- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

D.C. United will not extend coach Thomas Rongen's contract when his current deal expires Dec. 31.
Two consecutive last-place finishes in Major League Soccer's Eastern Division have prompted club president Kevin Payne to look for another coach. United will continue to train under Rongen's supervision until his contract expires.
"I felt Thomas got a fair shot and reached a point where it was just not happening, and we reached that point," Payne said. "We need to look for someone who is a real grounded coach in the American game or someone who played at a high level and understands our league."
Payne refused to list any names, but said United's next coach most likely will be an American. A formal search process has begun to find Rongen's successor.
With few qualified candidates available, an appealing one is U.S. national team assistant Dave Sarachan. Sarachan was a United assistant in 1998 and 1999, when the team made two trips to the MLS Cup, winning in 1999.
Sarachan, 46, is regarded as a player's coach and attends almost all of United's home games. With the World Cup coming up next July in South Korea and Japan, MLS is undecided if it will schedule league games while the U.S. team is competing.
"Why can't he do both?" asked one veteran United player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Rongen, who has won more games (82) than any coach in league history, is disappointed but not bitter at Payne's decision to not retain him.
"I respect it, and I understand at this level these things happen," Rongen said. "I have no ill feelings towards this organization. Ultimately, the results were the ones that led Kevin to make that change. Wherever I go, I'm going to play entertaining soccer. Results really dictate your future. I think I've laid a great foundation for this organization for years to come."
U.S. Soccer sources confirmed that Payne formally asked for permission from secretary-general Dan Flynn to speak to U.S. Under-17 coach John Ellinger in August. Ellinger's agent, Richard Motzkin, would neither confirm nor deny that United had approached his client.
"John has done extremely well and is an attractive candidate," Motzkin said. "John is happy at U.S. Soccer and isn't committed to anything other than U.S. Soccer."
Ellinger's stock may have plummeted after his team's first-round ouster at the U-17 World Championships. Expectations were high for this team, which featured United rookie phenom Santino Quaranta and Dallas Burn forward Eddie Johnson. Ellinger's team was swept in three games while grouped in the first round with eventual finalists France and Nigeria.
"John has done well in finding and developing talent, and that shows by the fourth-place finish in 1999," Motzkin said. "This year he didn't have the results with France and Nigeria in the group, but there were some positives."
Rongen's departure undoubtedly will please many United fans. During one game this season, some of them leased a small plane that flew over RFK Stadium with a banner that read, "It's the coach, stupid," a thinly veiled message to Payne. During the latter portion of the season, fans wielded signs urging Rongen's dismissal.
In three seasons, Rongen posted a 39-43-8 record. He led United to the MLS title and a 23-9 regular-season mark in 1999 but went 16-34-8 the following two seasons as United failed to make the playoffs both times.
Following the 2000 season, United decided to go with a youth movement and traded many of its established veteran stars. Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, Richie Williams, and Tom Presthus were the most notable stars to be traded. As a result, United played last season with no veteran leadership, and it showed despite all the young talent the club acquired in the draft.
"I still believe what we did last year was the right thing," Payne said. "We have the best collection of young talent in the league."
In addition to the trades, star midfielder Ben Olsen sat out the entire season because of injury, playmaker Marco Etcheverry played at 75 percent because of a toe problem that he corrected with surgery last Friday and left-flank midfielder Bobby Convey played just 12 games because of a stomach hernia.
"I haven't played in a year and a half; in a way I let [Rongen] down," Olsen said.

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