After winless streak, ‘We need to get better,’ Spencer says

Moments after the Timbers defeated FC Dallas 3-2 for their second win of the season on April 17, Portland coach John Spencer used the “P” word. “I told (the team), ‘It’s up to you guys how far you want to take this thing,’ ” Spencer said. “ ‘Do you want to go to the playoffs?’ We’re capable.” Two months later, last Saturday night in Texas, the playoffs looked like a fading dream as FC Dallas abused the Timbers in a 4-0 rout. After the match, Spencer questioned his side’s desire, and owner Merritt Paulson fired off this tweet: “disgraceful. from top to bottom. you can’t win them all but you cannot tolerate many like that.” Following the harshest setback in a five-match winless streak, it would make sense that Spencer felt ill enough to miss the Timbers’ training session Monday morning. But on Tuesday, when he returned, the Scottish coach said he was not one to hide when things were going badly. “If I’m going to come and talk to (the media) when things are going well, then I should come and talk when things are not going well,” Spencer said. “I don’t duck from it. When it comes to football, you’ve got to stand up and be counted.” The Timbers (5-7-3, 18 points) are still not calling Saturday’s 8 p.m. home match against Sporting Kansas City (4-6-5, 17 points) a “must win.” But the organization seemed strained during the first two practice sessions this week, as the club began trying to come up with a way to pull itself out of the tailspin. “People say you’re only as good as your last game,” Spencer says. “I say you’re only as good as your next game. And we need to get better.” Goalkeeper Troy Perkins says he looks at breaking the losing streak as a mental battle rather than a physical one. “Physically, there’s nothing that we need to improve on,” Perkins says. “It’s a mental game at this point. It’s a grind, and it’s being able to put everything behind you and figure out how to win.” Perkins adds: “Maybe it’s a change on the field that the coaches need to make.” It would seem that is what Spencer is planning. During Tuesday’s session, he experimented with striker Eddie Johnson in the starting lineup. Defender Steve Purdy also was playing with the first 11. “There’s places up for grabs,” Spencer says. “Now there’s no guaranteed starters. You’ve got to earn the right to play this weekend. I’m not blowing smoke. The time has come where maybe we need to freshen things up a little bit.” Paulson at practice Another difference in the Timbers’ training sessions was that Paulson and Technical Director Gavin Wilkinson attended not only part of Monday’s workout at Jeld-Wen Field, but some of Tuesday’s practice at the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District. Before this week, the two have rarely been seen watching practices. Spencer says he doesn’t feel that the front office is looking over his shoulder. “I think they just came out because it’s an 11-on-11 (scrimmage), have a look,” Spencer says. “(Paulson) can come and do what he wants. It’s his club. What are we going to do, tell him, ‘You can’t come and watch practice?’ ” If the Timbers looked as if they were bleeding during the first four matches of this winless streak, then they looked as if they needed medical assistance in the FC Dallas game. Perkins is not ready to call for emergency aid, though. “I’ve been in a lot worse losses than that, both abroad and here,” he says. “That’s not even a concern of mine. Every team has this lull in the season at some point. You want to be hot come August and September. If we can learn from our mistakes and not keep repeating these things, I think we’re OK.” Although the Timbers sit in seventh place in the nine-team Western Conference, they remain in a multi-team mix for one of the four wildcard playoff spots (those teams will join the top three finishers in each conference in the 10-team postseason). Striker Kenny Cooper isn’t afraid to use the same “P” word his coach tossed out to the squad two months ago. “Come the end of the season, we want to be in a good position to make the playoffs,” Cooper says. “There’s a lot of games left. Hopefully we can get back to winning ways. We’re all hungry to do that.”

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