Monday, September 28, 2009

Slump Busting

In baseball, and in life, sometimes players go through prolonged hitting slumps. To snap out of it, it's believed that you must swallow your pride and find a "slump buster." You know what I mean. And don't pretend like you've never done it.

Well, right now Washington, DC sports is the fat ugly chick with "Slump Buster" stamped across her forehead.

Need a guaranteed victory on the diamond... come on down! Haven't won a football game since December 2007... we got the remedy for what ails ya! Haven't won a road game in 20 tries, dating back to June 2008... DC United to the rescue!

I know this involves NFL football and not real football, but bear with me. In a fabulous show of sporting power, within about an hour I witnessed the Washington Redskins culminate a more than decade-long run of mediocrity and futility with a humiliating loss to the Detroit Lions, and then saw in person the uber-inconsistent DC United follow up a great 3-0 win against Honduran side Marathon with a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, a team that's only second worst in MLS to historically bad NY Red Bull, a team that last won a road game 477 days ago.

The week before, after a pathetic home victory, Washington fans booed the Redskins, letting out frustration at not just the underperforming team and in-over-his-head coach, but largely at one of the worst owners/front offices in sports, one who has created a long-simmering atmosphere of antipathy among the fan base. This week, after losing at home in RFK stadium, once a feared venue for visiting MLS teams, DC United fans booed and began chants of "Fire Soehn!" It was the second straight regular season home loss for DC United, to go along with five ties out of thirteen games. Five! It's like we're in Liverpool or something.

Granted, there is a difference between DC United and the Redskins, aside from overtly racist name. As has happened more than once this season, DC United dominated possession. San Jose barely touched the ball in the first half. Yet defensive letdowns and the inability to kill off a game that should have been long won came back to haunt them again. The Redskins just suck and got outplayed the entire game.

If I actually had to analyze things, Coach Soehn is largely to blame for DCU's woes, and while Coach Zorn is likely to go at some point this season, the real culprits at Redskin Park are the Danny and his puppet Executive Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato. DCU's front office, on the other hand, isn't the real root of the problem. Like any team, president and CEO of DC United Kevin Payne has had his misses to go along with his hits. Though both have worn down this year and have passed their peaks, Christian Gomez and Luciano Emilio were great finds, combining for two MVPs, a Golden Boot, and leading DCU to an MLS Cup, two Supporters Shields, and an Open Cup title.

Payne has drafted decently as well, including getting Chris Pontius, who mark my words will be playing for the full US Men's National Team during the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle, and Rodney Wallace this year. Yet Soehn never seems to pick his best 11, changing lineups and sticking with disastrous players like Greg Janicki and Fred for far too long, while never settling on a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation. Even when players are playing every match, they are often being forced to play in a different position each game.

DC United at least brings with it a sense of stability and continuity. That comes from the front office and key players that have been around for a number of years forming the spine of the team, namely Ben Olsen, Jamie Moreno, Clyde Simms, and Bryan Namoff. Add in the youngsters I mentioned before, and this is a team that is capable of winning, which they've done. But sometimes to put it all together, you do in fact need a coaching change. Unfortunately this is MLS, so there are no Manuel Pellegrinis or Carlo Ancelottis waiting to come right the ship of a talented, previously trophy-winning team. That means most likely a previous MLS player or some US Soccer retread. What about player-coach Ben Olsen?! This is one place where the US seriously lacks, both in MLS and among the National Teams. Anyone who saw the U-20 match against Germany knows that Thomas Rongen is an idiot - leaving at least three usual starters on the bench, the ones who helped the team qualify, and then playing a 4-3-3 against the European Champions, hello, these are 19 year olds, some not even professionals, not la blaugrana! Anyway, I don't have an answer for that, but hopefully Kevin Payne does, and I'll be waiting to see what changes are in store, most likely after this season, so that DC can start shedding some weight and lose that large "Slump Buster" tag.

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