I've been a little bit surprised by some of the fan reactions we've seen over the past few days since the announced departure of Tom Soehn as head coach of DC United. The most common sentiment has been "Thanks for your service", which is nice, but maybe not entirely genuine coming from the same people who were writing (and probably chanting at games) "FIRE SOEHN" so frequently in the past.
The truth is that most of us probably feel somewhat bittersweet and conflicted by the Soehn move. While Soehn had very few ardent supporters among United fans this year, it still sort of feels like we're losing a member of our family. And that's what Tom Soehn was for the past six years. So even though I was in favor of the team finding a different coach rather than continuing on with Soehn, I also think we'd all agree that the team could have done a lot worse than Tom Soehn over the last three years.
Because if you get down to it, Soehn actually did some things pretty damn well. There are a good number of players who are better today than on the first day they put on a United uniform. I'm not sure how much of that is due specifically to Soehn, but I think that the talents of Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace would have been wasted on some other teams. Or how about Clyde Simms, who went from an occasional starter to a vital part of our midfield under Soehn's watch? Or how about Marc Burch, who went from a reserve forward to a decent starting left back by MLS standards? (flame away) You may even be able to make an argument that Soehn did the best he could with the players he was given. The GM gives you too many forwards/CAMs and not enough wingers? Convert Fred/Quaranta/Pontius to wingers then!
But along with Tom Soehn's player development success also came tactical failures. The writing may have been on the wall even before the season that 2009 wasn't going to be a good year when players were saying that the reason the team was going to play a three-man back-line was because they weren't communicating well enough to play with four defenders. Soehn persisted in using a 3-5-2 lineup far too often, even when playing on the road against quicker teams who were specifically built to exploit that kind of formation.
Soehn's inability to establish a regular starting 11 also held the team back. Certainly that would have been difficult this year anyway with the multiple competitions and some unfortunate injuries, but even down to the very end, I don't think Soehn ever really had a sense of who his best 11 were. Soehn waits until the very last match of the season in a must-win situation to give Danny Szetela his first league start? Over a well rested Ben Olsen? I often criticized him for giving Jaime Moreno so few starts, despite him finishing the season with only 1 goal less than our leading scorer, but there are many other examples of poor lineup choices over the course of the year. Which isn't even to mention his recurring and now infamous pre-halftime substitutions, which must been instituted to intentionally demoralize his players.
Was Tom Soehn more bad than good as head coach? That's hard to say. But I think the mixed emotions that so many of us have been feeling points to the fact that he was some of each. Soehn is sure to get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future, and he'll probably do better in a situation with less pressure from fans and fewer conflicting competitions. For DC United though, it's time to move on and find a head coach that will continue to fill our trophy case.