A little over a month has passed since John Spencer was let go by Portland Timbers, and still there is no head coach formally in place, though it seems an announcement will be made sooner rather than later on who will fill that role. It seems that the recent moves the club has made – trading out Mike Chabala and bringing in young Kiwi left back Ian Hogg – have been with the future head coaches guidance, or at least his assent.
Still, as long as there is no-one in place, speculation will continue. Stumptown had an article on the 10 possibilities for the role, and still it continues as Eric Wynalda’s ever tweet is scrutinised for any hidden message that shows he is Portland-bound is what must be the worst Da Vinci Code knock-off yet.
For a little change of pace, and filling the time before we can get back to talking about football again when the Timbers face Toronto tomorrow, I thought I’d use the armchair manager’s favourite tool, Football Manager 2012, to assess who is the best man for the job. I should point out that cos of the stupid way MLS works in the FM games, it’s a year behind, so essentially it’s the 2011 season (sorry Impact fans) with some of the 2012 roster – Boyd is in, yet Smith and Songo’o aren’t. But still, it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do with my time.
So without further ado, here are how 10 Realistic And Not-So-Realistic Candidates got on.
1. Gavin Wilkinson
Most Timbers fans’ worst nightmare as the “club icon” (seriously, he is according to the game – it’s not an exact science, bro) decides that he is the best man for the job after all.
All things being equal, they don’t have a terrible season. A somewhat respectable 6th place is achieved, but on the way Wilkinson does guide his team to Cascadia Cup glory, albeit on goal difference. Knocked out at the first stage of the US Open Cup by Philadelphia, it’s very much not a season that’ll linger long in the memory.
Interestingly (or not), 10 of the other 17 MLS head coaches lost their jobs during the season – more than in any other game. The Wilkinson Effect?
2. No Manager
It was left to the game to appoint a new manager and it obliged by giving the job to… Henning Berg, the ex-Blackburn and Manchester United defender. The big Norwegian guided the Timbers to 4th in the West, but lost out in the play-off semi-finals to New York.
The team fell at the first hurdle in the US Open Cup again, and despite beating the Sounders in Seattle (thanks to an improbable winner from Lovel Palmer), it the customers from the north who celebrate winning the Cascadia Cup.
3. Sean McAuley
McAuley gets the promotion to the top job and led the team to another 6th place finish, with no US Open Cup run to speak off. Vancouver waltzed off with the Cascadia Cup.
It was an odd season for Kris Boyd. McAuley didn’t seem to trust the big Scot as Boyd found it hard to pin down a starting spot. In 23 matches, Boyd got 8 goals while Nagbe matched that tally with only 4 starts and 14 sub appearances. What was odd about Boyd’s season was half his goal haul came in one match, and it was a match that would probably ensure Boyd and McAuley would, despite having a marginally worse season than Wilkinson, forever have a place in the hearts of the Timbers Army.
4. Steve Nicol
The former New England manager brings experience to the job, and that experience manifested itself in a stingy defence and even stingier attack. With 35 goals scored in the whole season, it wouldn’t surprise to learn there were 6 goalless draws. Thrills and spills aplenty.
He did managed to guide the team to a 4th place finish, before losing the play-off semi to, yes, New York and he at least won a match in the US Open Cup (just one, though) but all in all it was pretty dull fare though Alhassan would probably disagree as Nicol was the only coach to give him any significant game time.
5. Caleb Porter
Porter is lured away from University of Akron to take the Timbers job and, damn, he’s pretty good. It’s another 4th place finish, but he made it all the way to the conference final where the Timbers lost 4-2 to Columbus – the game falling apart when Jewsbury gave up an og to make it 0-2.
He coasted to a Cascadia Cup win with the best match being the Timbers victory at JELD-WEN against Seattle when late goals from Boyd, Palmer (?!) and Nagbe overturned a 2-0 Seattle lead.
Porter also gave the fans something to cheer about in the US Open Cup, putting the team into the 3rd Round proper where it all came to an end in typical Timbers fashion – defeat to a lower league club.
Out on penalties, with Boyd missing one. GCA would be having a field day with that. If it any consolation, Wilmington did go on to beaT Seattle 2-1 in the semi-final before being thumped by LA in the final.
6. Neil Emblen
The man who took charge of New Zealand at the Olympic Games is lured to Portland by promises of professional football and more Kiwis than you can shake a stick at.
It’s all a bit of damp squib in the end as the Timbers limp to another 6th place finish, winning a couple of matches in the US Open Cup and failing to beat wither Seattle or Vancouver as the Whitecaps take the Cascadia Cup. Had they not lost their last three matches they could’ve finished 4th, but it wasn’t to be with a 4-1 defeat to RSL really capping the season off.
7. Piotr Novak
The ex-Union bon viveur takes over in Portland to wild celebrations and impromptu street parties. Buoyed by such enthusiasm, the team surge to a 3rd place finish, racking up 17 league wins. The key being a defence as stingy as it was under Nicol, but with the ability to score goals now and then as well.
Nothing much to write home about in the US Open Cup, but he does give the fans a Cascadia Cup triumph to celebrate. It all falls apart in the post-season as 30 crazy minutes in the playoff semi 2nd leg against Chivas sees the team ship 3 goals and lose any chance of progressing.
For the first time there is some trade action as Novak brought in Marcelo Saragosa from DC United in August. And then didn’t play him.
8. Bobby Williamson
The ex-Kilmarnock manager leaves his post in Uganda. True to his “if fans want entertainment they should go to the cinema” philosophy, he serves up a lot of draws and not many goals.
Despite this, his team finishes in 4th place, losing out in the playoffs to LA Galaxy. However, he takes the Timbers all the way to the quarter finals of the US Open Cup before losing to Columbus.
His best moment was probably a come-from-behind win in Seattle, with the winner coming in the 88th minute from Sal Zizzo. Zizzo’s was traded to DC shortly after in exchange for Chris Korb and Austin da Luz as the winger never really fit in with his 5-3-2 formation.
He won the Cascadia Cup but, and this is as good a reason for him never coaching the Timbers, Seattle won the MLS Cup.
9. Marcelo Bielsa
Builder-confronting tactical genius Bielsa rocks up in Portland just to add to the weird quotient a bit.
El Loco never really seems to settle in MLS though. His 4-3-3 formation, with Boyd leading the attack, never really gets going and the team draw 16 of their games. However, he sorts out the defence is quick order – only 28 goals conceded and Troy Perkins (remember him?) leads the league in clean sheets.
So, despite the high hopes, it ends with a 5th place finish (and customary play-off semi loss to New York), a single win the US Open Cup and the Whitecaps taking the Cascadia Cup.
10. John Spencer
Merritt Paulson hits 88mph in his DeLorean and Spencer is restored to the top job. Where he absolutely slays it.
A 3rd place finish, with the highest points total of all follows a quarter final run in the US Open Cup. Boyd was on fire, scoring 17 times in 34 matches and Cameron Knowles was fired, in March.
A play-off semi final with RSL went all the way to penalties where the Timbers eventually lost out, 13-12. Mike Chabala missed the final penalty.
The downside was a Sounders double in the US Open Cup and Cascadia Cup. Oh, and Spencer traded Brunner to New York.
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So, what to conclude from this? Well, it’s just a bit of fun. I actually ran an 11th season, with Pep Guardiola in charge. He was sacked in July after a run of six straight defeats, so clearly it’s not to be taken seriously.
As a nerd, it was fun to run through the different scenarios and see who came out on top. Lovel Palmer is ridiculously overrated in that game and became a star in every season while Nagbe and Alhassan struggled for games. I don’t know who does the stats for the Timbers in the game, but they really need to step up their game for FM 2013!
So, anyway, clearly we should’ve stuck with Spencer all along! Who knew?