Nearly a year to the day after being sacked by the Kansas City Wizards, Curt Onalfo has been let go by D.C. United. Assistant coach Ben Olsen, who retired last fall after 12 years as a player with United, will take over immediately as interim head coach.
Chad Ashton, United’s technical director, will assume duties as interim assistant coach, and Kris Kelderman, an assistant under Onalfo, and goalkeeper coach Mark Simpson will remain as additional assistants to Olsen.
“This was a difficult and painful decision,” said United President and CEO Kevin Payne. “Curt is an outstanding person and a fine coach. This has certainly been a trying season, made more so by a number of factors outside of anyone's control. This decision is not about placing blame, but about looking forward. Recent performances have convinced us that we need to make a change at the top for the team to improve the remainder of this season, for 2011 and beyond. We wish Curt nothing but the best.”
Onalfo's United struggled from the beginning, dropping their first five league matches, including a 4-0 thumping to his former club, Kansas City, in the season opener. They currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points out of the final playoff spot. They have scored a league low 12 goals in 18 games, and conceded a league-high 31.
The decisions not to re-sign midfielder Christian Gomez and to trade midfielder Fred to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for the rights to goalkeeper Troy Perkins robbed the midfield of any creativity. Injuries to attacker Chris Pontius and stalwart defender Bryan Namoff, meanwhile, left obvious gaps in the lineup. And 2010 signings Adam Cristman and Danny Allsopp, both forwards, have merely four goals between them.
Pontius is playing again, and teenager Andy Najar has been an attacking revelation, leading the club with three goals. Plus, the club acquired several reinforcements recently in the form of designated player Branko Boskovic and Argentine striker Pablo Hernandez. However, the results have still not come: United are 0-4-2 in their last six league matches.
“The first priority in appointing an interim coach was ensuring that he would understand the passion, pride and commitment expected from every player who wears a D.C. United uniform,” Payne said. “There is no one better suited for that task than Ben Olsen. We've asked Ben to focus on three objectives for the balance of this season: prepare to win the next game, demand of our players the same commitment to the shirt that he displayed and determine which players demonstrate that they want to play for United next season.”
Olsen's first game in charge will come on Saturday, when United take on East rivals New England Revolution.
“It is with mixed emotions that I accept this position,” Olsen said in a statement. “Curt is a great friend and coach from whom I’ve learned a great deal. My job now is to get results for D.C. United.”