D.C. United fires Coach Curt Onalfo, names Ben Olsen interim coach

D.C. United fires a coach in the middle of a season for the first time in franchise history, letting Curt Onalfo, above, go after just seven months on the job. Onalfo, 40, led the club to a 3-12-3 record. Assistant coach Ben Olsen, 33, will take over and will debut Saturday in New England. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
D.C. United fires a coach in the middle of a season for the first time in franchise history, letting Curt Onalfo, above, go after just seven months on the job. Onalfo, 40, led the club to a 3-12-3 record. Assistant coach Ben Olsen, 33, will take over and will debut Saturday in New England. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) ((Getty Images))

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 12:26 AM

Barely seven months into Curt Onalfo's tenure as head coach, D.C. United executives had grown alarmed with more than just the team's mounting losses, defensive follies and attacking shortcomings. They said they saw a team that hadn't taken sufficient pride in the MLS club's heritage and had become unresponsive to Onalfo's attempts to direct and inspire.

"We weren't moving forward," United President Kevin Payne said. "We were actually moving backward.. . . I really felt that we had no choice."

So on Wednesday, with the team on pace to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year and finish with the worst record in club history, United fired Onalfo and installed assistant Ben Olsen, one of the franchise's most accomplished and beloved players, as the interim coach.

Olsen, who retired last fall after 12 seasons, inherits a squad that has been shut out a dozen times while compiling a league-worst 3-12-3 record. His debut will come Saturday against the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass.

Assistants Kris Kelderman and Mark Simpson retained their jobs, and technical director Chad Ashton, top deputy to previous coach Tom Soehn, will return to the staff after moving into a personnel role.

"I was gutted for Curt," Olsen said. "He is a friend, someone who has taken me under his wing and taught me a lot about soccer and coaching."

Olsen, 33, will guide the team through the end of the season in October and be considered for the regular job, Payne said. However, the process of identifying other candidates "begins now," General Manager Dave Kasper said.

The most intriguing name to surface is U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, a D.C. assistant in 1996-97. The U.S. Soccer Federation has yet to decide whether to offer him a new contract for the next World Cup cycle.

Payne, in consultation with team owner Will Chang and Kasper, made the move Tuesday before informing the players early Wednesday at RFK Stadium.

"Curt has worked tirelessly to get it right, but once you get to a point where we were, you knew that inevitably there was going to be a change in the team of some kind," midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta said.

Despite United's poor results, Onalfo seemed blindsided by the move. In December, he signed a three-year, guaranteed contract valued at about $300,000 annually. Never before had United made a coaching change in the middle of a season.

"I am extremely disappointed," said Onalfo, who was dismissed by the Kansas City Wizards last summer. "It takes a long time to build something, and having had seven short months, it was a limited amount of time. But I understand the profession. This is what I signed up for."


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