PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer bid his players goodbye and a happy holiday season Monday after the team’s final training session of the 2011 season.
He also left them with this message: Come back ready to work in 2012.
“I just said, have a good holidays, enjoy the time with your family and when you come back, make sure you’re ready to work hard again,” Spencer said, wrapping up three weeks of offseason training sessions following the Timbers’ final match Oct. 22 at Real Salt Lake. “We’re going to have to try to raise the standards, going to have to try to raise our game. Because nobody is going to look at us an expansion team; there are no excuses.”
Spencer also addressed the pall that hung with the team stemming from the Timbers’ MLS Cup Playoffs near miss. Portland were in the mix for a postseason spot up until the second to last day of the season when New York beat Philadelphia 1-0 on Oct. 20 to clinch the final spot.
He said Portland’s 2-0 loss Oct. 14 against Cup finalist Houston in the Timbers' home finale at JELD-WEN Field has stuck with him. That’s when Spencer realized making the playoffs would be a tall task.
In the end, Portland missed the playoffs by four points.
“I think it was an anticlimax for me,” Spencer said. “My fears were realized after the Houston game here. I felt it was going to be a very difficult thing for us to get to the playoffs. When you’ve got those games on the line, you’ve got to win your home games.”
Spencer said he was happy with the way his players responded when it was announced he would keep them active through the end of the playoffs despite nothing for which to play.
“They always try their best,” Spencer said. “That’s the thing about this group, they’re a good group of guys. But there’s always going to be that hangover from the season disappearing in front of us. Obviously coming in every day is tedious because you want to train and play. You want to have that carrot at the end of the week and put into action what you did during the week.”
Before the players disperse, strength and conditioning coach Karim Derqaoui will send them away with offseason training programs. But Spencer made it clear that he wants his players to enjoy the time off.
He said his offseason plan from his playing days involved a couple weeks off to “eat what I wanted to eat, drink what I wanted to drink” before beginning to ready himself for the upcoming season.
“I’m up for the guys having a good rest and having a good time with family and friends because we do make a lot of sacrifices in any professional sport,” he said. “So it’s an important time of year to enjoy yourself.”
As for Spencer’s plans, he’ll first join general manager Gavin Wilkinson on the road in Europe to take a look at some prospects they’ve had their eyes on.
“So it will be nice to go overseas and try to catch some targets that we’ve looked at throughout the season,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.