- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

D.C. United should resist the temptation to make drastic changes after the club’s worst year since 2002.

With 17 wins in 47 games and just one win in its last 14, the standard logic would be for the coach to leave quietly in the dead of night. Coaches have been fired for far less this season.

However, there appears to be no mutiny in the United locker room. There have been no banners in the Screaming Eagles or Barra Brava fan sections at RFK Stadium calling for coach Tom Soehn’s head on a platter. Most players said Soehn should be given another chance.

“I think Tommy should be our coach next year,” midfielder Santino Quaranta said.

There’s a consensus that the second-year coach was dealt a bad hand. There were too many injuries to key players and far too many games.

The problems began early. The revolving door at the end of last season left the club missing some key parts. Six starters left, including midfielder Josh Gros (retired) and goalie Troy Perkins (trade). A slew of new players arrived, but it took too long for the team to find chemistry. The high-end shopping spree for five South American players provided mixed results. Argentine midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, looking as fragile as porcelain at times, showed flashes of brilliance before injuries sidelined him.

“We made a lot of changes, and we didn’t mesh together,” defender Bryan Namoff said. “It was a roller-coaster ride. We would take two steps forward and two steps, five steps back.”

Except for a brief period in June, United’s ideal starting lineup was rarely on the field. Turnover on the 28-man roster was so bad that the club was almost dragging people off the street to play.

It’s hard to find a player who hadn’t hobbled off the field at some point this season. According to the club, more than 93 league games were missed - mostly because of injuries - by 14 players expected to play significant minutes. The injuries baffled the coaching staff. If changes have to be made in the offseason, the club could start with the training staff.

“We are going to take a long look and evaluate what we can do to make sure we are healthier,” Soehn said.

Surprisingly, United found some talented replacements in the lower reaches of American soccer. Such third-division players as Thabiso Khumalo and Greg Janicki, not to mention Craig Thompson and MLS castoff Joe Vide, performed well and may have earned roster spots for next year.

Some good did come out of United’s troubles. The young reserves were bloodied earlier than expected, thrown into competitive games at home and overseas in tough venues. Almost every player on the roster got significant playing time, which bodes well for next season. There’s not a novice left in the United clubhouse.

“We have found guys who can be a nucleus on the team,” Soehn said.

Soehn should be given at least one more shot to prove what he can do with a stable and healthy club.



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