Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Should DC United Fire Tom Soehn

That is the topic of The DCenters post from yesterday. DCenters answers, no, not yet.

Well let's take a deeper look at Soehn this year, because I think a lot of this analyis is based solely upon the trouncing the DC United suffered at the hand of Real Salt Lake over the weekend. I think this is a poor reason to consider firing the coach given that DC United have never played well at RSL, no matter what, including the time when Peter Novak was the head coach. But the conversation has started.

DC United's season got off to a quick start, without an adequate pre-season thanks to the Champions Cup. This is not Soehn's fault, unless by fault you mean that DC United was in the Champions Cup for the sole reason that they had the best record in the MLS last year thanks in part to Tom Soehn. Them's the breaks of being good.

So Soehn did not have an opportunity to really focus on his more inexperienced players and get them up to speed by constantly working with them on the training pitch against his best XI. Now, of course, it is his job to evaluate talent and use that talent in the best possible manner, but when your evaluative sessions are cut short by travel to Jamiaca, Mexico and back, along with pre-game training sessions focused on getting ready for a game as opposed to long term pre season workouts which RSL and Kansas City had a full pre-season, it is hard to really develop a full feel of how players work together, which combinations of players can produce which kind of results and styles of play during a match. In many ways, parts of the DC United roster have been robbed of a true pre-season.

Let's also take a look at history. DC United had a very poor record (relative to past years) in the first months of the 2007 season and yet went on a tear in mid-season and finished by winning the Supporter's Sheild. While getting dismissed early in the playoffs did not put a proper cap on teh season, DC had nothing to hang its head about last year. This year we are off to a poor start again. Perhaps the trouble is that DC United is not a team that starts a season well. That may be a problem of management, scheduling, talent or what not. I don't know the root cause of that problem, but it is a problem United faced last year under Soehn and he was able to pull the team out.

DCenters notes that two questions are somewhat up in the air:
Is the coach adapting and improving when things are bad? There's a time to stay the course, but even if you know what you want to do, and it isn't showing up on the pitch, you need to adapt to get results. The line between persistent and obtuse can be a small thing.

Is the team performing better or worse as time goes on? Changes made in training or personnel must show up in better results on the field, or they are useless.(emphasis in original)
D notes that we should reconsider after Thursday, when DC United hosts the Columbus Crew. To be sure, Soehn has to make some corrections prior to Thursday's fixture. But by the same token, DC will have a short week to prepare for the Crew and making another assessment in a short week does something of a disservice to Soehn. If DC United comes out and puts a shellacking on the Crew, a great deal of thought will be focused on the Crew getting slammed because of the "revenge factor" and the return of some regualars rather than any changes Soehn made in the intervening days.

The MLS season is 30 matches long and only three matches have been played, which as resulted in a loss to KC just a couple of days before playing Pachuca, a blistering win over Toronto and a shelling at RSL. I don't think you can find any pattern in those games that would indicate poor coaching or managing. Soehn is something of a victim of schedule and circumstances.

I don't want to excuse Soehn for the RSL failures, he made big mistakes in player assignments and even formation. But the big question is how will he learn from those mistakes. If DC United are still hot and cold in mid to late May, then it might be time to call for Soehn's ouster, but until then, the rumor mill does nothing.

No comments: