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Ben Olsen Takes Over For Curt Onalfo As D.C. United Head Coach: The Right Decision

United's dismissal of Curt Onalfo was the right move
United's dismissal of Curt Onalfo was the right move

12 shutouts in 18 matches.

Really that’s all you need to know.

D.C. United has had its share of injuries this season, just like every other MLS club. But the real long-term injuries were almost exclusively to defensive players. That doesn’t explain 12 shutouts in 18 matches.

United fans have been complaining since February that the team lacks a playmaker and a true striker. Well the front office made strides to correct those issues in July by adding Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez. The team is 0-3 since. So that doesn’t explain 12 shutouts in 18 matches either.

Getting fired after 18 matches is nothing new for Curt Onalfo. His Kansas City Wizards team was 5-6-7 last season when he was let go. Only the pitiful New York Red Bulls had fewer goals at the time. In fact, between 2007-2009 in K.C. and 2010 in D.C., teams coached by Curt Onalfo have scored only 127 goals in 4.5 years. Only one other team in that period has scored fewer - Toronto FC. And if you exclude the 2007 season since Onalfo inherited a Wizards team worthy of 47 goals and TFC was in their first year of existence, Onalfo’s teams have the worst scoring total in MLS.

Onalfo was dismissed from the Wizards on August 3, 2009. This year, he made it one day longer.

The debate that’s raged all season has been whether United’s awful record is the fault of the players, the coach, or team management. Most conclude that it’s a combination of all of the above. Now we’ll at least be able to identify whether or not it was the coach who was solely to blame.

Or will we? There’s also a chance that this is just setting up Curt Onalfo to be the scapegoat. Does anyone else see the future the same as I do?

United’s past two matches have been losses to the best two teams in the league. Before that was a loss to the Seattle Sounders. They’re undefeated in their last seven competitive matches, and we kept them scoreless until the 89th minute.

With those tough matches behind us, I see a soft section of the schedule on the horizon. Matches this month against the New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, and Chivas USA are all winnable. In their Open Cup victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders and their 4-0 friendly win over Portsmouth FC, D.C. United proved that they know how to score. Newly acquired Boskovic and Hernandez work well together, and Santino Quaranta is probably playing better right now than he has all year. Maybe more importantly, several United players are getting healthy all at once. We may have our best defensive lineup all active for the first time this season with Dejan Jakovic and Rodney Wallace set to rejoin Julius James and Devon McTavish as starters. Chris Pontius will be back as well. The only regular who is currently set to miss time over this period is Clyde Simms. Simms is definitely an important part of our team, but his absence is nothing compared to what we’ve been through earlier in the year.

I see United gaining traction and winning some games in this upcoming portion of the season. And it won’t be just because they eliminated Curt Onalfo, although that may be how it will look.

Ben Olsen getting promoted to interim head coach was the inevitable next step in his illustrious career with the historic franchise. Whether the position will be temporary or permanent will be determined over the next three months, as well as in interviews that will follow the season. Kevin Payne doesn’t seem to intend Olsen to be a permanent solution. But I do agree with the organization that he is the best candidate at this particular moment in time. Some have indicated that Curt Onalfo had lost the locker room. I don’t see that happening under Ben Olsen. Not now, not ever. The players will fight for him, there’s no doubt about that.

If you don’t think Ben Olsen is qualified or ready to take on this role, then ask yourself if you believe that Kris Kelderman, Chad Ashton, or Mark Simpson would be a better choice.

Onalfo’s firing was intended to send a message to the players. 12 shutouts in 18 matches is unacceptable. Kevin Payne’s comments to Steve Goff that "There are very few players who I would say are absolutely safe" is also certainly meant to send a message. Do you think many guys are going to sleep easy tonight? Is this the kind of motivation that you want to hear from a Team President?

There’s one good thing that will surely come out of this move. If you were a long-time fan of D.C. United who was beginning to lose interest in this team (and in this blog!) because of United’s dismal results, welcome back. The next 13 weeks are going to be a fun ride.