BEAVERTON, Ore. — When Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer came off the training field Tuesday — with his players doubled over and panting after a longer-than-usual practice — he had a clear message for his team:
Play up to his standards, or face the bench.
“I think we’re at a stage when you’re only as good as your last game,” said Spencer, still seething after the Timbers lackluster performance in Saturday’s 4-0 road loss against FC Dallas.
During the 11-on-11 scrimmage on a cloudy morning — with owner Merritt Paulson and general manager Gavin Wilkinson looking on — Spencer liberally shuttled players between the second and first teams. If his message to reporters was a verbal one, Spencer’s moves during practice clearly showed he’s not afraid to try different players leading up to Saturday’s match against Sporting Kansas City at JELD-WEN Field.
“When you play as poorly as that, you can accept it as an off day,” Spencer said. “But now we seem to be on the road and getting beat too easy, and that’s unacceptable and I told them that. There’s no guarantee for the starters. You have to earn the right to start. I’m not just blowing smoke. … The time has come to where maybe it’s time to freshen things up a bit.”
Dallas outshot Portland 20-7, which included just two shots on goal for the Timbers. It pushed Portland’s winless streak to five games and made them winless in seven matches on the road.
Spencer said it’s not only the recent results he’s been disappointed in; it’s the effort.
“I look at the desire today, and they played a top shift,” he said. “But it’s easy to play at home. You’re eating home cooked meals and sleeping in your own bed. When you go away from home you have to man up.”
He also isn’t accepting the Texas heat — it was in the mid-90s at game time — as an excuse.
“The country ain’t getting any cooler,” he said.
Spencer said he has some changes in mind but none that he’s ready to share yet. The fact that team captain and midfielder Jack Jewsbury missed training and was limited on Monday with groin tightness didn’t help answer any questions.
And while Spencer wouldn’t place any more importance on Saturday’s game against Kansas City, the sixth-place team in the Eastern Conference, Tuesday’s session had a tone that said much more was at stake than just one game.
“They’re all big games,” he said. “I think they’re all must-win games.”