PORTLAND, Ore. — A cloud continues to hang over Portland Timbers training heading into Saturday’s match against Sporting Kansas City at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET, watch LIVE online) as head coach John Spencer attempts to shock his side out of a five-game winless streak.
The outspoken coach once again addressed the possibility of lineup changes Thursday and had multiple players switching between the first and second team during scrimmages.
“We’re just looking for a reaction,” Spencer said. “You’ve got to be earning the right to play. You can’t be sitting back.”
The most noticeable change in the wake of Saturday’s 4-0 loss against FC Dallas was Eddie Johnson (pictured above) starting the scrimmage in place of Kenny Cooper alongside Jorge Perlaza at forward. Cooper’s performance of three goals in 15 games hasn’t lived up to his billing as one of Portland’s marquee players.
Cooper hasn’t logged a goal or an assist in eight games since scoring April 30 against Real Salt Lake.
“If you got five assists six games ago,” Spencer said. “What does that mean? That keeps you on the team because you got five assists six games ago? You see what I’m saying? You have to rise to the challenge.”
The possible rotation changes — and longer practices — have lent a more serious air to training this week. The players are certainly aware of the consequences.
“It’s the nature of the business,” said midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury, who has been limited to rehabilitation throughout the week due to a hamstring injury suffered against Dallas. “It’s a result-orientated business. And right now we’re in a little bit of a lull. We have a deep team and guys are pressing each other and that’s good. … You’ve got to perform to stay in, and if you don’t, then maybe somebody else should take that spot.”
Spencer expects more on Saturday due to the buzz of the home crowd — not to mention the fact that Jewsbury will be facing his former team. But he hopes the increased energy is something that stays with the squad for the remainder of the season.
“We need to approach the game like we did the first game of the season here,” Spencer said. “We need to have that intensity.”
If this is a turning point for Portland, it comes against a tough opponent. Kansas City are still in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, put Peter Vermes' men are riding a wave of momentum, unbeaten in their last eight matches.
“I think everybody has had the right mentality this week,” Jewsbury said. “From here, seeing what’s been going on, there’s been a good energy about the group and we’re looking forward to the weekend.”