Soccer Outsider on D.C. United’s U.S. Open Cup victory

October 3, 2013
socceroutsider

D.C. United’s improbable capture of the U.S. Open Cup means a lot of things. It means that United fans — who have endured Jesse Pinkman-esque levels of suffering this year — were given a much-deserved moment of joy. It also means that I missed every one of those moments of joy; I spent the final stuck at a comedy show (my own) while Gol TV spent the final stuck in cable purgatory. That’s why there’s no match recap — recapping a match I didn’t watch would be a level of unprofessionalism even I am not comfortable with.

United’s win means it will be representing MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League next year, which surely thrills everyone at MLS headquarters. Having United represent MLS is like having Ted Cruz represent the Republican Party — it’s not really putting your best foot forward. Amazingly, both of these things are happening.

United’s win means that the team is not quite as bad as its record suggests. I’ve been making this argument all season: United is not historically bad, it’s merely epically bad. I think it’s important to distinguish between degrees of awfulness. Anyone who says United is “worse than the ebola virus” is exaggerating; the team bottoms out at “worse than monkeypox” and can even reach “worse than psoriasis” when everyone is healthy.

But most importantly, United’s win means that management has an excuse to bring back Coach Ben Olsen next year. The fact that he still has a job in spite of a 3-21-6 league record is amazing; in England, Olsen would not only have been fired, he would have been catapulted into the Irish Sea. Olsen’s continued employment is a clear indicator that management believes in him and doesn’t hold him entirely responsible for this year’s sharknado. And now they have an excuse to keep him: he won silverware.

Without that silverware, it’s hard to justify keeping Olsen. This team is flirting with league records for fewest wins, fewest goals, worst road record, fewest moments of hope, most utterances of “I didn’t think it could get worse,” most TV remotes thrown at the screen and most comparisons to monkeypox. Keeping Olsen could be interpreted as apathy; normally, teams guillotine the coach just to prove their commitment to fixing the problem whether the coach was part of the problem or not.

In my opinion, Olsen is responsible for this year to the extent that he’s responsible for roster construction. If Olsen went into the year saying, “We’ve got what we need. Chris Korb will make you forget all about Andy Najar and I’m predicting 30 goals for Lionard Pajoy. Now excuse me while I go buy a bunch of Blockbuster Video stock,” then he should get the ax. On the other hand, if he recognized that this team needed an attacking piece or three, then that speaks well of his assessment skills. I don’t know what was said in  United’s internal meetings; I don’t know who hatched the harebrained idea of a Pajoy-Ruiz striker tandem or what Ben thought of that idea. United needs to be rebuilt, but it doesn’t have the resources to raze the entire structure. It needs to remove the rot but preserve the parts that are still standing.

I admit: I’m biased. I loved Olsen as a player, and he seems like a good guy. Last year was fun, and I don’t want to see a good coach get fired for reasons beyond his control. The rancid icing on this disgusting cake of a season would be to lose a coach who was actually the right man for the job. If United was to finish 3-25-6 with no trophies, I can’t imagine what management could say to justify keeping Olsen (“We started the year with one goal: coax one assist out of Daniel Woolard. Ben achieved that goal.”). But now — in addition to the marginal progress United has shown with a very young roster — Olsen has an accomplishment that is more concrete than the blocks that seem to be affixed to Lionard Pajoy’s feet. United won a trophy in 2013. The team can justify bringing Olsen back in 2014. You can argue that’s a bad idea, but I don’t think you can argue it’s “ebola virus” bad.

On an unrelated note: fans of this blog sometimes ask when I’ll be doing standup in D.C. I’ll be opening for Deon Cole at the DC Improv from October 17-20 (tickets), and I’ll be headlining two shows on the night of Nov. 7 for LYGO DC. Mention that you’re a fan of this blog at the door and receive a complimentary look of confusion from the doorman.

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