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Spencer believes passing is way around NY, out of slump

John Spencer

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PORTLAND, Ore. — He may not be coaching the team himself on Sunday, but Timbers coach John Spencer remains optimistic that his squad is going to work its way out of a goal-scoring slump and a three-game losing streak when Portland play host to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field (10 pm ET, Galavisión).

The Timbers hope to build upon promising gains in last week’s 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids. The possession and hold-up play was better and the passing was sharper. But the end result was still zero goals.

“If we approach the game in the same manner mentally and physically, pass the ball the way we did, I think we’ll cause teams problems,” said Spencer, who was suspended one game and fined by MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Friday for criticizing officials after the Colorado match.

WATCH: Portland assistant Trevor James on taking over for Spencer vs. RBNY

The coach cited a lack of confidence at times, and a lack of composure, for the team’s goal-scoring drought.

“Every team goes through a little bit of a dry spell,” Spencer said. “We know what guys are capable of. The good thing about it is we’re getting into positions. We’re giving [the forwards] opportunities. We know that before too long the players will score goals. We know that.”

Starting forwards Jorge Perlaza and Kenny Cooper have scored a combined six goals this season. The chemistry in their partnership is improving.

“Jorge was unlucky not to get a couple of goals [against Colorado],” Spencer said. “His first touch let him down on a couple of breakaways. It’s unusual for him. Usually in that position he gets a shot off and hits the target.”

More importantly, Spencer thought the passing and movement took a step forward against Colorado, especially in the offensive sextet of Kalif Alhassan, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chará and Jack Jewsbury.

“We asked them to possess the ball a little more in the opponent’s half rather than look for the killer pass all the time and turning the ball over,” Spencer said, referring to the midfielders and forwards. “I thought the front six played really well [last] weekend.”

Defensively, the Timbers have to contend with Red Bulls forwards Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers.

“[Henry] brings that history," Spencer said of the French superstar. "He’s a world-class player, a world-class player who can still perform at a world-class level. It’s important to respect him for what he’s done in the game, but that we don’t respect him to an extent where we step off him and let him do whatever he wants to do.”
 
Henry and Rodgers have formed one of the most prolific partnerships in MLS.

“Pace and power, experience,” Spencer said of the Henry-Rodgers collaboration. “Luke Rodgers’ movement off the ball, Henry’s ability to see the pass and to complete the pass with the quality he has. Rodgers is a prime example of a player that when you put him alongside better players … he raises the level.”