PORTLAND, Ore. – Talk about being thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to swim.
The ink had barely dried on newly hired Portland Timbers assistant coach Sean McAuley’s visa, but there he was on the touchline barking orders at the team in last Saturday’s match against Chivas USA at JELD-WEN Field. And while the 40-year-old was quick to say he was in no way acting as the head coach, McAuley roamed the sidelines for the entire game while interim head coach/general manager Gavin Wilkinson largely remained in the background.
“There’s a clear leader of our team at this point and time and that’s Gavin,” McAuley said after the team’s Friday training session in preparation for Sunday’s home game against FC Dallas (7 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “And there will be a clear leader who will be appointed the head coach in the near future. My role is being an assistant coach. And I did my job. I don’t think anybody gets assigned specifics of what you’re in charge of. We’re all a collective voice in terms of we need to win games.”
Wilkinson, who played alongside McAuley with the USL Timbers in 2002, said he’d look for him to play a larger role as the season progresses. It’s all part of the team’s transformation, he said, as they move on from former head coach John Spencer.
He expects McAuley’s perspective and depth of knowledge to strengthen the coaching staff. He also said the more duties he can defer to his staff, the more time he has to focus on the search for the team’s permanent head coach and conduct everyday general managing duties.
“For me it was a different voice for the players, someone to challenge them a little bit,” Wilkinson said. “We brought him in as an assistant coach. He’s not a head-coaching candidate. We’ve brought him into strengthen the coaching staff and given him a role. I think it’s a collaborative effort.”
McAuley, who joined the team just two days before the Chivas game, had his first full week of training with the club leading up to Sunday’s game. And he likes what he sees.
“The talent is unquestionable,” he said. “They’ve put together a good squad here, and you can see good times ahead. The only problem is if you continue to focus too far ahead you forget about the immediate, and the immediate is now we need to get results. So it’s balancing that act of getting these young players to play and express themselves with grinding out results.”
In McAuley’s previous role, as the head coach for England’s Sheffield Wednesday FC’s academy club, he flourished in player development. And already with the Timbers, he has taken a lead role working with the club’s younger players in extended training sessions.
“I’ve been here a week now and seen what the Portland Timbers is all about, and it’s been very, very impressive,” he said. “The organization is run so structured that it’s very easy to transition in and understand what the organization is about. We all follow the same sort of plan.”
And whether he’s helping a young player come into his own or orchestrating the first-team in a game, McAuley said he’s just doing his job.
“I think it’s important from my point of view that I really respect the job that I’ve got, and I want to work,” he said. “So you won’t find me not working.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.