What If D.C. United's Owners Wanted to Rebuild?


If D.C. United's ownership group decide to shake up the club by revamping the front office, they would need multiple positions filled. At a minimum, they would need someone familiar with the peculiarities of MLS's single-entity structure, transfers, player slots and the salary cap. They would also need a head coach, and someone to oversee all the club's soccer operations (either a Director of Soccer Operations, General Manager or something similar). Among his responsibilities, this person would identify how the team should play (in discussion with the coaching staff) to ensure that scouts are looking for certain types of players with particular skills, to meet on-field needs. However, there are very few competent individuals around who could actually do a good job filling any of these slots.

For the sake of this article, there is no intention to advocate whether or not Kasper or Olsen should be replaced. Those issues are better addressed elsewhere. Instead, the focus here is on who would even be available to take on these responsibilities. This is important because last time United wanted to hire a new head coach (Caleb Porter), the offer was rejected...more than once. Below are a few individuals identified as having skills that may fill the team's critical needs; these options are by no means exhaustive.

Eric Wynalda - A former US National team player, Wynalda is known (sometimes vilified) for his criticism of MLS player development, which he sometimes makes on national television. However, he has also demonstrated (as manager or coach of two successful lower division teams) that he has something to contribute at the MLS level. In 2012 he took fifth division Cal FC on a run in the US Open Cup that culminated their elimination of the Seattle Sounders. This year, Wynalda is near the end of a worst-to-first transformation of NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks, where he is the Technical Director. In Atlanta, he started the transformation by bringing in his own pick as head coach, and worked with team management to identify needs. Wynalda may never get the chance to coach in MLS because of his open criticism of MLS, which has raised the ire of MLS's leadership in New York, but he has a knack for identifying competent players, determining style of play, identifying qualified coaches, and forward planning, all of which United desperately needs.

Jesse Marsch - Marsch played for the Black and Red in 1995-96, before moving to Chicago where he played from 1996 to 2005. In 2011, Marsch coached the Montreal Impact to the most successful expansion franchise in MLS history, but was released at the end of the season due to differences about coaching philosophies with team management. Despite his success in 2011, it is unclear how far Marsch would be able to coach a team with his limited experience. He was generally liked by players and fans in Montreal, and may show that he is a good coach if given a few years experience, but putting DC's future in his hands right now would be odd, given his having to replace a coach who (like him) was learning on the job.

Alexi Lalas - Lalas is known to MLS fans for his years as the starting center back for the USMNT of the mid-to-late 1990s, and a playing career in Serie A (1994-96) and MLS (1996-2003). More recently, he is known for witty (sometimes annoying or controversial) comments on various media outlets (ESPN, podcasts, twitter, etc.), and for his work with AEG to bring David Beckham to MLS. Lalas has previously been a general manager in both New York and Los Angeles, although he was often criticized for coach and player personnel selection. Importantly, Lalas has no experience as a head coach. He understands that there are aspects to the business of soccer that take place off the field, and he is good at manipulating those aspects; these are traits that owners should seriously consider. But he also understands the constraints of MLS from a management perspective, can manage contracts, and would probably do well as a liaison between United's front office and team owners who are more familiar with general sports business issues, than MLS or soccer.

Frankie Yallop - Yallop has 20 years playing experience, and 12+ years coaching experience (including a stint as an assistant coach in DC). Recently released by San Jose Earthquakes, Yallop is the reigning MLS Coach of the Year. After 2 poor seasons in 2010-11, Yallop coached San Jose to the playoffs last year, but after another poor start to the season this year, he and the team agreed to part ways on 7 June. Since his return to the Quakes, Yallop was often criticized by fans for player selection and the style of play which some felt left much to be desired. While rumors suggest Yallop may want to coach Vancouver Whitecaps or the Canadian National Team, if he was hired in DC, he would provide a great deal of the experience that United lacks. Yallop may be most able to contribute as a General Manager, but there is nothing to suggest that his individual efforts resulted in improved player performance, or that he is any more familiar with scouting than what DC already has.

Richie Williams - Richie is a former DC United player, a Hall of Tradition member, and has coached at many different levels, including assistant coaching stints at the University of Virginia and New York Red Bulls (NYRB). In 2011 and 2012, he led the US Men's U-18 and U-17 squads, respectively. While Williams has only coached in MLS on an interim basis, he has some front office experience with DC, and his work with NYRB suggests he is familiar with MLS contractual issues. Further, his coaching career suggests he understands tactics, scouting, and player development. Williams would make a good coach due to his varied experiences, but there is something odd about a coach this familiar with MLS not having been asked to coach before. Perhaps he has turned down previous offers, or he was never a good fit at NYRB, or maybe there was something else.

Kenny Arena - The son of former DC United head coach Bruce Arena, Kenny is head coach of the nascent soccer program at Florida International University in sunny Miami, Florida. Uhhh...that's it. He coaches; his name is "Arena."

Sasho Cirovski – Has been coaching for 20 years, including 11 years at his current position at the University of Maryland. While at Maryland, he has strengthened a weak program and led the Terps to two championships, in 2005 and 2008 respectively. While Cirovski has no MLS coaching experience, his understanding of player development, has an established network, and good tactical acumen, all of which suggest that he has the set of tools sorely needed in DC. The first year is always difficult for a new head coach in MLS (except of course for that back stabber Caleb Porter who is doing well in Portland). If selected, Cirovski will have his work cut out for him. Especially considering all of United’s challenges: a couple of new assistant coaches, improved scouting, and monetary constraints. Cirovski would need a good working relationship with an experienced MLS front office person in order to address player personnel issues.

There are many other unemployed qualified managers in soccer right now, however the individuals identified above are all people who should be in the discussion for DC. Other qualified managers include Marcelo 'El Loco" Bielsa, El Chelis, and perhaps Gus Poyet. However, foreign coaches/managers rarely do well in MLS.

If the season continues as it has been, United's owners will need to address these issues either in July or in November.

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