Emotions mixed as Spencer returns

Close friends Kinnear, Spencer set to square off for first time

Dominic Kinnear and John Spencer.

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Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear will see a very familiar face when he looks down the sideline on Sunday night (8 p.m. CT; get tickets).

His counterpart this weekend will be Portland Timbers head coach John
Spencer, who served as an assistant in Houston under Kinnear from
2006-10. Unsurprisingly, the pair developed a bond that transcends the
soccer field.

“I think [our relationship] went past professional in about a week,”
Spencer told MLSsoccer.com by phone Monday. “He’s probably the closest
thing I’ve got to a brother.”

When asked about his relationship with Spencer, Kinnear echoed his former protégé’s sentiments.

“I think we have a great relationship on and off the field," Kinnear
said. "We enjoy each other’s company on the bench and anywhere else, for
that matter.”

Kinnear and Spencer worked together to build the Dynamo’s early
success, highlighted by back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007. In
addition to the success with the first team, Spencer led the Dynamo
reserves to the championship in 2008 and, in the process, refined his
skills as a game-day decision-maker.

Spencer left the Dynamo in the middle of last season to take the Portland head
coaching position and now has the young expansion club exceeding
expectations for its first MLS season. It did not take Spencer long to
credit his time in Houston for the success.

“Dominic definitely helped me with the inner-workings of Major League
Soccer off the field, with things like learning how to work with the
salary cap,” Spencer said. “But the most important thing is the thing
the fans don’t see, which is the way Dominic works on the field on a
day-to-day basis. His management is second to none.”

On Sunday, Spencer will lead the Timbers into Robertson Stadium,
marking his first return to Houston since he took over in Portland. With
his feelings toward his former club, it is understandable that Spencer
expects the trip to bring up a lot of emotions.

“To be honest, I still feel very strange watching the team play on the
field and on television and not being a part of it,” Spencer said.
“They’re the first result I look for every weekend — it’s going to be a
hard thing for me coming [back].”

Still, despite their relationship, both will be out to lead their club
to victory when they meet for the first time as coaching adversaries.

“I was happy for him when he left, but missed him all the same,”
Kinnear said. “His team’s putting together some good results as of late.
While we get along great, come Sunday, we’ll both want the same thing.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.