[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Not many recent acquisitions would speak out and tell teammates to “man up” after just a few weeks of training and playing together,
but that’s how Portland striker Kris Boyd goes about his business.
He’s managed three goals in seven matches while settling in with his new club, and during a recent losing streak didn’t hesitate to speak his mind about getting the job done, period, full stop.
“Football’s a great sport and a great industry to be involved in, but at the end of the day, it’s our jobs, it’s our livelihood and it’s what pays the bills for us,” says Boyd, a native of Irvine on the west coast of Scotland. “A lot of people look at it different and we’re fortunate to have made it as far as we have to be a success.”
He was a great success in the Scottish League, setting an all-time record by scoring 164 goals in 10 seasons for Kilmarnock, his local team, and Glasgow Rangers. A move to England turned sour, and a catastrophic signing with Eskisehirspor in Turkey last summer left him and his family marooned without playing time and paychecks. He had received his signing bonus and after that, nothing.
“For me the whole thing in Turkey, it was a nightmare right from the off, starting with the team and the manager,” says Boyd, 28, who played only two games and then sat on the bench as he missed paycheck after paycheck. “There was a big case in the country with the match-fixing. The manager left with the president and the new manager changed the whole setup again and I found myself out of the picture, then I started not getting my wages and stuff like that.”
His contract was terminated and as a free agent, he drew interest from teams in several leagues, including MLS. Houston had first claim by the discovery process but couldn’t negotiate an agreement, and so traded his rights to Portland, thereby enabling head coach John Spencer to trump the coach he’d worked under as an assistant, Dominic Kinnear.
As a Designated Player, Boyd is under considerable pressure to produce, especially since he’s in effect replacing Kenny Cooper, who scored eight goals during the club’s inaugural MLS season in 2011 but due to a rift with Spencer was traded to New York. He’s also a make-up for Jose Antonio Valencia, signed as a Designated Player in December but sidelined for the 2012 season with knee problems that went undetected until he reported for preseason training.
“The best way to describe him is that he’s probably the best finisher I’ve ever seen in the game that I’ve worked with," says Spencer. “He’s a blue-collar, working DP. You never see him if he’s got a shot, trying to put it on his favorite side. He doesn’t have a favorite side and that’s pretty unique in the game. You see a lot of forwards trying to adjust their body to pull the trigger with their right foot, but he doesn’t have a favorite side and that in itself is a great weapon to have.”
“When he became available to us, we made a couple of calls to people who’d worked with him before and got raving reports saying, ‘Fantastic guy, comes into work every single day to work hard.’”
One of those references came from Spencer’s brother-in-law Billy Davies, the manager of Nottingham Forest when the club employed Boyd during the 2010-11 season. At the time he was on loan from Middlesbrough, which had signed him on a free transfer after he’d scored 164 Scottish league goals in 10 seasons with Kilmarnock and Glasgow Rangers to set an all-time scoring mark. He also had a few run-ins with management, including a 2008 declaration he wouldn't play for Scotland while then-manager George Burley was in charge.
Boyd’s production dropped in England, yet he still managed to score. He netted six league goals in 27 games for Boro, and six more in just 10 games on loan to Forest. Then his career unraveled last summer with a move to Turkish club Eskisehirspor, which prompted him to seek opportunities beyond Britain.
“For me, it was time for me to go and try something different,” he says. “My decision was, ‘I’m not going back there.’” He and his companion have two young children and after the nightmare in Turkey, he’s found an ideal combination of raucous home fans and relaxed lifestyle away from the game. And he’s managed to score a few goals.
“When you look around the MLS, there’s not too many teams with fans that behave like they do,” says Boyd of the madness that envelops Jeld-Wen Field when the Timbers play. “They’re singin’ and dancin’ around and really enjoying themselves the way it should be.”
He scored in his MLS league debut at Jeld-Wen against Philadelphia with a glancing header he directed from the near post beyond the keeper and into the far corner. For his second goal he pounced on a defensive miscue against Chivas USA, and on his third he beat the Galaxy’s offside trap to steer Eric Alexander’s through ball into the net. (Another sharp finish was disallowed for a questionable offside call.)
The goals against the Los Angeles teams provided the Timbers with 1-0 leads they eventually squandered in frustrating defeats. Portland got back on track last weekend by ending Sporting Kansas City’s seven-game winning streak, 1-0, with a Chance Myers own goal from a Boyd cross deciding the outcome.
Just as much as his expertise in the attacking third, Spencer values Boyd’s work ethic. “One of my coaches just came off the training field and said, “You know, Kris Boyd’s still out there 35 minutes after we’d finished practicing doing finishing and trying to work his skills,’ said Spencer after a training session last week.
“There’s still more to see from him. He’s only had five or six 90-minute games since the end of the European season last year. I still think there’s more mobility to come out from him, but we’ll see on daily basis how he’s getting sharper day by day, and that only bodes well for the future.”