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Timbers coach Spencer preaches need for big performance in another 'big game'

by: JAMIE SABAU Columbus Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven is one of his team's key players, says Portland Timbers coach John Spencer. The teams collide at 8 p.m. Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.

Though a portion of the world thinks it's a pretty big deal, until after Friday's training session Portland Timbers coach John Spencer was unaware that Christian broadcaster Harold Camping has predicted that Saturday will be the day of rapture, and thus the end of the world as we know it.

'Really?' Spencer asked Friday at a Timbers practice.

It was explained to Spencer that Camping really has predicted that as the earth rotates the sun on May 21, doomsday would strike as each area at 6 p.m.

In light of that information, Spencer pondered whether the Timbers should change the time of their 8 p.m. Saturday match against the Columbus Crew at Jeld-Wen Field.

'Maybe we should change the kickoff time then, so we can maybe try and get three points before we go?' Spencer said.

Assuming humanity still exists by the opening whistle, the Timbers will have a tough road to travel against the visiting Crew (3-2-4, 13 points).

Spencer was disgusted with how his side practiced Friday in a training session closed to the media.

'If we perform the way we did in practice this morning, they'll come in and blow us out,' Spencer said, of the Crew. 'Just flat. The mentality is flat. Maybe we expect that we're going to win games at home?'

The Timbers are perfect in MLS matches at home this season, with four wins in four tries. Columbus - like Portland - is winless on the road. The last time the Crew traveled to the West Coast, they were embarrassed in a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Crew are not the patsy they have recently been painted to be, though. They have accumulated only one less point than Portland (4-3-2, 14). They are tied for third place with the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference. Portland is tied for fifth in the Western Conference with the Seattle Sounders.

The Crew will bring an experienced club to Jeld-Wen Field. They won the MLS championship in 2008 and have long been one of the league's powers.

'They've got a lot of experience,' Spencer said. 'They've got a good coaching staff that have been there seen it, done it. And they've been beat 3-nil on the road, before, and I don't think it will phase them.'

This season, the Crew have conceded nine goals while scoring eight. Portland has allowed 12 goals while scoring eight.

'(The Crew) have not scored as many goals as they probably want to,' Spencer said. 'But they don't concede many goals either.'

Spencer is especially wary of Crew midfielders Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers.

'Two of the best wide midfielders in the country,' Spencer said. 'Gaven and Robbie Rodgers have great pace and great dribbling ability. They're the type of guys that do not slow down when the ball is at their feet. These two guys are very, very good players. They can beat you on the dribble. Good technique and good service into the box.'

One thing working against the Timbers is that they are coming off an emotionally charged match last week, when they came from behind to get a 1-1 draw on the road against their archrival, the Sounders.

'Who cares?' Spencer said Friday. 'That's part of the job. It's part of your profession. (There are) going to be games, some bigger than others. All our games are big games.'

Spencer was not completely pleased with the draw against Seattle.

'We tied last week in Seattle; that's not a great result,' he said. 'I expect to go to Seattle and win games. I expect to go anywhere and win games.'

Against Columbus, a good start could be critical.

'We need to start well,' Spencer said. 'We need to start with a lot of passion, a lot of energy, commitment, courage.'

The Timbers who are on the pitch will also need to sustain those things throughout the match.

'We need to get our fullbacks forward in support,' Spencer said. 'We need to get more from our wide players, service-wise, quality-wise into the box. Our two central midfield players need to win their individual battles. (Strikers) Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza need to hold the ball up, need to run the channels and need to take their chances. (Goalkeeper) Troy Perkins needs to keep a clean sheet. (Defenders Mamadou 'Futty') Danso and (Eric) Brunner need to be strong.'

In short, while many around the country have already tallied the three points for the Timbers, Spencer has not.

'We're in for a tough game tomorrow,' Spencer said. 'This isn't going to be a walk in the park, I'm telling you. We need to come tomorrow with the right attitude, the right desire and the right mentality. This is a big game again.'

As the media scrum around Spencer disappeared Friday, he was asked another question.

'Not a doomsday one again,' he quickly said, before being told of the subject. 'Please. I don't like negatives.'