So Seth Dunny … Spencer was a victim of high expectations


Photo: yardleybehindthemic

Brian Dunseth is a Salt Lake based color analyst and radio show host for Real Salt Lake, ESPN700, Fox Soccer and NBC Sports.

In an Op-ed today, he reacts to the dismissal of his friend John Spencer as Portland coach, speaking in the hours immediately following the announcement.

In the coming days, Brian will be giving us his break down of the top Western Conference clubs, their seasons so far, their strengths and weaknesses and speaking out on big issues like the salary cap, homer announcers and locker room bad boys in a series we have unimaginatively titled .. So Seth Dunny.

Spencer was a Victim of High Expectations

by Brian Dunseth

I was disappointed when I heard the news.

For me, I feel like knowing John Spencer probably skews my view of the situation a little bit because he’s an incredible human being. I was a competitor when he was a player. I call myself a friend since he retired out of Houston and took over at Portland.

I think because we’ve seen this incredible dynamic growth in the Northwest, I almost feel like maybe he was a victim of high expectations at some point, because Seattle comes out of the gates and they do so well. I think Portland took a risk on Spenny being a first time coach, whereas Seattle had gone with a more established group.

However Spenny’s a particular type of coach. I kind of look at it like a Jason Kreis scenario. Height, speed, strength was never the forte of them as players, but you had their work rate and their honesty as individuals gave them a tremendous amount of success wherever they played.

As a head coach I think they looked at these guys who were athletically gifted and probably have more talent than they had in their pinky toe in certain scenarios, and the expectations as coach to a player was “if I can do it, why can’t you?” .. and it’s hard to create that atmosphere in a short amount of time.

At Real Salt Lake Jason was given that amount of time whereas Spenny wasn’t. I don’t think from the outside looking in Spenny probably endeared himself to the press too much but when you have the road record you do and you have the home record that you do it’s hard to figure out what’s going wrong and what’s gone right.

Steve Nicol is certainly a prime candidate
Photo: Greg Roth

I think if Spenny could have figured out how to make that team win on the road or at least get a couple more positive results, it would have been a much easier situation for everyone involved.

So now it’s going to be interesting to see, is Gavin the guy that steps in during the interim?

We’ve seen throughout Major League Soccer, guys like Peter Vermes, guys like Frankie Klopas, those type of guys.

Will it be successful, and will he stay on, or is this just a kind of holding pattern to see who’s out there next, who’s the big guy?

You have guys like Stevie Nicol available, those are the type of names that make sense, but then again Merritt’s the type of owner from the outside it seems like he’s willing to go down the path less traveled to be, kind of peek under those rocks and see if there’s something special. He took a risk on Spenny and I think in the beginning it worked.

Unfortunately, things change sometimes.

I agree with Steven Smith’s view when he said “John Spencer called everything that was going to happen. Everything that Salt Lake would do he got right”. For 60 minutes I thought they were phenomenal in terms of their tactics.

To beat Salt Lake this year you had to have two blocks of four. You play a flat four and you play a tight midfield four in front of them. They switched it up a little bit. And while it looked like a 4-3-3 offensively there was a flat four with Chara, and then another flat four with Mwanga. That’s how they looked to me defensively when they started looking to absorb. So I think very rarely in this league do coaches get it wrong tactically. A lot of times it comes down to execution.

It was mistakes and poor marking on Saborio in particular that led to all three goals, all three opportunities, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities up until then, so we as fans this league don’t know what goes on, we don’t know what goes on inside the locker room or what the day to day dealings are in terms of what the coaching staff is dealing with, what the ownership’s dealing with, what the dynamic is with the players.

We don’t understand that because we’re not there for it, we only judge it based on 90 minutes so it becomes a little more obscure, the reasons and the issues behind it. But I agree with Steven Smith. He was correct in terms of this.

Dunseth: Spencer got his tactics right in Salt Lake
Photo: Allison Andrews

I too thought that Spenny absolutely had the tactics right in Salt Lake, and that’s the reason why he had a little more of an athletic front to match guys like Borchers and Olave defensively.

The club’s confidence in Gavin Wilkinson’s ability to succeed as head coach is up to Merritt Paulson. He is the one who is going to make the decisions.

At the end of the day it is risk versus reward. Another thing to consider is, outside of Stevie Nicol, who else is there out there?

The club is presumably sitting on a certain amount of money made available by firing John Spencer.  Portland has been very proactive in trying to spend and be creative and provide for an incredible fan base, obviously not with the amount of money that Seattle has to spend. That becomes the issue.

Could Gavin become a short term fix? There’s history there with Gavin as the head coach.  A lot of the decisions that came down will be run over with a fine toothed comb, so we will need to wait to see what the official statements are of what direction they’re going.

We saw a change in Philadelphia and when Hackworth took over, he shed a few assistant coaches and people surrounding that staff after Peter Nowak left. I cannot see Amos Magee essentially being given the reins yet, maybe at the end of the season.

The dynamic is now you have a coach that understands the players. If it is Gavin who is involved in the money and acquisition decision, maybe he can just play off being a good guy for a short time. Any time you have a coaching change, you play off good feelings for at least a month or two and after that you start getting into the nitty gritty.

Steven Smith loyally exonerated his coach for the defeat in Salt Lake
Photo: Allison Andrews

As for Eric Wynalda, Eric has never made an excuse for who he is as a person. I’ve known him since I was 17 years old. He’s a great guy. And once you throw in soccer and money and everything else, Eric is not afraid to voice his opinion and show his personality.

Despite everything he’s been talking about for years, for which he has been totally chopped at the knees, called a lunatic and a fanatic, his run with Cal FC lends it lends some credibility to everything he’s been talking about–throwing a group of players together.

On the flip side, there is still an argument to be made that every single one of those players, if they wanted to, could have played for a Wilmington or a random PDL team if they were willing to play for the amount of money they’d be offered, probably around $800 a month plus housing. If you get into the socio-economic backgrounds of each individual, it becomes a little more obscure.

Waldo at some point is going to get an opportunity because he is a guy who is going to knock down doors. When he was out with ESPN somehow he worked his way back to being one of the lead analysts for Champions League coverage.  He’s had a pretty phenomenal regeneration of his own career, post playing life, so we’ll see what happens.

He had some interesting times in the U.S. system with Thomas Rongen and being with the under 20s. He has some interesting and unique ideas and views of the game, and it only takes one guy to believe in you.

You only have to convince one guy and that’s an owner in this league.

 Next in the series .. So Seth Dunny on the Seattle Sounders

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Full Coverage of John Spencer’s Dismissal:


About Author

Steve is the founder and owner of Prost Amerika. He covered the expansion of MLS soccer in Cascadia at first hand. As Editor in Chief of, he was accredited at the 2014 World Cup Final. He is the former President of the North American Soccer Reporters Association/ Originally from Glasgow, he is a supporter of the Great Glasgow Alternative, Partick Thistle.