Monday, May 19, 2008

The Captain is going down with his Ship.

We have all heard the old saying; that a Captain goes down with his sinking ship. A captain is ultimately responsible for the actions of his crew, regardless of what they do. Hell, Captain Kirk even took responsibility for the actions of his crew in Star Trek VI.

In sports, we have the manager/coach of the team that seems to always go down with his sinking team. Coaches get fired routinely in baseball, soccer, football, basketball and such. Usually you cannot go a month into a sports season without some reporter printing a story that already lists those coaches/managers that are already on the hot seat. MLS is no different.

DC United is suffering, if not sinking. The rest of the Eastern Conference is quickly leaving the Black & Red behind as United fail time and time again, to put in a full 90 minutes of soccer. Saturday night, United traveled to Los Angeles and took on Chivas USA, another club that is stuck in quicksand. After scoring their first road goal of the 2008 season, United wilted in the second half and allowed 3 quick goals and lost 3-1. You can blame who you want, the players for not completing the game, or for not having heart or a fire in their belly, but regardless of whom you blame, their needs to be a change in some way, shape or form.

A change is needed simply because the status quo is definitely not working. As in most other sports, when the results are not found on the field, the coach is usually the one left with the bill… or left on the sinking ship.

Coach Tom Soehn is not a bad coach. He proved that he was able to correct problems last year and he was able to guide United to its second consecutive Supporters Shield and qualify for both the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League. However, due to how many changes were thrust upon him this season, Tom Soehn is in over his head.

A lot of people blame the fact that DC United is playing poorly because of losing Ben Olsen and Josh Gros. I actually do not buy this idea. I can understand where people are coming from, but considering the whole picture, losing Josh Gros and Ben Olsen are not as big a problem as the fact that Soehn had to incorporate four players who have never played in MLS before, or with the other members of the club. MLS is not like other leagues, as it is much more physical and the type of play where you have time to dribble the ball is not one that really prospers here. Getting his new players to come to grasp with MLS play has not been a success for Soehn.

Furthermore, Coach Soehn doesn’t seem to truly know how to motivate and encourage his players in order for them to play a full 90 minutes. Now in this area, I do agree that the loss of Ben Olsen has really hurt Coach Soehn. When Ben Olsen was running around the field like a mad man, he was the one who provided that lift for the players who started to slack off. Hell, even when Benny wasn’t out there, Christian Gomez was able to convince guys to keep running and stay on focus. Without these two players wearing United jersey’s on the field, the responsibility for getting guys in the proper mindset for a match falls to Soehn, and he has failed.

What United needs is a great motivator. Someone who will come in and bench Emillio, not only for one half of a match, but for the whole match. Someone who will get in people’s faces when they start to slack off for 20 to 30 minutes in a match. They also need someone who will be able to properly manage the whole match, all 90 minutes. Neither of these qualities seems to be in Tom Soehn’s toolbox.

I called for a removal of Tom Soehn last week, and I am still finding myself waking up every morning expecting to see a report that he has been released. This season of change, bringing in a new core of starting players has shown that Tom Soehn lacks the true tools to coach a team. He hasn’t been able to get the same type of results out of what many claim to be a club that actually has better talent this year than last year’s club. Week after week, we see the same lazy play from the Black & Red and afterwards, we hear of how players and the club have to go back to work and dig deeper. I do not know about most people, but I can hit my head against a wall only for so long until I realize that the wall is not going to move and my head hurts.

So, if Soehn does get the boot, which I fully believe will happen after United loses this Wednesday evening in Toronto, who should be the one or ones who comes in to fix the problems?

Honestly, I have said it before, but I think that United should look into the past to fix the current club. Bruce Arena is available, as is Marco Etcheverry. I think that if these two guys were brought in as head Coach (Arena) and Assistant Head Coach (Etcheverry) then United would get the two intangibles that they are missing. They will get a coach (Arena) who would be able to manage the club, its substitutes and is someone who isn’t afraid to bench a player or two. They will also get a coach (Etcheverry) who has the fire in his belly and knows how to play in MLS. More importantly, he played pretty much the same type of game that Gallardo plays, so he would be able to help mold the club around Gallardo’s skills and style, something that after 12 competitive matches this season, the club is still failing to do.

Two weeks ago I said that the next four matches will define our season. I also said that United will be lucky to get 2 points out of the possible 12. We dropped our first 3 Saturday night and have a very short week before the next match… which happens to only be three days before the third match in this stretch. Follow that up with another short week before a trip to New England. 2 points might even be out of reach, if United fails to put in a full 90 minutes in any of these matches.

It might be just as bad a situation if United replaces Soehn during this stretch as opposed to waiting until June. I really cannot see the club getting any better with Soehn at the helm. Maybe it is time for him to go down with his ship?

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