back to derbies in the old NASL.
The same goes for neighbours Seattle Sounders whose first
two years in the league have been a huge success off the field,
with average crowds of more than 30,000, and promising on the
field where they reached the playoffs in both their campaigns.
With those additional pressures, Spencer knows there will be
high expectations of success on the field, starting when
Portland open their campaign away to his old team Colorado
Rapids on March 19.
"From day one we need to believe that we are good enough to
go and challenge and go for the play-offs. Obviously history
doesn't show that 'expansion teams' or new teams are successful
in doing that.
"Seattle raised the bar though with how they came in as a
Spencer, in the best tradition of Scottish managers, has
also set himself the goal of bringing positive and attractive
"For me, I was a small striker and there was nothing worse
than if the ball was being knocked long to you and you have got
to try and get up and challenge big central defenders. Obviously
there are times in the game that you have got to do that if you
are under pressure but our philosophy will be to go out and pass
the ball and try to entertain the fans.
"They work hard to pay for their tickets - the last thing
they need is a boring game."
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