D.C. United solemnly held its final team meeting of the season Tuesday, understanding big changes could be made after the squad missed the MLS playoffs for the second consecutive year.
In the next few weeks, team officials will hold individual interviews to evaluate players and staff and decide which path to take.
At the top of the docket is coach Tom Soehn, who has reached the playoffs just once in his three seasons guiding the team. Under Soehn, United has won a Supporters’ Shield (2007) and a U.S. Open Cup (2008), but MLS playoff success has been elusive.
United climbed into first place in the Eastern Conference midway through this season, but a busy schedule that included a run to the Open Cup final and a competitive stay in the CONCACAF Champions League appeared to tire the team and undermine its MLS chances. United failed to capitalize on a late-season homestand, losing three of five matches, and couldn’t get a victory in its season finale Saturday at Kansas City.
The team finished tied for the final playoff berth in the league standings but lost the tiebreakers that would have yielded a spot in the postseason. Now Soehn is waiting to hear if the club will offer him a new contract.
“It’s always difficult,” he said. “It’s the nature of the business. As a coach, you get graded on your results, and over the past three years, all the competitions we’ve had, the results are pretty good. Obviously, there are highs and lows throughout all the time that you are here. There have been some real highs. You evaluate all of that and reflect and learn and grow from it but also prepare for what’s next.”
Soehn is the fifth coach in United’s history and has a record of 54-48-32 in all competitions. Thomas Rongen, who guided the club to the 1999 MLS Cup, was fired after missing the playoffs in 2000 and 2001. Soehn, however, has had to manage schedules unlike any other coach in MLS. United had 45 matches this year in three competitions and 48 matches in five competitions in 2008.
“We’re sitting here watching other people play in the playoffs, so it’s very disappointing,” Soehn said. “We got caught playing a lot of games, and when things don’t go right, it’s hard to fix things. Every time we had a little stretch where we could work on things, you could see a definite improvement.”
Along with a coaching decision, team president Kevin Payne and general manager Dave Kasper will have to make decisions on whether to bring back some of United’s high-priced veterans.
Luciano Emilio, United’s leading scorer this season with 10 MLS goals, has yet to speak with officials about picking up the option on his lucrative designated-player contract. Forward Jaime Moreno, who has been with United 13 years and is the league’s all-time scoring leader, said he has no intention of retiring at age 35. He said he would like to continue playing for United if it will have him back.
“I have to wait and see what happens,” he said. “I am not going to close the door and say not in MLS, but that would be something very hard just because of all the years I have been in this organization.”
Midfielder Ben Olsen has been with United for 11 years. He returned from ankle injuries to appear in 20 games in 2009 after making just one appearance the year before. He too said he would like to return, but he knows the decision isn’t up to him.
“I’m sure the club’s evaluating everything right now,” he said. “I’m sure at some point I’ll be part of that discussion. … I’ve been here my whole career, and this is the place that I love and want to finish.”
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