Tom Soehn will not return to coach D.C. United next season. He removed his name from consideration for a contract extension Tuesday while team officials were in the process of deciding whether to bring him back.
The 43-year-old guided United to the 2007 Supporters’ Shield and 2008 U.S. Open Cup, but the club reached the MLS playoffs just once in his three seasons as coach.
“Over the past three seasons, Tommy has faced greater challenges than any other Major League Soccer coach,” United president Kevin Payne said in a statement. “His record in all competitions this season was outstanding, and he should not be judged on the basis of missing the MLS Cup playoffs. Tommy is a fine young coach, and I know we will face him in the future in MLS play. I wish him all of the luck in the world.”
Soehn joined the club as Peter Nowak’s assistant in 2004, when United earned its most recent MLS Cup victory. Soehn then took over as coach in 2007 after Nowak left to join Bob Bradley’s staff with the U.S. men’s national team.
Soehn’s first season was a success. United finished 2007 with the best record in MLS (16-7-7) but was upset by the Chicago Fire in the first round of the playoffs. Club officials opted to revamp the team in 2008, bringing in Argentine playmaker Marcelo Gallardo as a designated player along with several other South American talents. But the acquisitions didn’t translate to success outside of the Open Cup triumph, and the team got bogged down playing in five competitions and missed the MLS playoffs with an 11-15-4 league record.
This season, United brought back midfielder Christian Gomez - the 2006 MLS MVP and playmaker during its back-to-back Supporters’ Shield campaigns in 2006 and 2007 - after Gallardo returned to Argentina. But again the schedule worked against United. The team was stretched playing in 45 matches in three competitions, faded down the stretch and missed the MLS playoffs with a 9-8-13 record. The club failed to win a trophy for the first time since 2005.
Soehn then opted to step away from the club he has served in some capacity for six seasons. His overall record at United was 55-48-31 in all competitions and 36-30-24 in MLS play.
“My family and I have spent a lot of time in reaching this very difficult decision,” Soehn said in a statement. “I’ve been fortunate to spend the last six seasons with this organization. I’d like to thank the staff and fans for their support throughout my tenure. … My appreciation also extends to the players. We accomplished a lot together since I arrived in 2004, and I thank them for their dedication and wish them the best in the seasons ahead.”
United officials said the search for Soehn’s replacement began immediately. Former United standout Richie Williams could be the team’s top target. Williams has twice served as interim coach of the New York Red Bulls, most recently for the final eight matches of this season. The team earned 11 points (3-3-2) under Williams after getting just 10 (2-16-4) in 22 league matches before coach Juan Carlos Osorio resigned Aug. 21. The Red Bulls are still considering whether to hire Williams as their permanent coach, however, so United may not get a chance to sign him.
Curt Onalfo, a former United player and assistant, is also a possible candidate. Most recently, he coached the Kansas City Wizards to a 27-29-22 record over parts of three seasons before being fired Aug. 3.
Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, who has led the Terrapins to two national titles, also might draw some interest from United officials.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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