I am always uncomfortable meeting a professional athlete from a team I support in any setting. Face-to-face the absurdity of paying to see someone do their job and of often traveling long distances to do so is impossible to ignore. And let's say you once asked for an autograph from Ryne Sandberg while wearing a shirt that had .... a picture of Ryne Sandberg on it... well, then there is no question that you are a tool.
So, two Sundays ago at DCU's Meet the Team Day, I tried to think of something to say in the uncomfortable moments when my daughter was handing over a soccer ball for signature. Most of my witty riposte was met by bare tolerance from the players. Julius James was particularly gracious when I earnestly informed him how much I enjoyed him play this season. Branko Boskovic was, I think, mildly concerned when I tried to explain that I would be wearing a Rapid Vienna shirt at RFK in his honor (thought bubble at that moment over Mr. Boskovic: "they cannot all be this stupid"). When we got to the head coach, I offered: "Coach, when I met you at Blackfinn before the season, you promised to put out an exciting team. I want to thank you for keeping your promise, we've really enjoyed going to games regardless of the results." I meant the comments sincerely -- we've enjoyed going to games this season far more than last year -- and was surprised when Onalfo's response was a half-grunt, half-"thanks", and quick turn away. It was all the more surprising because there were no other fans waiting for his John Hancock.
It quickly washed away by going to see Adam Cristman, a player who every fan is lucky to be able to cheer for, but after leaving the stadium I remained puzzled by Curt's callous response. No big deal, but the stress from the job must suck (or, alternatively, I am just an ass). Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise that Onalfo got canned today. But I certainly didn't expect it. Recognizing that D.C. United has a putrid league record, I thought that Onalfo had done enough to at least merit riding out his first year at the helm. Najar had developed well and had been growing in confidence all season. Setting aside two poor turnovers, Jordan Graye had also exceeded expectations. And Bill Hamid impressed in goal whenever he got a chance between the sticks. Clearly, Onalfo was not harming the squad's young players.
At the same time, something was clearly wrong with the team, evident to many fans in the stands. I had grown increasingly focused and annoyed at what I saw from Kurt Morsink on the field (the limited times when he got to see the pitch). I believe that the questions that have been raised by many regarding Santino Quaranta's contribution have some merit. In numerous games this season, poor play from Q overshadowed the moments of sublime beauty he offered -- frequently manifested as a perfectly weighted through ball that would spring a teammate but fizzle away after a poor touch. The two big offseason signings -- Christian Castillo and Danny Allsopp -- did nothing for DCU.
The upshot is instead of seeing Raul or Marlon Harewood on the field for United, the club decided to risk a $600,000 hit over the next two seasons on guaranteed money for Onalfo and torpedo the season with someone at the helm that the front office has expressly stated is not prepared to be a head coach. This doesn't seem like it will end well.
Good luck Curt. Thank you for what you tried to do, sorry that you didn't get much time here. Thought you did a decent job, but others clearly disagreed.