This is the first year I’ve been a Northern Virginia resident and attended no D.C. United games. It wasn’t anything personal — there’s no reason for me to be in the pressbox any more, and the Spirit and youth soccer took up so much of my time that I had little left over. But I would’ve gone to the season finale if not for a conflict.
I did attend an open practice for area youth coaches, and I was impressed with Ben Olsen. He had a good sense of humor about his situation, and he gave engaging explanations of what they were trying to do in practice. (I don’t think he recognized the guy who wrote a USA TODAY feature about him and interviewed him for an MLS book, but that’s OK. I’ve been keeping a low profile.)
The interesting part about seguing from “sportswriter in the pressbox each week” to “local youth soccer dad and prospective ticket-buyer” is that I see the sales operations. A lot. They come out to our coaches’ meetings with special offers. They call me and ask how I’m doing and if I want to come back out to a game sometime. (I turn around and ask if they’ve read my book, but I always have good conversations with them.)
D.C. United has a lot going for it. The youth programs are on solid ground, and they’re actually producing pro players. They’re well-established in the community, so much so that they may actually be able to pull off this massive land-swap thing to get a real stadium built in Washington, where the regional politics are about as easy to navigate as the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. They have a terrific sponsor in Volkswagen.
The only problem is the team. It’s not very good.
And though it’d be nice to get Chris Pontius to stay healthy for a while, this isn’t a mere stretch of bad luck. It’s a solid decade of really bad personnel moves.
The team has responded with a lot of front office changes. Today, they made more.
So they finally got rid of the people in charge of the roster? Nope. Doug Hicks, one of the most respected communications and marketing people in the business. Aprile Pritchet, a D.C. United office mainstay who worked on community relations. And Sarah Lerner in communications.
Let’s make one thing clear. The fan base does seem alienated. But they weren’t alienated by Hicks, Pritchet and Lerner. They were alienated by Franco Niell, Gonzalo Martinez, Gonzalo Peralta, Jose Carvallo, Ange N’Silu, Danny Allsopp, Cristian Castillo and scores of others players who have floated through RFK Stadium in the past six years. (In some cases, the players were OK but were misfits — Hamdi Salihi isn’t bad at all, and Steve Guppy was perversely wasted on the wing banging crosses into tiny “target” forwards.)
D.C. United’s leading scorer this season? Three players tied with three goals each. Little wonder the club finished at 3-24-7.
Ben Olsen has a legitimate case to stay on as coach. He somehow got this gaggle of secondhand parts to win the U.S. Open Cup.
But the club is firing people who built the D.C. United brand while keeping those who have failed to build a competent team? That’s supposed to bring back fans to make the stands bounce for the remaining years at RFK?