- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

The pressure is on Tom Soehn. D.C. United has four games left to secure a playoff spot, but it’s not certain that a postseason berth will secure the coach’s job for next season.

Soehn, in his third year, might have to win the MLS Cup to retain his position. That’s a tough enough challenge, but Soehn is up against club history, too: No United coach ever has served four terms.

Bruce Arena moved on after three years to coach the U.S. national team. His successor, Thomas Rongen, won the MLS Cup in his first season but failed to make the playoffs the next two and was let go.

Ray Hudson got United back to the playoffs after a three-year absence but was fired after two seasons. Peter Nowak won the MLS Cup in his first season, reached the playoffs the next two and claimed the Supporters Shield - awarded to the team with the best record in the regular season - in 2006. But after three impressive seasons, Nowak stepped down to join the U.S. program.

Soehn was Nowak’s assistant for three years and picked up where his mentor left off by reclaiming the Supporters Shield in his first season. But last year United failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and also struggled in three nonleague events. That disaster was ameliorated by United’s victory in the U.S. Open Cup, so the club exercised the option in Soehn’s contract and he returned for a third year.

Soehn’s record is impressive compared with those of most coaches in the league. He won two trophies in three seasons and came within a whisker of a third when United lost 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders in the U.S. Open Cup this month.

But will Soehn be the exception and get a fourth try? His chances don’t look good at the moment - the United brand has lost some of its shine. So it might be MLS Cup or bust for Soehn. History offers him hope on that score: The Los Angeles Galaxy squeezed into the playoffs as the lowest seed in 2005 and won the Cup.

Soehn is facing a big challenge. United owner Will Chang has the last word.

Beckham book - I finally finished reading the “The Beckham Experiment” by Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl. It’s certainly a good read. Life with the Galaxy and David Beckham has all the intrigue surrounding a medieval royal court.

Galaxy star Landon Donovan is the spurned young prince, suddenly overshadowed by the foreign usurper who takes his captain’s armband. The wounded Donovan dumps his grievances about Beckham on Wahl - some valid, some petty - and on it goes.

Midfielder Chris Klein comes across as the levelheaded sage who sees the big picture, while forward Alan Gordon is the court jester. And then there’s Alexi Lalas, who in three seasons as general manager failed to help the Galaxy to the playoffs. Lalas has all the killer quotes, only to be trumped by Tim Leiweke, who runs AEG, the entertainment giant that owns the Galaxy.

“This doesn’t even rate in the top 10 problems I have to deal with right now,” Leiweke tells Lalas as he fires him.

Non-American players and coaches seeking to ply their trade in MLS should make Wahl’s book required reading. Ironically, Donovan produced his best year - 20 goals (a career high) and nine assists - playing alongside Beckham in 2008.

Arena takes the rap - It was refreshing to see a coach take the blame for a botched match. After the Galaxy’s stunning 6-3 home loss to FC Dallas last week, Arena shouldered the blame for the debacle.

“I think I have to take full responsibility for this performance tonight because, when a team performs like that, they obviously haven’t been pointed in the right direction,” he said.

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