August 17th, 2012 by Kelly McLain
With Gavin Wilkinson’s 0-4-2 record since being named interim manager (the team’s record during his six-game tenure has been a rallying cry for the recent “GWout” movement), some fans are wondering why John Spencer was fired in the first place. During the press conference to announce the change, Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson referenced “fundamental philosophical differences” that contributed to the decision. Paulson declined to comment further which left people wondering just what was meant by the non-specific statement. Now that the Wilkinson era is six games old, here at NASN-Portland we wondered if there might be some data that could shed some light on just what those “differences” might have been.
The stats below have been compiled from the official MLS website. Five offensive categories are displayed below and sorted. The games highlighted in green represent the games managed by interim coach Gavin Wilkinson since Spencer’s departure.
Two facts immediately jump out. 1) The best ranking in each category is from a game managed by Wilkinson, and 2) the worst ranked game in each category was managed by Spencer.
ATTEMPTS ON GOAL
Wilkinson-led games hold the top spot outright as well as a tie for the second best outing, and even the 4-0 stinker in Dallas managed more attempts at goal than Spencer’s last game in charge at Real Salt Lake. Are the quality of the opponents something to be considered? Of course. After all, a Spencer-led squad did get 19 attempts against league-leaders San Jose. But in general, attempts on goal are up under Wilkinson.
PASSING ACCURACY %
This may be the most dominated category. All six of Wilkinson’s matches are in the top 10, and five of those are above 80%—a threshold Spencer only managed to break 3 times in his 17 games.
Another category that’s top-heavy with Wilkinson-managed games. Spencer had more possession than the opposition in just 5 of 17 games (29%), Wilkinson has won the possession battle in all but one match so far (83% of games). Although Wilkinson has topped this category against the likes of some of MLS’ worst sides, Spencer’s best results came against a similar caliber of opponent.
SHOTS ON TARGET
Perhaps the most even of all the data sets listed here. But as was mentioned at the top, a game watched over by Wilkinson occupies the top spot, and a Spencer game is at the bottom.
Every one of Wilkinson’s six games so far have included more than 360 total passes. The team reached that total in less than half of Spencer-led games.
“This is not a team record decision,” said Paulson during the July 9th Spencer-sacking press conference. And while Paulson surely isn’t pleased with Wilkinson’s 0-4-2 record since taking over, it would appear that the overall record was in fact not the underlying issue.
Paulson also went on record multiple times when the team hired Spencer saying that his expectations were that the Timbers play an “exciting, aggressive, offensive brand of soccer. An entertaining brand of soccer.” Fans would be hard-pressed to say that Spencer achieved those goals, which becomes clear when looking at the numbers above. Unfortunately is seemed as though Spencer may have been (to borrow a line from The American President) so busy trying to keep his job, he forgot to do his job. But whatever other factors outside the now-infamous “philosophical differences” contributed to Spencer’s downfall, it could certainly be argued that the offensive numbers were simply not what Paulson was looking for.