Greetings and Salutations, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The life of a fan is one of speculation. No one can predict when luck will strike or misfortune may hit, but we hope for the best and connect the dots in retrospect. Being a fan is like being an investor in many respects, and this is why I thought it'd be interesting to share my completely gut-originating sentiments in the form of a quarterly investment report.
You see, I am an investor--in the sadly pedestrian, realistic sense. My knowledge of soccer strategy comes solely from FIFA09-14. I have never played in any competitive sport, and I was a World Cup-only soccer spectator until a friendly DC-based Englishman suggested I support my local side. We called up DCU, got a walk around RFK and considered our options. With the 2010 season just ending and United setting the record for least goals scored in a season, we felt confident there was nowhere to go but up. We would become partners with United at its very lowest, selecting seats in 131 and hoping that the elusive stadium would be a reward our investment. I have been (perhaps illogically) loyal to this plan; I moved to take a job in California in March of 2011 but have maintained an uninterrupted STH status--despite attending more west coast away games than home games overall.
I don't remember the good days. I don't remember Olsen's glory. I have no recollection of Moreno as anything other than a hero preparing for his exit. I like that. My wishful thinking is not to what was, but to the future. And on that note, having explained my appropriateness for the role of stupid stakeholder, I shall share my sentiment on the club 2011-2013, and what that means--and is meaning--for us in 2014. This is purely sentiment, so look to other fans for the raw data.
Subsequent reports shall be quarterly and, thus, much shorter.
Ah, the hope was palpable. We were rewarding a team favorite who stepped in to coach halfway through the last season, believing he could be great. We picked up Charlie Davies, believing he, too, deserved a chance to prove himself to the world. I sat in my freshly-minted 131 seat for what would be my last local home game, ready to watch the magic begin. Davies scored, we won, the crowd was ecstatic and everyone was touched. Will Chang was in the next section, swilling beer and banging a drum. As an investor, I felt the management was (literally) in tune with the fans, the fans were in solidarity with the team, and the team had the fans in their hearts. BUY BUY BUY, all the way to the bank.
But then Davies petered. This wasn't that big of a deal to me, because I thought forwards often had spells. I went, decked in black and red, to the SJ-DCU game which, IIRC, was Dwayne DeRosario's first start. DeRo scored twice, and we won handily. But something happened I'll never forget (besides Ethan White subbing in and taking a forward position). The team came by and greeted fans, and Davies hung around to take pictures. I remember saying to him, "looking forward to seeing you back out there!" and he looked at me with the most broken smile I've ever seen mustered in my life. I suddenly remembered when I went to the DCU STH Happy Hour, immediately after Olsen's assignment as coach, my brief conversation with Ben was one that didn't leave me impressed by acumen. Here was Davies, in the deep end of his self-doubt and fears, treading water on his own. With DeRo making goals, there was no need to solve the problem of how to get Davies where he needed to go.
It was at this moment that I first questioned Ben Olsen's qualifications to be DCU's coach. It's great to keep a team motivated, to point out errors on the field, and to defend your team to the press. But that's what a team captain is for. A coach's responsibility, IMHO, is to develop and implement a system that will yield consistent results for the club, to pinpoint and reveal the latent abilities of team talent, and to cast a vision to which team and management can set their sights. We missed the playoffs and accepted mid-table as the improvement it was, but it was mostly on DeRo's shoulders, not Olsen's. HOLD
As a FIFA player, the transfer windows are always most exciting. We got rid of Ngwenya, and replaced him with the Albanian Bomber! We picked up Robbie Russell, DUDAR, Danny Cruz, MFS and Deleon as well. DeRo got his contract, which he deserved. While the MLS change of schedules meant I got less west coast games to travel to, I felt happy knowing at least the right moves were made to build United from the season prior's successes. At the LA game, I stuck around and shook hands with Pontius who'd come into the away supporters' section. He apologized for not winning and looked personally committed to winning the season for DCU. BUY
But then we benched Hamdi Salihi, something I'll never understand. In fact, when I flew in for this year's home opener, my DC-based Englishman pal met me with a 2013 jersey with Salihi's 9 on the back--a gag at the player I just won't stop talking about. If Olsen and management brought in Salihi to develop and implement a system around him, you can't do that while he's benched. If they got him and he didn't match the system they were implementing, that was shoddy scouting and a pointless acquisition. But the truth may be more insidious: perhaps there was no system at all. What's worse, if they could see a system but couldn't implement it--Boskovich was the answer for a Salihi-serving midfield, but we'd just handed the keys over to DeRosario. Again, all speculation, but this is where my spidey sense had me questioning our fearless coaches all over again.
Mid-season tranfers brought in Mike Chabala, Lionard Pajoy and Long Tan. I think I'll just leave it at that. I will note, however, that from Charlie Davies to Hamdi Salihi to Maicon Santos to Lionard Pajoy to LongTan to Rafael Gladiador to Carlos Ruiz, United's Forward selection process has been worse than any other thing we have done in the time I've been paying attention. At least three of these forwards have immediately posted improved numbers after leaving DC. HOLD
No worries, though, because we had porridge-eating DeRo to dirty-bird us to victory, right? But even that famous fitness was not enough to protect Dwayne from the spell of injuries that plagued us, starting from the defense and working its way through us until the end of the regular season. Here is where team captain Olsen shone brightest: he kept his team in the game and motivated them to give their all. He did not have a system in place which was comprehensive enough to keep competent replacements for key positions on the bench, so he reverted to a rather ugly defensive type of play that was more about not losing than it was getting the win. It took us far. We made the playoffs with RFK a fortress and fan support stronger than I've ever seen. In retrospect, seeing the way we dragged our broken body across the finish line, this should have been the time to SELL.
I have purposely omitted Lewis Neal and Rafael Augusto from my assessment as they never made much sense to me. I will say, however, that Neal is the epitome of "clutch," which makes me wonder why he doesn't get more playing time--even though I still am not sure what his purpose is.
You think you know what I'm going to say here, but you're likely wrong. Yes, we sold Najar and lost our dangerousness. Yes, we lost Bosko right when we needed him--when DeRo decided to tank. Yes, Gladiador was a thumbs down. Yes, a thousand times yes, Pajoy (In retrospect both McCarty and Cruz are better now than their trades, who have moved on). But I think the biggest change that sucked the wind out of this season was off the field.
Pat Onstad played twenty-four consecutive seasons of soccer, if you include the three games he covered our butts in DCU's 2011 season, his first season as an assistant coach. He has three MLS Cups in his career, and according to Wikipedia he has degrees in Human Kinetics and Education. No seriously, think about those two degrees. When he left United, the closest thing we had to a coach went with him. SELL SELL SELL SELL
Our Jakovic/McDonald partnership sagged, and without Onstad, it started to rot. This put pressure on already weak defense and now a burgeoning Hamid, who's without a legendary GK as coach. Olsen has no known coaching history of actually solving a player problem or developing raw talent. A midfielder by trade, throws the area he knows into the back third for defensive support--which wasn't that different anyway, as we'd already abandoned the idea of being an attacking team in our run for the previous season's playoffs. But if there's ever a team that's easy to beat, AFAIK, it's the one that's not trying to beat you.
The season went south pretty fast. Everyone likes to say that Olsen held the locker room, but BMac flipped out in the locker room and was never heard from again. DeRosario questioned his selection frequency with jokes in interviews. No one really looked match fit or hungry or even interested in saving face. It all happened so fast, no one, including the coach, had any idea what to do. HOLD, or cut your losses.
Solid offseason trades and acquisitions. We got rid of everyone I'd have dumped in FIFA14, except Lewis Neal, who I don't really mind and is CLUTCH. We weren't perfect, and we weren't particularly ambitious, but for the first time since I've been watching it looked like we had a recipe and were shopping for ingredients. Never you mind that the recipe is a team that can govern themselves--because we don't have that kind of coach. Four seasoned defenders, a veteran midfielder to go with the guys that already know what Olsen wants, and two strong forwards. If ever there was a time to show Olsen's plan in the best circumstances he could find, it's now. BUY
But the first two games, as nearly everyone has noted, seem to be a continuation of the last season. The coaching staff, I believe, are rightly to blame. My sentiment is thus: if we are unable to collect three points in four games, Olsen should be shown the door. It should be done early and quickly to prevent any persistence of last year's atmosphere to affect this new squad. It will be clear to everyone that while he is a great team captain, Ben is possibly the worst coach in the history of DC United--or at the very least in the running for the worst record, which at the beginning of the season was 29-26-47 for MLS regular season play (seasons '11-'13). Letting the train wreck continue only serves to solidify his horrible reputation rather than prolong the hope that some B&RU writers penned--that he'd be the next Jason Kries. HOLD until then, for if changes aren't made you'll only end up losing more; ride out the pain a little longer.
In truth, my hope is that Enzo Concina is here to correct things and guide Olsen to success, with an option to replace him if success is not an option. I fully believe the association that Thorir has created between the Black and Red and the Rossoneri is one that will be of benefit to us as we continue to lay the framework for a new era of tradition for United fans to relish and cherish. With the completion of a new stadium, a stable framework for team play will be enhanced by more revenue and opportunity for bigger players to play the necessary parts. Let's hope that our plans will be so favorable. Until June!