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Never too early for Spencer, Timbers to make playoff push

Jewsbury led fast start for team that has met MLS parity
by: JAIME VALDEZ John Spencer has been both fiery and cool in his first season as Portland Timbers coach.

Nineteen matches into their inaugural Major League Soccer season, the Portland Timbers are by no means out of playoff contention. After last Saturday's 1-0 loss on the road to the Columbus Crew, the Timbers (6-10-3, 21 points) were just three points out of a playoff spot.

But if the Timbers want to play in the postseason, they need to start winning more consistently.

'We know we need to string a few wins together, home or away,' coach John Spencer says.

Here are a few thoughts on the club as the Timbers begin wading their way through the rest of the season:

• In his first year on the job, Spencer has proven to be a little Scottish firecracker. He is as harsh and smoky as a straight shot of Johnny Walker.

During a press conference after a Timbers loss, a reporter's cell phone went off while Spencer was answering a question. Spencer stopped talking and burned a hole through the reporter with his eyes before saying: 'Complete lack of professionalism, bro. Come on.'

• Spencer is also as cool, charismatic and irreverent as Sean Connery in his James Bond years.

Before the season, Spencer joked that there was no need for him to speak to the press every day. 'How much can you say about football?' he asked. 'I'm getting to feel like (expletive) Obama.'

• On Wednesday, Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury played in the Major League Soccer All-Star game. He absolutely deserved his first selection. In his ninth MLS season, the 30-year-old has been the heart and soul of the club.

Jewsbury has led the Timbers with five goals and six assists going into Saturday's 8 p.m. home match with Toronto. His biggest contribution has been his ability to deliver gorgeous services on set pieces. Taking almost all of the Timbers' corner kicks and the free kicks in the attacking third, Jewsbury has made Portland a side to be feared whenever the run of play has halted.

The selection meant a lot to Jewsbury, who said he did not expect to achieve so much this season.

'It's an honor to be included and representing the Timbers,' Jewsbury said.

• On top of limited player availability and media relations supervision of interviews with players, the Timbers have closed their training sessions to the media the day before matches.

Every soccer mom taking a spinning class at Multnomah Athletic Club can watch the entire Timbers' practice at Jeld-Wen Field from the MAC's weight-room deck. What happens if an opposing soccer coach decides to sign up for a class the day before a match?

'It's just my choice,' Spencer says, of his closed-door policy.

• The Timbers' five straight wins at home to start the season had everyone buzzing about their chances to do big things.

Spencer says he wasn't one of those adding fuel to the fire of expectations.

'I never said that we were going to be Manchester United,' he says. 'A few people did think we were going to be Manchester United. But I never ever said that.'

In a way, the Timbers were fortunate to win three of those five matches. Portland easily could have lost any of three matches it won 1-0 -over Real Salt Lake (which played with less than half of its regular starting roster), the Philadelphia Union and the Columbus Crew.

While the Timbers could wind up making the playoffs, Portland is still an expansion club -talented, but likely to travel a rocky road with many more ups and downs the rest of the season.

'It's a tough, tough league,' Spencer says. 'There's a lot of parity. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.'

• The Timbers were not the ones who paid most heavily for shooting expectations through the roof. That would be Teitur Thordarson, the former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps, the other 2011 MLS expansion side. With the Timbers surging and the Whitecaps collecting just one win in their first 12 matches, Vancouver sacked Thordarson.

Vancouver (2-10-9, 15 points) is now clipping at Portland's heels in the dubious race to find out who finishes last in the Western Conference.

Perhaps the Whitecaps are better off with new coach Tom Soehn. More likely, the Whitecaps front office was looking at the Timbers' smoke-and-mirrors start and got rid of Thordarson too soon.

'Do I think it was unfair?' Spencer said, of Thordarson being fired. 'Probably on the face of it. But I don't know what's going on behind (the scenes).'

Spencer is stoic about the possibility of someday reaching a similar unjust end as he tries to get the Timbers off the ground.

'That's the nature of the beast,' he says. 'If (Timbers owner) Merritt (Paulson) decides to do that, then that's Merritt's choice. He owns the company; he owns the team. It's something I don't fear. I've been involved in professional soccer a long time. There have been better coaches than me fired. There have been worse coaches than me fired. If it happens, it happens.'

• Finally, one fun fact: fifth-grade science class teaches that you can tell how old a tree is by counting the number of rings around its base. An unofficial count of the Timbers' ceremonial log pegs its age at 49 before it was brought to Jeld-Wen Field.