July 31st, 2012 by Michael Orr
As Gavin Wilkinson solemnly spoke to the assembled media today on the west side of JELD-WEN Field, Sean McAuley sent through-balls down each sideline in a crossing and shooting drill with younger players. The Timbers’ newest assistant coach shouted often, with criticism and praise alike, making it difficult to hear Wilkinson’s explanations of last night’s events in Beaverton. Though McAuley has been in Portland for only a week, his influence within the team is growing by the day as Wilkinson has allowed the Englishman a wide swath of responsibility from directing training sessions to in-game coaching from the touchline.
Said Wilkinson after today’s training, “He’s going to be here for a while – [so we're] making sure the players are comfortable with him, making sure that they are receiving information from several different sources. We all deliver the same message, but he’s had more involvement.” Wilkinson made sure to tack on both Amos Magee and Cameron Knowles in his explanation, but it was clear that McAuley is already elevated among the assistants.
While Wilkinson is trying to implement change on many levels since the departure of John Spencer, it has been fairly unclear where the delegation of duties would fall. With McAuley’s arrival, that has become far more transparent. “We’ve had a lot more meetings about the direction and quality of training. The process of within the training session itself and what we’re trying to achieve in each training session…He’s come in and looked at our team, watched pretty much every game we’ve played this year. We sat down, we’ve shared thoughts, we’ve shared opinions and started to structure things in a clear path to move forward,” Wilkinson explained.
As the interim manager and general manager noted on Saturday night after the Timbers’ 1-0 loss to Chivas USA, and reiterated today, McAuley is very much in the club’s longer term plans. As such, McAuley has found his voice in directing, at least initially, the younger players on Portland’s roster. Sebastián Rincón, Charles Renken, Brent Richards, Bright Dike, Freddie Braun and Rodney Wallace were among those taking part in the aforementioned drills at the close of practice. As the academy manager at Sheffield Wednesday since 2005 (not to mention interim first team manager there on two occasions), McAuley certainly has the credentials to help direct and shape younger players. If Wilkinson continues to loosen the reins on his assistants, McAuley is likely to have an even greater influence than he might’ve under the previous regime.
The club has already created a new regimen for younger players, bringing them in for training as early as 8:00am and keeping them until close to 1:00pm. Wilkinson made sure to point out that this was not a punishment but a way for the club to more directly work with these players. By putting them on a different schedule than the senior players, McAuley and the other assistants can more effectively address the concerns of development rather than pass them over in favor of those currently in the first team. “We can get a little bit more out of our young players, but we need to invest some time and energy into them,” Wilkinson added.
Though it is somewhat peculiar to hire an assistant coach with plans for the future head coach as yet undetermined, Wilkinson seems unfazed in discussing the addition of McAuley. There is quite a lot to decide between now and the end of the 2012 season and it seems McAuley will be an integral part in determining not only the outcomes of the current players but also the process by which they will be judged.