New boss Wilkinson comfortable in return to Timbers bench

PORTLAND, Ore. – Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Who are likely not on the minds of Portland Timbers players as they prepare for Saturday’s match against the LA Galaxy at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) without former head coach John Spencer, but the lyrics from the group's classic song “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” may be fitting.

That's because the Timbers are moving forward with a familiar face at the helm after Monday’s announcement that Spencer, the first coach in the team’s MLS existence, had been let go.

Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson has taken over head coaching duties on an interim basis for the second half of the season while the organization conducts a search for Spencer’s permanent replacement.

“I have a relationship with all the players and basically I’m responsible for bringing all the players on board and we have a healthy relationship as a complete staff,” Wilkinson said after conducting his first training session as head coach Tuesday. “There’s a healthy level of respect throughout the entire organization for the players and vice versa.

“So I don’t think it’s them getting to learn my personality, that’s something that’s part of the challenge when you bring in a new coach, most of them know my personality, they can relate to me, they understand where I’m coming from. … It’s not a big adjustment for them.”

Wilkinson’s ties to the Timbers go way back.

He has been with the franchise since its inaugural United Soccer League season in 2001, first as a player, then assistant coach, head coach and general manager. As Timbers head coach, Wilkinson compiled a 50-29-39 record and was named USL First Division Coach of the year in 2007 and 2009.

Defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso and midfielder Kalif Alhassan were members of the USL Timbers before carrying over to the MLS team. Wilkinson said when he spoke the players after Spencer’s dismissal, there was a readiness to move forward.

“It was a very sincere message, and there seems to be positive a response,” Wilkinson said.

But the big question remains, what changes tactically and personnel-wise are in store for the team? Wilkinson said Tuesday that “everything’s opened up,” but didn’t provide specifics to what that will mean when the team takes the field against the Galaxy. He did say there would be some extra training sessions to get comfortable with his system.

During the Monday press conference announcing Spencer’s firing, Wilkinson said any talk of changes could be taken as a slight toward the former head coach.

“In answering that anything I say would be misconstrued as something John didn’t deliver or something John didn’t do for us an organization and a team,” Wilkinson said. “It’s been a very recent appointment, so I’ll need a little bit longer to reflect on that. In addition to that I don’t think there’s going to be a major overhaul.

"We’re looking at maximizing the potential the players have, getting a little bit more out of them, getting them to be a little more consistent, being a positive reflection of our fans both home and away. And basically digging a little bit deeper to see if we can develop some of the younger players and see if we can get a little bit more out them.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.