As the MLS world check their passports and descend upon Toronto, the league’s premier and winningest team is searching for its next manager, its third in the past three season (if you include interim Ben Olsen). The team let go of Curt Onalfo toward the end of the season and turned the reigns over to team legend Olsen. But even a resurrected Brian Clough could not help this team – DC United has fallen to the point where its offense can politely be described as woeful and its management described as inept. So the next manager will have quite a task ahead of him, not only dealing with the problems on the pitch but with dysfunction off it as well.
DC over the past decade has gone with rehired coaches (Onalfo, Hudson), former players (Olsen, Nowak), and MLS assistants (Soehn), and it is interviewing people in these categories again. The Washington Post‘s excellent soccer writer Steve Goff reported last week that DC has interviewed seven candidates, and the next head coach will come from that group. Most of the interviewees are American, team president Kevin Payne confirmed, but refused to name names. One interesting name leaked, however, is Swiss pro coach Lucien Favre. Favre coached FC Zurich and Hertha BSC, the latter to a fourth place finish in the Bundesliga before he was fired in 2009. He also led Zurich to two Swiss titles. The international option is a new one for DC United, but a Favre hiring would look like DC is emulating New York’s hiring of Hans Backe.
The other options seem to be a a mixture of assistant coaches and current managers. The assistants alleged to have been interviewed are RSL’s Robin Fraser, Los Angeles Dave Sarachan, and New York’s Richie Williams, but I suspect Williams will be hard to pry away from New York. The mentioned manager is Colin Clarke, who’s claim to fame is leading the Islanders in an upset of the Galaxy in the CCL. The club could also be looking at the collegiate level, maybe interviewing Akron coach Caleb Porter (who turned them down last year) or University of Maryland’s Sasho Cirovski, who is a longtime successful coach in College Park.
In my opinion, with DC United turning to youth to begin rebuilding the club, I think the club should hire someone with experience coaching younger players, so luring Cirovski or Porter would be a good hire for the team. It’s also a clean break from the recent past; the last coach hired from the university level was a guy named Bruce Arena. Assuming those two aren’t interested, and there’s a good chance they aren’t, hiring a Sarachan would be the safe move for this club.
But does DC United’s hire matter? After this disastrous season, the team fired its manager but retained the team president and general manager. And that’s the root of the problem – the inability to think outside the box. The club is fortunate that Andy Najar has developed so quickly because little else has. Players like Bill Hamid were held back by injuries, but others like Danny Allsopp and the two designated players signings have been busts. For the club to ascend again to the league’s upper echelon, ownership needs to take a serious look at the entire franchise and come up with a good long-term plan that combines strategic thinking on and off the pitch. A good managerial hire is a good first step.