D.C. United introduces new coach Curt Onalfo

"I've prepared myself now 10 years as a professional soccer coach for a place like D.C. United. It's a dream job," said new coach Curt Onalfo. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some D.C. United supporters are undoubtedly going to look at Curt Onalfo's mediocre record with the Kansas City Wizards the past three seasons and wonder why United has entrusted him with rejuvenating a club that was once the jewel of MLS.

"I know people will question that, but situations are different everywhere," United President Kevin Payne said.

"I was reminded the other day that [Patriots Coach] Bill Belichick had a losing record in Cleveland before he went to New England and became one of the most successful coaches in the history of American football. It's a matter of the fit and the growth of a person. Curt has grown."

Backed by management that believes his best days are ahead of him, Onalfo was formally introduced as the sixth head coach in the club's 14-year history during a gathering in a chilly lounge at RFK Stadium on Tuesday morning. (Perhaps symbolic of United's defective performances in recent years, the heating system in the event lounge at the creaky ballpark broke down.)

Onalfo, 40, inherits a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs the previous two years under Tom Soehn and advanced to the MLS Cup just once the past decade after three titles in the league's first four years. In conjunction with Payne and General Manager Dave Kasper, Onalfo will have to reshape the roster and, at the same time, uphold United's philosophy of attacking, possession-oriented soccer.

Onalfo, who played for United in 1998-99 and later served as a D.C. assistant, agreed to a multiyear contract for an estimated $200,000 annually last week. He finalized his staff Tuesday by retaining goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson; reuniting with Kris Kelderman, his top assistant in Kansas City; and adding Ben Olsen, the former United midfielder who retired last month.

Onalfo, Kelderman and Olsen all played at Virginia.

"D.C. United is dear to my heart," said Onalfo, who prior to coaching Kansas City was a U.S. national team assistant under former D.C. coach Bruce Arena. "It's a big market, it's an important market and I've prepared myself now 10 years as a professional soccer coach for a place like D.C. United. It's a dream job. We have enormous work ahead of us, but make no mistake about it, priority number one is to get this team back to the playoffs and qualified for international tournaments."

Onalfo guided a struggling Kansas City organization to the playoffs in 2007 and '08, but last summer, with a 5-7-6 record, a scoring rut and growing friction with management, he was fired. His regular season career record is 27-29-22.

Nonetheless, United was sold on Onalfo's attacking style.

"There are many coaches in this country and elsewhere who are very capable coaches and don't necessarily subscribe to that [up-tempo] approach," Payne said. "We were not going to talk to those coaches. We felt from the beginning we didn't want to try to put a square peg into a round hole. We wanted to find someone who shared our values on the field."

United's first choice was Caleb Porter, a rising star in the coaching community who decided to stay at the University of Akron.

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