For the longest time, most of the season, I thought that Frank Yallop was staring a Coach of the Year selection square in the face. And why not? The guy took a team that got barely a point a game last year (38 in 34) to one that almost doubled its PPG ratio, getting 66 this year en route to a Supporters Shield. His team gave up 2 fewer goals from last year to this while scoring 32 more this year. He brought back Simon Dawkins and landed Marvin Chavez from Dallas in what some have said was the shrewedest move of the season. Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour's continued evolution in back (parlayed into All-Star Game appearances) provides for a solid foundation. Then you have Chris Wondolowski, winner of 2 of the last 3 Golden Boot awards, and tied with the winner last year. Consider that in their lineup, San Jose had 6 players start at least 30 games:
Not a bad group. And with Victor Bernardez (24), Chavez and Jason Hernandez (23) and Dawkins (21), you've got 10 of a Starting XI starters in your lineup for about two thirds of a season. With that kind of lineup, it's only natural they'd be in the Conference Finals against Seattle right? What? Oh.
Then you have Ben Olsen. In his lineup he had two players that had over 30 starts this year (Brandon McDonald, who missed a game for suspension, and Perry Kitchen, who missed one for U-23 duty), and 8 others with at least 20 starts. But taking a look at those 8, some fascinating things come out:
Hamid (24 starts) and Andy Najar (22) were also out for U-23 qualifiers, the latter of whom also missed a couple of games for the Olympics.
Yallop may have shrewdly acquired Chavez, but consider that Olsen got Maicon Santos (5 goals in 16 starts, another 2 as a sub) after Santos had passed through the Re-Entry Draft with nary a call. And the reason DC is in the playoffs to begin with was due to a late regular season goal from former Orlando City veteran Lewis Neal. Both of whom, along with downgraded Designated Player Branko Boskovic, midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and midseason acquisition Lionard Pajoy, played roles of various significance and success in DC's unbeaten streak post-DeRo injury.
Then you have the 2011-12 offseason. Yallop and the Quakes traded Bobby Convey to Kansas City, while Bobby Burling was claimed by Montreal in the expansion draft. Olsen cast aside longtime veterans Clyde Simms, Santino Quaranta and Marc Burch, with longtime role player Devon MacTavish retiring. He declined to pick up the contract of Charlie Davies, which in part caused Davies to nudge Olsen in front of the bus for the team's 2011 playoff miss. In a quick and dirty list it is easy to see who had the busier winter last year. With Yallop spending time on nips and tucks, Olsen ripped out some plants by the roots, with the hopes of getting new seeds in the ground using water and sunlight that only Ben has.
And how's all that gone? Well, as it's been discussed in the past, DC has owned two unbeaten streaks of 7 games or more this year, and of the 5 other teams that were able to do that this year, 2 others (Houston and Los Angeles) are still in the playoffs with DC. As a sidenote, it should be mentioned that as CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers, Houston and Los Angeles received additional allocation monies with their salary budget. With Seattle receiving similar money, DC's appearance in the Conference Finals is additionally impressive.
I won't lie, sentimentally, watching DC's response to adversity in this last run of matches (self-inflicted or otherwise) continues to amaze. If you were at the regular season finale, or in Harrison for the second (and third) leg of the Red Bull series, or in Houston after DeLeon scored the first goal of the game, the depths that the team has reached to keep the momentum going is great to watch, and has helped bring back old RFK attendees to the fold and introduced newer ones to the charm. He may not be seeing the latter, but Frank Yallop has seen some of the former, most of it from his couch. And for where we are at now, Ben Olsen's work in the offseason, regular season and now postseason warrants a Coach of the Year award.
If I can see that, anybody can.