As if being a DC United supporter isn’t enough of a burden, I’m also a West Ham United fan. It’s been a heavy cross to bear, particularly for the first half of the 2013/2014 EPL season and the end of the 2013 MLS season. Yesterday, As I watched West Ham manager Sam Allardyce be booed out of the stadium following a 2-1 win (yes, I did say win) against Hull City a question started to form in my mind: why is it that DC United fans don’t boo our team?
Now, I’m not saying that we should. But, reflecting on the 2013 season, if there was ever a time to raise our voices in unified outrage at what we were seeing it would be then. Instead DC United fans sang heartily to all the club songs, even when we were getting hammered. We created the most elaborate TIFOs, even when it had been five games since our last home win. We got slaughtered at home to a middle-table teams, and our ire was directed towards the referee rather than the coaches’ bench. So, what does it take for us to turn on the manager?
This is my fifth season as a Black & Red supporter, so I’m coming to this with limited history. However, my first DC United game was during the season when we last fired a coach: 2010. I ended up at that game because a friend and I won tickets during a World Cup viewing party at that old DCU partner bar the Hawk & Dove. We played Seattle Sounders in a drab affair which ended in a loss through an 89th minute goal. Curt Onalfo would be fired three league games later, and DC United would end the season with the fewest goals scored by any MLS team at that time. Yet, as I sat in the stands and observed my fellow spectators I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t the only one whose reason for being here was as random as the good fortune of a pub contest. Despite being on the cusp of ignominy, the fans around me didn’t appear to be offended by the display of footballing mediocrity. There was no anger at the performance, no verbal outcry. There was no crazy guy screaming out instructions to the team as if he believed he was part of the coaching setup. There was certainly no indication from the crowd that the manager’s days were numbered.
Perhaps the MLS is just a kinder league than what I’m accustomed to in England. After all, when we fired Onalfo back in 2010 he was the first MLS coach to receive his pink slip mid-season. Up until then MLS coaches could expect to be given some grace unless the offseason to bow out. But after we fired Onalfo the tide turned rapidly. Two months later Toronto FC parted company with Preki. And the trend over the next few years was for more teams to get rid of underperforming coaches while the season could still be salvaged. Is this because fans are starting to expect more from their teams? Certainly we know that the once-faithful foot soldiers are deserting Olsen’s Army. It’s been regularly postulated on this site that last season’s Open Cup victory was the only thing that saved Olsen’s bacon. The tone on this website and on social media is that something must change: either the performances or the coach.
I can appreciate, if not fully understand, the complicated relationship DC United fans have with Olsen. I never saw him play, but when former DC United president Kevin Payne calls him the ‘heart and soul of DC United’ I know he’s describing something special. I know that he was integral to the glory days of DC United, lifting two MLS Cups and three Supporters’ Shields. And I did experience the 2012 season, when I never saw the team lose at home. So, I get that it’s complicated. But if you want complicated consider what led me to these thoughts in the first place: in England fans boo the manager even when the team wins! Allardyce has been pelted with abuse from the time he took the West Ham job, simply because fans don’t like his style of football – a style, I should add, which won us promotion to the Premier League and gave us a top ten finish in our first season back. Last night, in response to the boos Allardyce cupped his ear, as if to show disbelief at what he was hearing. Of course, as a seasoned EPL manager Allardyce knew exactly what he was hearing. English fans aren’t shy in letting the manager know their feelings. I wonder whether this is the direction the Black & Red faithful, and more generally MLS fans, will go.
How many more bad performances will DC United fans take before we reach breaking point? And will DC United fans send the club that message loud and clear during an upcoming home game? Booing, after all, is just an audible expression of dissatisfaction, and goodness knows, DC United fans are dissatisfied. Will the fans ever get to the point where we’ve had enough? Will one bad trade be too much, one poor team selection push us to the extreme, one talk of ‘heart’ without seeing any results on the field be too much for the fans to bear? Will we ever boo Ben Olsen?